Hot Mess, Party of 1. You’re First Aid For Happiness Kit is now available….

How to control your emotions.

My kids range in age from 9 to 16, and I’m finally getting to that stage in life where my kids are fairly self-sufficient. My oldest can drive, and the others can ride their bikes to practices and school, be left alone, fix themselves a meal (I mean use my credit card to order a pizza) and do their homework without being told*.

*Just kidding.

So I’ve graduated from changing diapers and watching Dora the Explorer, to discussing the hardships of e-learning and passing out money instead of fruit snacks. The conversations I have with my kids are truly amazing, and are one of the best parts of being a mom. In between rolling their eyes at my naivety and blaming me for their missing laundry, they occasionally come to me for advice. For a few minutes, every now and then, I get to help them figure out how to make things work in life.

When I picked up my 9 year old, Kate, from piano lessons the other day, the first thing she said when she got into the car was, “Mom, I’m sorry I was such a hot mess before school this morning. Thank you for being nice to me even though I was being mean.”

“Hot mess” is an understatement. She can be a real treat to get ready for school. Her temper tantrums are so ridiculous they are actually funny. It makes me wonder if I look as ridiculous when I’m in the crux of a crisis that only I can see.

Probably not. I’m 40, and when I cry and stomp around, it’s totally legit.

She went on to say, “I think I need to go to therapy. I just can’t control my emotions. I go from happy to really upset way too fast. And then I can be happy again. And sometimes I feel sad even when I’m happy.”

That’s called bipolar, honey. (I said that with my inside voice.)

I told her that might be a very good idea, and that therapy has been a big help to me when I’ve struggled with issues. I, too, have a tendency to let my emotions get the best of me. My yoga practice has helped me learn how to manage myself.*

*In theory.

First, I started with her belief that she “can’t control her emotions”. The entire first year of therapy would be spent changing that belief from to a productive one like “I am learning to control my emotions.”

I offered her proof that she can learn with this scenario.

Think about how you feel when you fight with your sister. (They are usually best friends, but they share a room. Enough said.)

Think about how bad it hurts in your heart and in your head when you are so mad at her. She’s not listening, she doesn’t understand, she’s being mean, nasty and selfish. It’s not fair, it’s awful, and you just want to scream. Close your eyes and remember what those emotions feel like. Go there in your mind and experience the sensations in your memory.

Now, hold that feeling in your head and imagine that suddenly, the doorbell rings. Dad walks in with a bunch of presents for everyone, a sweet new puppy  that won’t shed or poop in the yard, and bags full of money.

What? Best. Day. Ever.

So in the blink of an eye, you go from being miserable and upset to being happy and excited. That happened because you shifted your thoughts. You were focused on what was wrong and awful and how your sister is a troll, and when you stopped focusing on that, you stopped feeling that way.

Our thoughts create our emotions, which are simply physical manifestations of our mental state of mind.  When you feel yourself getting upset, it’s because you are thinking about something that is upsetting. So if you don’t enjoy the sensation of being upset, think about something else.

It’s that simple. If you believe that it’s possible to learn to control your emotions, then it is.

One year of therapy saved, darling. You owe me $2500.

Once you realize that it’s possible to learn to control your emotions,  you simply make it a practice. 

Being a third grade girl can be tough. They expect you to write in cursive, and turn in your homework. Also, little girls can be really mean to each other. The daily dramas are exhausting–and perfect to practice emotional management. “Imagine that a friend at school tells you that another girl said something mean about you. And it really hurts your feelings. You go to the bathroom and cry. You feel like you might throw up. Your stomach hurts. Your head aches. You are getting physically ill from your mental thoughts.”

“And the more you think about it, the worse you feel. Your emotions are snowballing, and you are headed toward a full blown melt down. You know that because it’s happened before. The exact details are different, but it’s the same old story.”

“But you can have a choice here. You don’t have to go through this.”

Every thought we think leaves a trail in our brain. And most of our thoughts are repeats–we’ve thought them before. Just like a trail through the woods, the more a certain path is traveled, the easier it becomes to follow. Soon, we don’t even have to think about it.  All of our opinions, perceptions and beliefs about the world are just thoughts that are repeated over and over. And the more we think them, the less we are REALLY thinking about them.

Most of our thoughts are habits.

And habits can be changed.

The only thing required in order to change is to realize we have the power to learn to control our emotions.

I suggested, “The next time something or someone upsets you, and you realize that your emotions are taking you on a trip to crazy town, simply get off the ride. We all believe that in order to be happy, we have to fix our problems. So we go over and over the story in attempt to figure out who’s wrong and what we should do about it. We keep focusing on the problem because we think that’s the only way to fix the problem.”

“That, my sweet daughter, is a belief that only applies to problems you enjoy having. If you want to be good at math, you do need to focus on how to find the answer. Your brain is a powerful tool that can be used to accomplish anything you set your mind to.”

But we must choose carefully what we set our mind to. Spending time thinking someone else should help me, understand me or like me is a waste of my time. Those aren’t problems I can or need to solve. I can’t control other people. What others say, think and do is really none of my business, and I shouldn’t concern myself. Worrying about what others deem wrong will not make things right.

So co-dependancy is out. Narcissism is back. You’re welcome! Maybe my own years of therapy are paying off.

No one can make you feel hurt. That is a self-inflicted emotion. Feeling pained requires participation. Just because someone offers you an insult doesn’t mean you have to take it. When someone hurts you, acknowledge the pain but don’t dwell on it and relive it over and over. Your anger hurts you–not them. Feeling anger in response to someone else’s action is to punish yourself for their crime.

So how can you stop feeling hurt? Anger? Sadness?

By feeling happy instead.

Let’s start with some homework to learn to control emotions. Create a FIRST AID FOR HAPPINESS kit. Put together a collection of what you are grateful for… include pictures, memories and a list of treasured items. Make a list of things that make you laugh–comedians, movies, quotes and jokes. Then write down easy activities that make you happy, with specific dance music, singing songs, books, recipes or art supplies.

Keep your FIRST AID FOR HAPPINESS kit as close as you would an inhaler, an epi-pin, or emergency food. And whenever you smell a fire burning in your emotions, realize you have a choice. You can fan the flames and feel the burn, or you can extinguish the fire by simply ignoring it.

What you pay attention to grows. What you neglect dies.

Happiness is hard. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do. It’s a choice that requires practice. You can only learn to dance, play the piano, and ride a bike if you try and keep trying. You train your brain in the same way you do your body. You have to want to be happy more than you want to be miserable.

Sweet Daughter, you are a beautiful fairy-tale princess with a magic wand. Anytime you wish, you can wave that wand and turn sadness into happiness. Having a bad day? POOF!

When we got home, it was dinner time, so I invited her to practice being happy.. She looked at me and said, “Sure!”. I told her I was going to ask her to do the dishes, and instead of thinking, “I hate doing the dishes”, “NO FAIR! It’s not my turn!” and “Why is my mom so mean?” I wanted her to put on some music, make soap bubbles and dance while she did it.

And she did.

POOF! I’m happy, she’s happy AND THE DISHES ARE DONE.

Best. Day. Ever.

Read more about being happy…Happiness is exactly what you think!