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Managing Your Emotions

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Survival Guide by Ann Douglas

Part 1

You Are Not Alone

Part 3

Making Things Better for Your Family

Part 4

Advocating for Your Child

Managing Your Emotions

Helpless. Uncertain. Worried. Sad. Angry. Frustrated. Guilty…

In this next section of the guide, you’ll learn some strategies for coping with the many emotions you may find yourself feeling right now.

We’ll start out by talking about what you may be feeling and then we’ll discuss ways of making sense of and managing those emotions in a way that works for you

Strategies for coping with your emotions

What you may be feeling

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Making sense of your emotions

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Managing your emotions

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What you may be feeling

Being the parent of a child who is struggling with mental illness can be emotionally draining. You’re likely to be experiencing all kinds of different emotions—and sometimes all at the same time.

You may be feeling….

Helpless and uncertain: If you are just starting out on this journey, you may be feeling particularly helpless and uncertain. You may not be sure where to look for answers, what questions you should be asking, or what it will take to make things better for your child, yourself, and your family. You may feel like everything in your life has been upended or put on hold as you embark on this quest for answers. That can be really hard.

Worried and sad: You may be worried about your child’s wellbeing and you may feel sad because life is so hard for your child right now. It is hard to watch your child struggle. In fact, it can be nothing short of heartbreaking at times.

Frustrated and angry: You may be frustrated with yourself (for not being able to fix a situation that desperately needs fixing), with your child (for acting out in ways that may be really challenging for the entire family to deal with), with other family members (for not understanding the extent of your child’s struggle), and/or the mental health care system (for not being able to provide your child and your family with the support that you need as quickly as you need it). In fact, you may be furious some days.

Guilty: You may be feeling really guilty—secretly wondering if you are somehow to blame for your child’s struggles. The guilt can be crushing and overwhelming some days—even for a parent who generally feels confident in their parenting abilities. Carrying around that much guilt only serves to make a tough situation even harder.

TIP:

Having a child who is struggling doesn’t make you a bad parent, just as being a child who is struggling doesn’t make your child a bad kid. It’s just the particular challenge that your family is dealing with right now. The good news is that things can (and often do) get better. Things won’t always be this hard.

While it’s possible to sort through these feelings on your own, it can also be helpful to talk through your feelings with someone you trust—perhaps your kindest and most empathetic friend or a highly skilled therapist. What you want is someone who will validate your emotions and who will leave you feeling supported and anything but alone.

 

Making sense of your emotions

It can be tempting to try to run away from your feelings—to do everything in your power to deny or bury emotions that feel too big or too scary to process right now. But, as it turns out, that particular strategy tends to backfire.

For one thing, it is a lot more cognitively demanding to try to avoid an uncomfortable emotion than it is to tackle that emotion head on. When you try to avoid a particular emotion, you’re forcing your brain to do a lot of extra work—the work of suppressing an unwanted emotion. That can be exhausting.

And then there’s the fact that, by avoiding your emotions, you’re actually depriving yourself of a valuable source of information. Instead of avoiding these emotions, challenge yourself to be curious about them. It can be helpful to ask yourself, “What are these emotions trying to tell me and what can I learn from them?”

TIP:

When you are trying to learn from your emotions, remember to treat yourself with self-compassion as opposed to opening the floodgates to self-blame. If the voice in your head starts saying harsh and self-critical things to you, don’t be afraid to challenge that voice by asking yourself, “Is that actually true?” Because sometimes your thoughts and emotions aren’t telling you the objective truth at all…

While it’s possible to sort through these feelings on your own, it can also be helpful to talk through your feelings with someone you trust—perhaps your kindest and most empathetic friend or a highly skilled therapist. What you want is someone who will validate your emotions and who will leave you feeling supported and anything but alone. 

Managing your emotions

Emotions can sometimes feel really big and overwhelming. There may be days when you wonder if you actually have what it takes to manage your emotions in a way that works for, and not against, you.

The good news is that the answer to that question is “yes.” You can make conscious and deliberate choices when it comes to responding to your emotions. You don’t have to just feel like you’re at their mercy.

Start out by acknowledging and accepting everything you’re feeling. There’s no such thing as a “bad” or “wrong” emotion: feelings are just feelings; and they don’t have to dictate your actions. You get to decide how—or whether—to respond to your emotions. You don’t have to respond on autopilot—to allow your emotions to control you.

Shine a spotlight on everything you’re doing right. Instead of being hard on yourself for not being a good enough parent, celebrate all the things you’re doing right: your love for your child and the strengths you bring to parenting. Taking a moment to shine a spotlight on those strengths will make parenting so much easier and less stressful and it will help to reduce the amount of negative emotion you are experiencing.

You Don’t Have to Do This Alone.

If you are a parent/caregiver worried about your child, or a young person looking for help yourself – please reach out. Our network of child and youth mental health centres have 4,000 professionals ready to help children, youth and families with free counselling and treatment. We provide care in person, on the phone and virtually. No problem is too big or small.

Find your closest child and youth mental health centre.

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