Have you ever complained about a situation in your life and had someone respond by asking you to go deeper?
You’re feeling anxious or stressed and instead of commiserating with you, your friend asks you to dig in to the emotion, to reach for that thought or feeling that lies underneath what you’re talking about?
If you have, consider that person a good friend. It’s a tough thing to do, especially when experiencing strong emotions, but it’s also a worthwhile practice recommended to help people who want to become more resilient in their lives.
We’re often taught from a young age to trust our feelings and responses to the situations in our lives. But sometimes our thoughts and feelings have it wrong.
They may be there to protect us from a perceived danger, or to bolster our sense of certainty or control in our lives, but that doesn’t mean the information they provide is always based on the full picture of what’s happening.
Going deeper in these cases means more fully examining why your feelings are what they are and what they’re based on.
This concept is explained well in a parenting guide to help children cope with strong emotions and the behaviors that accompany them called, ‘6 Essential Skills to Transform Stress and Anxiety for Kids and Teens.’ It was developed by GoZen!, a creator of online social and emotional learning programs.
Feelings have a backstory, says GoZen! Founder and Chief Storyteller Renee Jain, and getting at that backstory is the key to transforming them. Jain drew on her own experience as an anxious child when developing GoZen! and says she teaches kids the skills she wishes she had learned when she was a child.
But the skills are not just for children. Adults who struggle with anxiety or other strong emotions may also benefit from them, including exploring the messages behind our emotions more fully.
“What I have found is that the greatest shift happens…when we focus on what lies beneath,” Jain explains.
The free online class offers parents, teachers and others an overview on some of the faulty beliefs behind powerful emotions like stress, as well as the essential skills that can help children (or anyone) respond differently.
For example, one faulty belief is that the worst will happen. Jain uses the example of school being closed for the rest of the year, something many school children have experienced this year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Anxiety,” she said, “loves to say the worst is going to happen.”
Children who have a pessimistic outlook could respond by seeing the end of school as going on forever. They’ll never see their friends again, they may think, and it will never get better. In contrast, a child with a more optimistic outlook might see the situation, while sad, as a moment in time that will pass.
By working to get underneath the feeling, to explore and edit what is really happening, children can expand their view on the situation, remove any feelings of being responsible for it, and open up to seeing it in a new way.
Teaching children how to do this process helps them become more resilient, according to Jain, who encourages parents to learn these skills too.
The GoZen! class offers parents specific strategies and language to begin conversations on these topics with their children. It is a prelude to a paid program offered by GoZen! for children and teenagers.
Check it out to help your children, or yourself, respond more resiliently to the challenges we are all experiencing this year.