Solo parent

Week 6 – Establishing Emotional Health

As offhand as it sounds, “touch grass” is a piece of advice more serious and sacred than you’d think. It’s a counterpoint to the world we’ve created for ourselves: digital, heavily filtered bait keeps us consuming, clicking, and obeying. Drowning in information, we are being engineered to react. What calls itself the most connected web in human history has given us the loneliest humans anyone has ever known.

We’ve forgotten our wild selves. We’ve lost the sweat of physical exertion— hard work and dancing—what once distracted us and calmed an overactive mind. We’re soaked in blue light, our sleep and metabolism disrupted. Add to all that an era of hyperinflation, global disharmony, and a news cycle that takes every terrible headline to the bank, and it’s no wonder our outlook is bleak.

On top of that, you’ve got the grief, shame, and guilt of a failed marriage, a death, or an unplanned pregnancy. For many of us, the reverberations are still unfolding. Add to that the day-to-day pressure of managing everything
on your own, and doing it with strength and grace to model to your kids that you’re okay and that they’re okay. All from within a broken culture that’s not okay.

Dr. John Delony is a bestselling author, mental health expert, and show host with two doctorate degrees and over two decades of counseling experience. He notes our highly traumatized culture has stripped us of the coping mechanisms we once had.

“Over the last 50 years, we’ve created a world for ourselves that our bodies aren’t designed to inhabit,” he says. “Not only are we bombarded by change, loss, and overstimulation, any trauma we feel isn’t experienced in connection with others.”

The Weight of Worst-Case-Scenario Thinking

When you’re living to the last cent of every paycheck—literally, energetically, or both—you can’t help but constantly anticipate what might go off the rails this month. That’s natural. We don’t see all we’ve crossed off the to-do list. We only see what’s undone. But when we ruminate on the negative, we’re directing our focus to worst-case-scenario thinking.

Here’s a classic example: you’re in a new relationship. You’re afraid the other person may not be fully invested in you. You see signs. To protect yourself, you pull back. The distance is cemented, and you’ve just made the worst outcome happen—but you’ve also made yourself right about how life goes for you. When we’re in pain, we are attracted to be right about the pain. And so we self-fulfill.

“Don’t ruminate,” says Delony. “It’s a complete waste of time and solves nothing. The number one psychological finding of the last hundred years is that optimism is a learned behavior.”

You might be thinking, “Look on the bright side?” I was optimistic before and look where that got me.

Fair enough, but every time you form an outlook on a person, a situation, or a likely outcome, you are making a choice. You’ve made the same choice so many times it may not feel like one—it may feel like you’re just pragmatic.
It’s The Truth, cold and hard. You feel justified in bitterness, which is oddly satisfying. Being justifiably bitter is an opt-out from change. Chosen negativity is an armor we choose for self-protection.

But it’s not armor. It’s a shrinking cage. Our thoughts and actions mirror one another. We speak our lives into being. Choose your words carefully.

Share Time:

What negative conclusion do you habitually choose? How have your words—even your internal dialog with yourself—led your actions?

How to Choose Your Response Through Stress

You might think you’d be more emotionally stable if you had more money, more time, a better job, or a bigger house. But unreconciled pain and anger—the fuel of a negative outlook—follows us regardless.

Watch for those moments when you feel yourself tipping into stress, anxiety, outbursts, or repeating negative thoughts. Get in tune with your body. What do you notice? Shortness of breath, tightness in the shoulders or chest? A pounding heart or bad night of sleep? Pause whatever you’re doing and breathe for a minute. Notice the physical manifestation of your feelings. Spot the patterns. This helps you switch from a purely reactive stance to a more thoughtful, reasoned one.

Also, don’t get discouraged by the sucker punches. They are indiscriminate. It’s inevitable that you’ll be caught off-guard and suddenly flat on the ground. What we can practice is getting up again—to not react with pure emotion, internalize the pain, or heap more negative proof on ourselves, but to take a breath and interrupt the patterns keeping us in a cage. The goal? To respond without giving every sucker punch more meaning than it deserves.

Share Time:

Tell us about a moment or interaction in your life when you were highly reactionary versus another when you were able to pause and choose your response. What difference did it make?

A Toolbox for Managing Your Emotional Response

The emotional landmines that go off are as complex as our feelings. Not only do we have everyday frustrations that trigger our insecurities (not having enough money, always being rushed, parenting difficulties, or unresolved issues with your ex) but we’re also prone to react when we’re reminded of all we’re accountable for; mistakes we made; ways we’ve harmed others; lies we’ve told; the shame we carry. It’s no wonder we need practice.

Dr. Delony shares three things to help you practice emotional stability:

1) To make your heart and mind resilient, start by making your body resilient.

What’s true for a four-year-old is true for a grown adult. Sometimes, you’re crawling the walls or tantrumming because you are lacking in healthy food, fresh air, and movement. Delony notes a calm baseline begins with a routine. For you it may be going for regular walks, putting your phone away when your kids come home, or prioritizing sleep. Get that yard work done, or shovel snow. There’s almost no emotional medicine more potent than being productive, and you never regret a good sweat.

2) Learn how to disassociate.

Sometimes we need to smile politely, do what is required, and move on. In Christian circles, we might call it turning the other cheek. Teacher and author Pema Chödrön phrases it this way:

“Not causing harm to ourselves or others requires staying awake. Part of being awake is slowing down enough to notice what we say and do. The more we witness our emotional chain reactions and understand how they
work, the easier it is to refrain. It becomes a way of life to stay awake, slow down, and notice. Not causing harm includes not being aggressive with our actions, speech, or minds. This is the healing power of nonaggression: the most fundamental harm we can do is to remain ignorant by not looking at ourselves honestly and gently.”

3) Recognize you need support from other people.

Emotional stability finds its roots when you know you’re not alone. Not only people you can call in an emergency, or when you’re deeply down in the middle of the night; but people in your periphery traveling along a similar path. We encourage each other by maintaining those links—by knowing others are out there practicing too.

Delony says there is no long-term healing or behavior change without other people, and that self-sufficiency is one of modern culture’s most false prizes. Seek meaningful connection—not cheap substitutes, band-aids, or distractions like alcohol or sex—and gentle honesty has space to work.

Over the last decade, Delony explains, the world has divided itself up into two camps. Camp one encourages us to turn our feelings into our identity. You will always be that person whose marriage fell apart; that survivor of abuse or cancer. People adopt hashtags on social media to elevate themselves, lining up for status. But when you sell the worst thing that’s happened to you as your identity, you victimize yourself all over again—and you outsource your healing to a world you insist should affirm you.

Camp two is perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to what’s often read as the narcissism of camp one: it says Suck it up and get over yourself. Quit watching yourself cry in the mirror and DO SOMETHING. Camp one would call that harsh, equating feelings with weakness. Thankfully, Delony sees a third camp.

“Acknowledge your feelings,” he says. “Own what you were born into. Own what happened to you, and own what you were part of. Face it or your body will store that trauma response for the rest of your life. Learn how to live out a new story, one in which you respond and not react; in which you seek connection and not isolation; in which you know you aren’t meant to do this life alone.”

Further Action Step:

Identify your default. Are your feelings “everything” or “nothing”? How would Delony’s third way take shape in your life? Journal about this and share what you learn with your “Plus 1″ —someone further along in their journey who is a sounding board.

Further, try this experiment whether you believe in it or not: tread more gently with language. Stop reinforcing the worst-case scenario. See how it alters the way you feel.