A few days ago I was asked some challenging questions. One of them was this:
What do you do to support yourself during difficult times?
I knew the answer.
I know, not because I am somehow emotionally more robust or superior than other people, but because I’ve had practice, LOTS of practice. My husband and I are currently blinking into the light at the end of the adoption tunnel, where these sorts of questions are the norm rather than the exception. When you get asked often enough, and are expected to know the answer, it focuses the mind.
Although there is no perfect, one size fits all, answer to this question, some answers are definitely more People Voodoo than others. “I don’t do emotions, thanks” doesn’t cut the mustard, nor does, “I just eat chocolate”, “I hide under the duvet” or “I take the next flight out of here”. Not that there is anything wrong with self control, chocolate, a nap or a holiday, but not for every size of problem. None of those are a healthy longer term strategy when the issues are emotionally overwhelming, complex or multiple and others are relying on you.
Life does like to offer up surprises, and not always in the form of a chocolate egg with a toy inside, (note to self about the second reference to chocolate) so it’s good to know if your support mechanisms are robust before the storm strikes.
As today is as good a day as any to mull it over, I thought this week I’d pose 3 questions you could ask yourself about your own needs and support systems.
Question 1: Do you know what your emotional needs are?
If you are lucky, your emotional needs have mostly been met in your life and you’ve not had to give this much thought. Do you know for example if you need regular hugs to feel loved and supported, or time alone, or time together, or to be told you are loved, or to be made cups of tea? If you could only have one of those, what would you prioritise? If you were suddenly forced to choose, could you live without the hug or the being told you are loved?
If you don’t know what you need or you instinctively know but you can’t quite explain it, I recommend the 5 love languages, as a good starting point. This is also great for trying to work out the needs of others you care about so that you can support them.
Question 2: Do you express or suppress emotion?
When emotion strikes, do you go with the emotion or try to contain it? I went to boarding school, where at that time, the solution to homesickness or upset was to be strong and keep busy. It has taken me many years as an adult to break this habit of suppressing emotion by denial and distraction; the pretending I’m fine, working late or cleaning the house rather than just getting angry or upset. Emotions are definitely better out than in and serve a stress relieving purpose (yes, there’s evidence). 20 Things To Say To Your Child Instead Of “Don’t Cry” is a great way to make sure children learn to accept and manage emotions. This article might be aimed at parents but I’ve tested it on adults and it works just as well on us too.
Question 3: Do you put all your eggs in one basket?
Now think about the last 3 emotional challenges you’ve faced (relationship break-up, bereavement, badly delivered feedback, job loss, health issue etc) and how you handled them.
- How soon if at all did you ask for help to process feelings or thoughts?
If you did ask for help:
- Who did you ask?
- How did you make your choice? Did you have choices?
- If that person wasn’t available suddenly, where would you go?
- How big would it need to be, or how bad would it need to get before you seek professional help? and then do you know where to look?
It was only a few days ago but I can’t remember exactly what answer I gave to What do you do to support yourself during difficult times? I imagine that acknowledging and expressing feelings rather than letting things build up was in there somewhere. Sharing with others and getting professional advice as early as possible also featured, as did accepting help.
Oh, and chocolate!