Beach ball of emotions
I recently dropped off my oldest at college. I found myself in a strange headspace, not completely resonating with what I have been seeing on social media from other moms of new college students. Many mothers shared experiences of grief, sadness, and anxiety (especially in light of 2020’s additional collective traumas). Some staunchly refused to shed tears, carrying their stoic commitment to giving their children wings like a torch. In the other hand they carried the torch of determination to enjoy their empty nest years. And me? I was feeling all of it. I was not neatly polarized on one side or another, but rather a tangled mess of unpredictable contradictions of emotion. I suspect I am not alone.
Have you ever tried to hold a beach ball under water for any length of time? It is exhausting and requires focused attention. Even though you know it could pop up at any moment, it is always dramatic and surprising when it does. It is a completely different experience than merely holding a beach ball without trying to push it under the water (Castillo, 2015). I kept this analogy in mind as our family approached this colossal transition. I just held my beach ball, with all its many colors of emotion, instead of resisting my feelings.
This skill is not just for moms of college kids. Learning to be present and appreciate your emotions instead of resisting or suppressing them can help anyone encountering any number of situations.
I find these tips to be helpful for holding your beach ball of emotions:
Deep breaths. Breathing can take the edge off extreme emotions and help your body calm down.
Get curious about your emotions. Once you’re calm, try to zero in on where you feel the emotion in your body. Do you notice heat? Tension? Fluttering? Pain? You might be surprised at the variety of physical ways emotions show up in your body.
Ask yourself what the emotion might be trying to tell you. Sometimes I like to visualize the emotions as people showing up on my front porch. I pick a celebrity that “looks like” that emotion and have an imagined conversation. I might ask why they are here. I might invite them in. I might ask them to stay on the porch until they are ready to leave. It helps me remember that emotions carry important information and reminds me that I have the power to decide what to do with my emotions.
If “Shame” or “Self-Judgment” is one of the emotions on your front doorstep, feel free to tell that one to take a hike. Shame has a way of keeping us from understanding ourselves and moving towards healing. It keeps us isolated. It can be useful to feel sorry or guilty if you’ve done something to hurt someone, but shame, especially shame about having feelings, is rarely useful.
Write in your journal. Write about how you feel. Write about what you can do in response to your feelings. Do you need a distraction? Do you need a conversation with someone? Make a list of twenty reasons you might be feeling this way. This may seem like a big number but giving yourself a number that is bigger than what you think you can come up with forces you to really stretch your brain. Of course some of the things you write down may be truly ridiculous, but when you make a list and look back at it, two or three items will likely speak louder to you. Those items give you direction to what you are feeling.
Thank your emotions and give them to God if you are a person of faith. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I love the idea of peace that is beyond my understanding acting as a guard over my heart and my mind.
I am thankful to have had such a great season of motherhood. My tears of grief mean I loved being a mom.
I am thankful I will always be a mom, even if that parent-child relationship changes. I am thankful I have more children who have not left home yet.
I am thankful that one day they will fly the nest, too, and I am excited to have more time with just my husband. And a clean house.
I am thankful my son gets to step into his future a little more, and also thankful I do not have to have a front row seat to all of the inevitable failures that accompany growth. I am also thankful he will call me for help with the important ones.
I am thankful that God is in control of all of the ups and downs of life, and that he works all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
I am thankful to have felt all of these emotions, because it means I am human.
If you are struggling with your emotions, we can help! At Sanctuary Christian Counseling we help grieving individuals, distressed kids and teens and couples in conflict find peace, solutions and connection. Give us a call!
Sanctuary Christian Counseling
9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4
Shippensburg, PA 17257
Castillo, B. (Host). (2015, December 10). How to feel (No. 92) [Audio podcast episode]. In The life coach school. https://thelifecoachschool.com/podcast/92/