Why Self-Compassion and Emotion Regulation Are Key to Coping with COVID-19

Marc A. Brackett is a research psychologist and the Founding Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Professor in the Child Study Center at Yale University. I highly recommend his work!

https://www.ycei.org/ - The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

https://moodmeterapp.com/ - Mood Meter: Build Emotional Intelligence to Last a Lifetime

https://www.marcbrackett.com/ - Marc Brackett, Ph.D.


The following is an article from EdSurge:

Why Self-Compassion and Emotion Regulation Are Key to Coping with COVID-19

By Marc Brackett     Aug 3, 2020

Why Self-Compassion and Emotion Regulation Are Key to Coping with COVID-19

Every emotional response is a unique experience. What triggers an unpleasant emotion today may not even register tomorrow. Perhaps right now you are at home with your family for what seems like an eternity and you feel like losing it. Tomorrow, same home, but wake up in a calm state and you happily eat your breakfast and plan your day.

The strategies we can use to regulate emotions are limitless, depending on the situation and the emotions involved. But just like your emotional responses vary, the strategies that work for you today might not work for you tomorrow. And the strategies that work for you might not work for your partner or child.

Many of us were exposed to destructive reactions (not healthy strategies) to “manage” stress and anxiety early in our lives. We heard our parents and peers use negative talk, scream, blame others and so on. These reactions often work at getting rid of negative feelings and providing temporary gratification. But we fail to realize that these are mostly destructive habits that ruin our relationships, decrease our well-being and derail us from achieving our goals in life.

When we are overly stressed and worried, like many of us have felt lately with threats like COVID-19, it becomes even more difficult to regulate our emotions with effective strategies. We ruminate, worry and often drive ourselves into a frenzy.

So, what exactly is healthy emotion regulation?

Put simply, healthy emotion regulation involves monitoring, tempering and modifying emotional reactions in helpful ways in order to reach personal and professional goals. When we’re feeling disappointed or joyful or anxious, what do we do to feel more or less of that feeling, to hang onto that feeling or shift to feeling something different?

Importantly, this doesn’t mean ignoring inconvenient emotions. Rather, it’s learning to accept and deal with them—both your own and others’ emotions. When we give ourselves and others permission to feel all emotions, we become less attached, reactive and overwhelmed by them.

Goals and Strategies

It’s helpful to think about emotion regulation in two parts.

The first part is our goal. Goals we have for our emotions are like goals in many sports: we look at the net or goal posts, and we decide where we want the ball or puck to go. When we set a goal for regulating our emotions, we are deciding where we want our emotions to go. Do we want them to go up—like feeling even more joyful about a party we’re planning? Or, do we want our emotions to go down—like feeling less anxious about our ability to control what’s happening with the coronavirus. In sports, we have a goal that includes where the ball or puck is now and where we want it to be. With our emotions, we do the same—we set a goal by asking ourselves, “What am I feeling now, and how do I want to feel?”

The second part of managing emotions is the strategy we decide to use. We know where we want the ball or puck to go, but how will we get it there? Will we hit it straight in? Or will we pass it to another player first? That is our strategy. Strategies are how we will achieve our goals. If we’re feeling anxious or worried about what’s happening around us, and we really want to feel less nervous … or calmer, what would our strategy be? Maybe we could take some deep breaths? Mindful breathing is perhaps the ultimate prevention strategy. Daily practice enhances our ability to be present, accept feelings as they come and go, and not be overly reactive or overwhelmed by them.

Allowing our minds to be idle is a major challenge for many of us given our busy lives and lack of control over the future right now. And it’s especially hard when we’re faced with strong emotions such as anxiety and fear.

Our brain responds to intense emotions by activating the sympathetic nervous system: our heart rate goes up, stress hormones and/or endorphins are released depending on the emotion, and (when pressured) we prepare to flee or freeze. Mindful breathing helps us to hit the brake on the activation of our stress response system by decreasing our heart rate. Breathing through the nose is helpful because mouth breathing tends to be faster and shallower (think of a panting dog), which can reactivate the stress response system. And when we count our breaths or repeat a calming phrase while breathing, we regain balance and control because the area of the brain in charge shifts from the brain stem to the motor cortex. Breathing also helps us to reset the autonomic nervous system by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and inhibiting the sympathetic (excitatory) one.

Mindful breathing can be practiced anywhere: at home, school, work or even while trying to fall asleep. It’s best to build a practice of mindful breathing in small steps over time. Start by taking a few minutes a couple of times a week to sit and breathe mindfully. Over time you can build up to a five-, 10-, 15- or even 30-minute practice each day. That way, when you are in the situation where you’ll need to deactivate, you’ll be prepared.

Do your best to:

  • Remove distractions such as your cell phone.
  • Get comfortable.
  • Close your eyes or lower your eyelids.
  • Be aware of your posture and body. You can place your hand on a spot where you feel the breath, but it’s not necessary.
  • Breathe naturally. You can count to 10: inhale one/exhale one, inhale two/exhale two, and so on until you get to 10. Then repeat. Or you can breathe while repeating a phrase. I learned my favorite more than 20 years ago from Thich Nhat Hanh, a leader in the mindfulness community. It’s simple: On the inhale you say “in” and on the exhale you say “out.” Then “deep/slow,” “calm/ease,” “smile/release.” Repeat. This particular one helps me at night when my mind is racing and I’m having a hard time falling asleep.
  • Bring your attention back to your breath if you notice your mind wandering.

If you are like me and get easily distracted during the practice, you might start thinking: I can’t do this. It’s hopeless. Try to be an emotion scientist, not a judge about it. Even have a little self-compassion and try it again. You’re exercising a new muscle. Once you’re comfortable with these two basic exercises, you can try others, but it’s not necessary. I’ve stuck with the basic ones for years.

Shifting our Thoughts

An additional and very effective strategy is to simply adjust our thinking. It’s convenient because our thoughts happen in our head, so we can change them pretty much anytime and anyplace. When we want to feel less anxious, we can ask ourselves, “Is there another way to think about this situation?” Or we can say something supportive to ourselves in our heads. One way to help you get better at this is to consider what you might tell a close friend or loved one who is feeling anxious.

Recently, a mom shared with me that her son was feeling anxious about being home, missing his friends and not going to school. Instead of telling her son what to think or do, she asked him what he would say to his best friend who was feeling that way. Immediately, the boy came up with ideas like: “You’ll get to play more,” “We can FaceTime each other,” and “This won’t be forever.” The mom was taken aback by how many ideas her son had. She then said, “Honey, maybe you could say these things to yourself.” After a minute, the boy said, “Mommy, you’re a genius!” So, if a 7-year old can do it, we all can—as long as we try!

It’s often helpful to refer to yourself in the third person when using self-talk strategies. Research shows that when we do this, it leads us to think about ourselves similarly to how we would think about others. Essentially, third-person self-talk is a way of being empathetic to ourselves.

I find myself making use of self-talk to regulate my own moods all the time. I have found it very useful to have go-to phrases. For example, when I’m overwhelmed before bed, I say, “Marc, you know this feeling is temporary, you’ve had this feeling 1,000 times before. You’ll be fine in the morning.” And with that I’m more relaxed and ready to go to sleep.

So how do we get good at it?

Just like in sports, managing our emotions takes time and practice. The very first time Serena William stepped onto the court or Wayne Gretzky entered the rink, they probably weren’t really sure what to do. They may have known that they wanted to aim for the net but little else. They probably messed up plenty and tried a lot of strategies before they became pros. In fact, Wayne Gretzky is known for his famous quote, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” That’s his strategy—what he says to himself when he wants to feel less discouraged.

Self-Care

Because emotion regulation requires brainpower, it depends on seemingly unrelated factors such as diet, exercise and sleep. When we eat poorly, our minds don’t function properly. Too much sugar causes our blood glucose to spike and then plummet, which affects cognitive functioning and self-control, especially around healthy eating. So make sure you have some healthy snacks in your desk at work or set a reminder on your phone to ensure you nibble every three hours or so. Also, watch caffeine and alcohol intake.

Too little physical activity also has a negative effect on our mental capacity and moods. In one study, subjects were exposed to a stressor, and then half of the participants did aerobic exercise while the others did not. The exercisers reported feeling significantly less negative than the other group. Even anxiety and depression can be reduced by exercise. So make sure you are getting in some movement!

Poor quality or insufficient sleep has similar effects on our emotions—when we’re tired, our defenses are down and our ability to function mentally is low. Sleep serves a restorative function. When we don’t get enough, or we get too much, we show more symptoms of anxiety and depression, greater fatigue and hostility. Inadequate sleep is associated with reduced connections between brain regions responsible for cognitive control and behavior and the use of effective emotion regulation strategies.

There are a few more measures we can take to safeguard our overall well-being. The first is by doing things we love. Spend time with family and friends, pursue passions and pastimes, get in touch with your spiritual side, immerse yourself in nature, read a good book, watch a funny movie. We build up cognitive reserves that way, which can help us during these emotionally challenging times.

We are hardwired to seek social contact and support—people who lack it are prone to anxiety, depression and cardiovascular disease. Social distance (I prefer to use the term physical distance), which we know will help to stop the spread of the coronavirus, does not mean we have to be socially disconnected. The mere presence of a caring person (face-to-face or online) helps us to regulate our nervous system and feel calmer.

Finally, in these trying times, there are a few additional things you can do.

  • Control the amount of information you take in. Take breaks from reading the news and social media.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no. It’s O.K. not to hug, kiss or shake hands right now. If you’re at a loss for words, you can bow gracefully or even use the namaste symbol if that makes sense to you.
  • Have compassion for yourself and for others, especially those who are ill or whose lives have been disrupted by the virus or society’s response to it.
  • Try your best to be supportive of friends, family members, and co-workers who are feeling anxious or worried. You don’t necessarily have to say anything. Just be there for them. When we support others, we not only help them feel better, but we feel better ourselves.

Family Digital Wellness Guide

 


The Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) at Boston Children's Hospital has published an updated Family Digital Wellness Guide with some really great resources, tips, and research to help parents and children live and be well in a digital world. Check it out!

You can also follow The Center on Media and Child Health on various social media platforms. 

Even though it feels like we're all using a lot of digital media these days, we're all going to be okay. Children are learning how to be adaptable, resilient, and creative. 

Here is an example:

Media-free Meals 

Pro tip: Make at least one meal a day screen-free—that means no phones or tablets at the table and no TV on in the background. Use this time to talk together as a family and check in on how each of you are doing. 

Science says: One family sit-down meal each day is the single most important strategy to protect your family’s mental health and physical nourishment. Screens distract children and adults from each other’s social and emotional lives and from their body’s hunger and satisfaction cues. Eating while paying attention to screens has been linked to obesity and other nutrition-related disorders.


Joint Statement of Commitment and Support for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Maine Schools - Maine DOE Priority Notice

Please read this powerful statement of Commitment and Support. Mitchell School educators continue to do this important work and seek dialogue with community stakeholders about how we can improve. It is our mission to understand and dismantle racism and inequality in our school and community.

Joint Statement of Commitment and Support for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Maine Schools

 
The Department of Education, Maine School Boards Association, Maine School Superintendents Association, Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities, Maine Education Association, Maine Principals Association, and Maine Curriculum Leaders Association enthusiastically affirm the right of every student to an equitable education.  We proudly and steadfastly support the educators and districts in Maine who are taking on the work of understanding and dismantling racism and inequity in our schools and communities. We urge all Maine schools and educators to accept their role and responsibilities in examining and addressing the inequities that have long existed in our society and institutions.

We define educational equity as providing each student a legitimate opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive in school and beyond.
 
Equity depends on a deliberate and systematic abolition of the inequities that have been sewn into the fabric of American society. These persistent inequities have long disadvantaged students on the basis of race, sex, gender, gender expression, language, physical and intellectual ability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, indigenous origin, religion, and all aspects of human identity that have been subjugated within our society.

We recognize that education is one of many systems that have had a role in perpetuating racial inequities, and that through close examination of our system, we can and must strive to attain diversity, equity, and inclusion of all voices and experiences. We believe this work is central to living up to our promises of providing an outstanding education for every Maine learner and continuing to be a public education system of excellence.

We recognize and commit to our role and duty as Maine public education leaders to actively partner with all schools in constructing a new educational paradigm, founded on the certainty that every student can and will be successful when:

  • School is a welcoming, safe place for all school community members to bring their whole identities with them
  •  Social emotional and behavioral supports are understood as critical prerequisites to academic learning
  • Students’ primary and home languages are recognized as assets, cultivated, and leveraged
  • Every educator in every role shares the responsibility for ensuring equity for every student and participates in equity education, both in teacher and administrator preparation programs and ongoing throughout their careers
  •  Families are meaningfully engaged as partners in their children’s education and welcomed into our schools
  • All academic and non-academic programming is culturally responsive and co-constructed with community members
Examining racism and inequity is difficult work. As each student of Maine is a future citizen of our global society, we believe this is work that needs to be engaged in respectfully and civilly by all the schools and communities in our state.  Understanding and addressing racism and inequity will take many different forms, all of which are valid and needed. Already many educators, school districts, and organizations are exploring this work in some of the following ways:
  • Defining with school and community members what makes a safe and welcoming place for all and committing to the vision
  • Reviewing your SAU’s Controversial Issues policy and best practices for engaging in discussions responsively and responsibly.
  • Engaging community members in discussions and actions to ensure that schools are a safe and welcoming place for all students
  • Engaging in equity audits to examine a variety of practices and programs
  • Expecting all school personnel to engage in professional learning about anti-racism and culturally responsive practices
  • Reviewing and revising curricula and materials to ensure they are well-rounded, decolonized, and representing all experiences
  • Adopting anti-racism instructional practices, programs, and policies
  • Establishing Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committees of stakeholders
  • Establishing expectations that every student will achieve and is challenged with rigorous curricula
  • Creating, supporting or amplifying student Civil Rights Teams within each school

We believe in the power and responsibilities that are bestowed on our educational institutions to provide a safe and equitable place in which all students can thrive, and where students are encouraged to examine their world, their beliefs and their role in society through multiple perspectives. We believe all students, all families, and all human beings deserve to be celebrated, included, and heard, and we are committed to supporting our schools and educators in taking on the challenge of examining and changing our practices..
 
We stand united in our commitment to this work and our support of the educators who are courageously stepping up and stepping into the learning, growing and changing that is needed. Our organizations will continue to provide resources, support and technical assistance as we all expand our own knowledge and capacity to engage in this critically important work on behalf of our students and our collective future.

11 December 2020

Parenting Cue Cards

 

Parenting Cue Cards

Do you ever struggle with what to do in tough parenting situations? GreatSchools worked with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to bring you the answers you need.

Parenting under stress

I will take this opportunity to share another great parenting resource with our school community. Tina Payne Bryson is a psychotherapist and the Founder/Executive Director of The Center for Connection, a multidisciplinary clinical practice, and of The Play Strong Institute, a center devoted to the study, research, and practice of play therapy through a neurodevelopment lens.


Dr. Tina Payne Bryson is the author of Bottom Line for Baby (Random House 2020) and co-author (with Dan Siegel) of THE POWER OF SHOWING UP (Random House 2020) and THE YES BRAIN (Random House 2018), as well as two New York Times bestsellers -- THE WHOLE-BRAIN CHILD (Random House 2011), and NO-DRAMA DISCIPLINE (Random House 2014) -- each of which has been translated into over forty languages.

Let’s Talk About Feelings

When you’re panicked, internally chaotic, and obsessive about the news, there’s a danger that you’ll dial up your child’s anxiety, leaving them more likely to focus on what they can’t control. On the other hand, if you are informed and internally calm, sharing bits of information about what we can control, you can dial down your child’s anxiety. Try saying something like, “It’s great news that the doctors know how this virus gets spread. That means we know some things we can do to be healthy. What do you think we need to do to be healthy?” This can also lead to a great conversation about food, sleep, hygiene, etc.

And, if your own anxiety is feeling more chaotic and dialed up than you would like, and you’re having a hard time regulating it, you aren’t alone. Allostatic load was first introduced and defined by McEwen and Stellar (McEwen 2001) and is the chronic, cumulative effect of high-stress situations in daily life that are experienced as taxing or exceeding our coping skills. Further, stress responses that are too frequent, too quick (daily challenges and transitions), too intense, and too long (more than 10-20 min) can all contribute to allostatic overload. (Can we say hello, 2020?)

To help, try walking in nature (No earbuds! Just listen to the world and get a break from stimulation!). Remember to exercise, try mindfulness meditations (or apps like Headspace and Calm), or seek out support. We all need someone who shows up for us. And, if needed, seek out a mental health professional who can help you with your own emotional waves. Take care during this challenging time. Together, we can move through it.

 

Other Resources

Parenting Under Stress: Click below to listen to a podcast I recorded with Dr. Dan Siegel and Sue Marriott LCSW, CGP, of Therapist Uncensored. Together, we unpack the ideas from our book, THE POWER OF SHOWING UP, and apply to this moment in time.

Circle of Control

Here is a helpful tool to put our life experiences in perspective. Kids, in particular, don't have a lot of control over their lives. They're told when to go to school, when to go to bed, where to sit on the bus and in the classroom, when to sanitize their hands, and oftentimes what to eat. 

This Circle of Control activity will help us all consider what things are within our control and which things are outside of their control. You might recognize this concept from the Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Knowing what is inside your Circle of Control helps with self control, emotional regulation, and managing anxiety. 

Draw two circles on a piece of paper and take it from there! Here are two examples:





What do your kids think matters to you? "Watch Your Words" by Angela Duckworth

Angela Duckworth's latest blog post is worth sharing. You can read more at Character Lab, offering actionable advice for parents and teachers -- based on science.

Watch Your Words

Because I study effort and achievement, people often assume that all I care about is effort and achievement.

That’s understandable—but incorrect.

When I think of my own two teenage girls and how they show up in the world, I do not think first and foremost of their resumes. I do not go to bed praying that they graduate summa cum laude. And if a fairy godmother granted me one wish, it would not be for Amanda and Lucy to be successful.

Do I care about effort and achievement?

Yes, I do.

Do I hope that my girls learn to work hard and smart, and to accomplish something of importance?

Yes, I do.

Philosophers have long debated what it means to live a good life. More recently, scientists have come to the consensus that thriving is multi-dimensional. When it comes to overall life satisfaction, achievement is less important than relationships—having friends you love and who love you back—and day-to-day feelings of hope, gratitude, and moments of joy.

Research also shows that thriving relates differently to various character strengths. For instance, having positive relationships correlates more strongly with kindness than with perseverance.

And, finally, some aspects of character are, in my view, ends in themselves. Whether or not honesty and intellectual humility bring fame, fortune, or even happiness, they are fundamental to who we are and how we choose to show up in the world. Indeed, certain world leaders exemplify strengths of will like grit but, tragically, seem lacking in strengths of heart and mind.

There is an adage that you should watch your thoughts, for they become your words. A corollary is that people assume that what you don’t talk about, you don’t think about. More and more, I appreciate my responsibility to talk and write about more than grit. I need to make clear what I think matters.

What do your kids think matters to you?

Try comparing what you talk about most to what you care about most. Ask your kids, “If a fairy godmother granted me one wish, what do you think I’d ask for?” If you’re surprised by the gap between what they assume and what is true, consider making an adjustment.

With grit and gratitude,

Angela

Family-to-Family educational program hosted by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness

NAMI Family-to-Family programs are starting up. While they are now virtual, they are still incredibly helpful. 

Family-to-Family

NAMI Family-to-Family is a free, 8-session educational program for family, significant others and friends of people with mental health conditions. It is a designated evidenced-based program. This means that research shows that the program significantly improves the coping and problem-solving abilities of the people closest to a person with a mental health condition.

NAMI Family-to-Family is taught by NAMI-trained family members who have been there, and includes presentations, discussions and interactive exercises.

What You’ll Gain

NAMI Family-to-Family not only provides information and strategies for taking care of the person you love, but you'll also find out that you're not alone. Recovery is a journey, and there is hope.

The group setting of NAMI Family-to-Family provides mutual support and shared positive impact—experience compassion and reinforcement from people who understand your situation. Sharing your own experience may help others in your class. In the program, you'll learn about:

  • How to solve problems and communicate effectively
  • Taking care of yourself and managing your stress
  • Supporting your loved one with compassion
  • Finding and using local supports and services
  • Up-to-date information on mental health conditions and how they affect the brain
  • How to handle a crisis
  • Current treatments and therapies
  • The impact of mental health conditions on the entire family

What People Are Saying

"The course gave me hope that it will be okay, that I am not alone and reduced a lot of shame, guilt and hopelessness."

"I wish I'd known about this seven years ago when the problem began. I felt safe in this class. I was able to talk about things I haven't been comfortable expressing elsewhere."

"Before I took the course, I felt alone and overwhelmed dealing with my daughter’s mental illness. By taking this course, I have met others who are going through the same things I am and have learned about many resources that I never knew existed."

"I thought my wife and I knew just about everything there is to know about the system and the illness. Boy, were we wrong. Without a doubt, this is the best support course I have had the privilege of taking part in, bar none."

Sign Up For A Class

Find the NAMI Family-to-Family class nearest to you. If a class isn’t available, contact your local NAMI Affiliate about starting one.

A Spanish-language version of NAMI Family-to-Family, De Familia a Familia de NAMI, is available in a limited number of states.

Welcome back! Getting ready for the 2020-2021 school year

The Mitchell Sandpipers

We would like to welcome back students and families to what will surely be an exciting, new and different year ahead. We'd also like to extend an extra warm welcome to our youngest new students and their families. Whether you come to Mitchell School for in-person learning or are a remote learner, we will all do our best to build a warm, nurturing, inclusive and safe environment for all of our students. Our principal, Alli Gamache, shared the following quote with the staff during professional development opening days: "Let's give this school year the opportunity to be awesome. Don't throw a label or a judgment on it before it begins. It may just surprise us in big, beautiful ways." 

Both coming to school in person and learning remotely from home have their own set of challenges. The article  "Keeping a Love for School Alive" from the New York Times has some excellent suggestions.

For the parents and caregivers for incoming Kindergarten students Helping Kindergartners succeed - things you can do is a packet that I put together that highlights some of the most effective ways you can help your student thrive in school.

I encourage you to take a moment to share the grade-specific welcome slideshow with your child. Recognizing faces and remembering staff members' names is one less variable that your child will have to negotiate on those first days back. The slideshows are located in the left sidebar of the Mitchell School homepage under New Family Information. 

Lastly, below you'll find an oldie-but-goodie collection of resources from Edutopia.  I encourage you to check out the Back to School Basics videos. They are quite good!



Back-to-School Resources for Parents

Find resources to help children begin school with a positive mindset, support their transition into a new school year, and prepare them for fall learning.
Resources by Topic:

Back-to-School Advice and Checklists

Easing the Back-to-School Transition

Tech Tips for a New School Year

For more tips and guidance about managing media and technology use, check out these other posts from Edutopia:

Gearing Up for Fall Learning

For more parent strategies around homework, take a look at these other blog posts from Edutopia:

The Power of Parental Involvement

Sign up for 'Parenting Journey' Online - Greater Seacoast Community Health



Parenting Journey 
  • Identify your strengths
  • Clarify parenting values and goals
  • Gain respect and build trust with your children
  • Become more confident and optimistic
  • Increase your ability to nurture yourself and your children
  • Build a network of support
For parents & grandparents of children of all ages

Wednesdays
Sept 9- Nov. 25
6-7:30 pm
online

Parenting Journey is a 12-week program with activities and guided discussions to help parents learn more about themselves, their relationships, and the resources they need to effectively parent their children.

In a warm and nurturing environment, parents are supported and encouraged to care for themselves and each other as they gain insights about the ways that past experiences can influence current parenting behaviors.