© Rick Hanson, Ph.D., and Jan
Hanson, L.Ac., 2005
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
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
- Breathe slowly
and deeply while imagining that tension is leaving your body with
- Try to inhale
and exhale for the same amount of time (e.g., inhale for a count
of four, exhale for four). Imagine that the breath is going in and
out of the region of your heart. Meanwhile, recall or think about
things that give you an appreciative, grateful, loving feeling.
(For more on this simple but powerful technique, check out the
books from the HeartMath Institute in Santa Cruz.)
- For a young
child, a little trick that will help her breathe deeply is to ask
her to exhale fully and then hold the exhalation for a couple of
seconds - when she inhales, she'll naturally take a big breath.
relax certain trigger points, such as the jaw muscles, pelvic
floor, or the "third eye" between the eyebrows.
- Recall or
imagine a very happy, peaceful scene.
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.
put your attention on each major part of your body, starting with
your feet and working up to your head. If it helps, think a phrase
like "relax," or "locate a point" for your left foot, right foot,
left ankle, right ankle . . . all the way up to your scalp.
- Tense your
muscles for about five seconds and then relax completely.
- Imagine that
you are v-e-r-y heavy, sinking more and more deeply into your bed
- Imagine that
your hands are very warm, like holding a cup of hot cocoa (this
one is especially good for insomnia)
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.
- In a way that's
safe, vent - and there are a variety of options. You could really
let it rip about how you feel in a letter that you'll destroy
after it's written; perhaps burn it in a ritualistic way,
scattering the ashes far and wide, letting all the feelings go as
you do so. Or tell a trusted friend, with the crucial intention of
getting it off your chest and getting rid of it, rather than
getting more worked up. Or imagine ranting and yelling inside your
own mind. Or yell out loud while in the shower, on top of a
mountain, underwater, or while driving a car (stay in control of
- Sense the
feelings draining out of your body, perhaps as if there were tiny
valves at the tips of each finger and toe.
- Exhale the
feelings with each breath, visualizing them as smoggy clouds
leaving your body.
- Imagine the
feelings being swept away by standing in a cool and refreshing
stream on a beautiful, sunny day
- Imagine putting
the feelings into a jar and tossing it into a river to be carried
off to the sea, or placing them on a rocket ship blasting off to
be burned up in the sun.
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!
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
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 is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson is
an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and
son, ages 12 and 14. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the
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 www.nurturemom.com or email them with questions or
comments at firstname.lastname@example.org; unfortunately, a personal reply may
not always be possible.)