Letting Go


By: Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac.

By the end of the day, I feel frazzled and chock full of pent up feelings and thoughts. I don't want to let all that out on my kids or my husband - and I hate it when I do - so do you know any ways to get rid of this stuff without exploding?!

It's really normal to feel like you describe. A mom is dealing with so many feelings and needs and wants in her children and partner that the stress builds up over the course of a day. Plus many women have been taught in various ways to keep a stiff upper lip and not to say anything that seems like a complaint -- which just keeps things bottled up and festering.

Of course, it is important to be able to say what needs to be said to your husband or to your kids or to other people. But it's always also helpful to be able to let go of painful feelings, thoughts, stress, or tension entirely within your own mind. Plus, you can adapt these skills for your children, from the age of preschoolers onward, which will be very, very helpful to them.

Here's a summary of practical methods for letting go - and you can learn more from the other recent columns on our website, www.NurtureMom.com.

Relaxing Your Body

It is almost impossible to be upset when your body is relaxed. Try one of these relaxation skills, even in the middle of a challenging situation:

You can deepen your capacity to relax when the fur starts flying by practicing relaxation techniques at calmer times, like right before bed:

For kids, bedtime is a great time to train them in these techniques, since they'll put up with more mumbo-jumbo to keep you in the room. The point is that you will initially take them through some of the methods above, and then over time you will expect them increasingly to use the methods themselves at night -- as well as during the day, in real-life situations.

Releasing Painful Feelings

Yes, life has its share of suffering, and we are certainly not suggesting that you resist difficult feelings or suppress them. Instead, we're talking about simply helping them on their way.

Saying Good-bye to Negative Thoughts

With this method, you get on your own side and argue against needlessly negative, limiting, or inaccurate thoughts, beliefs, expectations, and assumptions. On paper or in your head, you need to talk to yourself - and it's the opposite of crazy!

A structured approach is to treat the thoughts that make you (or a child) upset as propositions that may or may not be true, and then list three or more ways that they are totally wrong. Try to see which of these classic mental errors might apply: treating a small problem like a big one, regarding a temporary situation as permanent, underestimating your own abilities, overestimating the scale or the likelihood of the challenge, or forgetting about resources in your world.

For example, if an 8-year-old is afraid that bad guys could break into your home, together come up with a list like this one: All our windows and doors are locked. Your bedroom is next to ours. I'm a real light sleeper. There's never been a burglary in our neighborhood. We leave a light on. Crooks look for easy targets, not houses like ours. The dogs next door bark at anything, and they'd sure scare a burglar away. Besides, we're not rich, and burglars go where the big jewels are: we don't have anything they want!

Or for an adult, suppose that childcare has fallen apart yet again for a mother, and she has to take a day off of work to deal with it, and she's got a dreadful feeling it'll never work out. To feel better, she could remind herself that: There are lots of childcare situations out there, and one of them has to work. I've found decent childcare in the past, and I'll find it again. Meanwhile, maybe my mom can take care of my daughter for a few days. Time will pass, and we'll get through this. The important thing is to keep going, to love my sweet girl, and be loved by her as well.

You get the idea. This method works best when you do it in a structured and determined way. Give it a try!

Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson, M.S., L.Ac., is an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son, ages 13 and 16. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the first and second authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, published by Penguin. You can see their website at http://www.nurturemom.com/ or email them with questions or comments at info@nurturemom.com; unfortunately, a personal reply may not always be possible.

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