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I am hearing more and more accounts of college aged students who don’t know how to feel comfortable with discomfort. They can't navigate emotions, flexibly think, and to tap into resiliency. They truly believe life's challenges and set backs are meant to harm. Consequently, we see an elevation in stress, anxiety and depression.
Turns out, there is a term for not being aware of and accepting of your emotions. Having a lack of "emotional agility" is when you cannot live in the moment, read the present situation, act in accordance with your values and then respond appropriately (David, Susan, "Emotional Agility").
In order to be emotionally successful in life, kids and young adults both have to learn that pain, hurt, rejection, and sadness are normal everyday emotions. In life, there are difficult emotions and positive emotions, but neither is better or worse than the other. They are what they are...feelings. They fluctuate, visit at different times, and are felt in various degrees.
The "negative emotions" - the ones that are seemingly unbearable - don’t last. They are transient and fleeting. While they are present, it is crucial to be able to balance the positive emotions with the not-so-fun emotions and to push through the urge to resist the uncomfortable ones. Instead, become friends with doubt and uncertainty. Allow yourself to be sad. Allow yourself to be in an unknowing position. Avoiding these emotions, running from them, covering them up, and panicking merely sets the stage for depression, anxiety, and a lifetime of worry. It is a skill to be able to cope and self-rely. It is also a skill to recognize that most emotions are trying to teach you to regulate your responses and reactions.
If you ask young adults to describe what it feels like to be alone, doubtful, rejected, or scared, they’ll tell you it is the worse feeling in the world. Do you want to know why these feelings are raw and real to them?
Kids have not learned how to read their own emotions. Some don’t have the forethought to realize that in three days thoughts, feelings and outlooks will be different. They don’t know how to armor up and fight through. They haven't been taught how to build emotional strength or how to self-soothe with their own internal resources. They are used to quick fixes. They believe that feeling negative emotions makes them weak. They forget to approach emotions from a life balance perspective.
Kids want a certain outcome but not the feelings that go with obtaining the outcome.
How can parents help?
Help your students (all ages) by encouraging them to allow the pain and uncertainty they sometimes feel. Don’t heighten their emotions with your heightened concern. Listen to them talk. Have them process their feelings through you. Remind them that they are emotionally strong and able and need to invent a space between feeling the discomfort and responding to the discomfort. Have them see the worst case scenario and ask them how they will survive it. Be their voice for compassion so when they feel bad for feeling bad, you can assure them that judgement is not necessary. And...
Help them see value in experiencing all kinds of emotions:
What can they learn from the situation for use next time the same feelings arise?
What are the emotions speaking to them?
How can they become stronger through the experience?
How can they become "friends" with the fear and sadness and use this "friendship" to make them more emotionally agile next time?
No one is happy all of the time. This belief sets you up for anxiety, stress and depression. Focus on what means the most to you, what you value most in life, what motivates you and how you can believe in your abilities. This concentration protects you from the emotional ups and downs in life, helps you develop "bounce back", and helps you find joy along the way.
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