How to Change the Channel in the Face of Big Feelings

How to Change the Channel in the Face of Big Feelings

Big feelings don’t always need to be worked out quickly in order to find relief. When the intensity of a feeling grows, it can be helpful to change the channel for a bit. Instead of working harder to find the fixes, change the channel, and do something else entirely. This ends up creating MORE space for the big feelings to come out as the real deal, rather than all wrapped up in a big, confusing reaction.

Do you ever wonder where the hell the rule book is when you’re trying to figure out how to be a helpful parent or human in a hard situation?!?!

These last few days have had me looking for that book…a LOT!!

Here’s the thing. We all have feelings. And sometimes those feelings get REALLY big. Sometimes they don’t even seem to match the situation at hand, but do those feelings care about that?  Nope! I bet you know those moments I’m talking about.

Well, we’ve had a lot of them in our house recently. Two nights ago, my tween was feeling really upset. My offers to talk about it weren’t accepted. Nor were my offers to snuggle or hug. All were met by a cold, angry stare.

I sat there feeling bewildered and thinking, “Shit, how the hell do I handle this?!”.  And before I knew it, I heard myself saying out loud, “Well, you don’t want a hug and you don’t want to talk about it. Do you wanna to race instead?”

As soon as I said it, I thought, “What the hell? Race, Emily?!” But she immediately perked up and said, “Ok, race how?”

And again, I heard myself saying, “Get your shoes on (she was already in her pajamas!). We’re hitting the street. Get ready for your mom to beat your butt up that hill outside!”

Of course, she guffawed at the idea that I would beat her in a race, but she wasn’t taking into account that I have a newfound love for running that COVID quarantine created!!

So we headed out into the night and sprinted up and down the street we live on, tackling the giant hill multiple times. I’ll admit that she and I were BOTH surprised by my impressive speed!

After about 10 minutes of sprint-racing and laughing, we plopped down on some stairs in front of a nearby apartment complex. Suddenly there was a little more space for us to chat. Her feelings were able to come out as the real deal, rather than all wrapped up in a big, confusing reaction.

Did this unconventional outing totally fix the issues at hand? Nah. There’s still more to work out. In fact, the issue has shown up again for the last few nights since then!

But did our unexpected nighttime race create some space for the feelings to be there without us having to work hard to fix them? YES!  Did it lessen the seriousness that happens when big feelings show up and we become hellbent on getting them to go away? Yup.

If it sounds like I’m suggesting that the answer is to go out sprinting into the night when you have big feelings, let me assure you I’m not! 🤣

It’s not specifically WHAT my daughter and I did that night that was the most helpful, although it WAS fun!. It was that we changed the channel. And sometimes that’s the best thing you can do!

Big feelings often compel us to stare intensely into the eyes of those feelings, thinking harder and harder about them and how to find the solutions or how to make the feelings go away. If I could tell you how many times in my life I have done just this.

But you know what I notice when I do this? It usually makes me feel worse. My shoulders move up by my ears. My jaw tightens. My neck starts hurting. And my big feelings become bigger. In fact, before I know it, my thinking mind begins to take these big feelings and generalize them to lots of other areas of my life. And then I have REALLY BIG feelings!!

I’ll bet you know this experience, too. It’s such a human one, right?

My nighttime racing with my daughter was a helpful reminder to me a few days ago.

Big feelings don’t always need to be worked out quickly in order to feel relief. When the intensity of a feeling grows, it can be helpful to change the channel for a bit. Instead of working harder to find the fixes, change the channel, and do something else entirely. This ends up creating MORE space for the big feelings to come out as the real deal, rather than all wrapped up in a big, confusing reaction.

What are some channel changers? Well, sometimes it might be journaling about your feelings rather than just thinking about them in your head. Maybe it’s going for a walk (or a run:-). Perhaps it’s throwing yourself into painting, drawing, or coloring an adult coloring book. Sometimes it’s reading or listening to a novel that carries you into a different life or world. Maybe it’s sitting out in nature with your bare feet on the ground while noticing how many colors, sounds, animals, trees, and plants you can notice. The channel changing possibilities are endless!

And you know what? It’s ok to feel confused about how to navigate big feelings. There’s no darn rule book for how to best do this at any given time and this can be really frustrating! But you know what else? It invites creativity.

Taking my daughter and our big feelings out on that spontaneous nighttime sprint-fest was pure, unadulterated creativity in the works! Was it because I sat there trying to be creative? Nah! It was a mixture of desperation and the knowledge that changing the channel can be helpful that got me there.

Here’s the deal. Everywhere we look right now there are things going on that are triggering big feelings, right?!  I mean, seriously!! And this is exactly why it’s a great time to find those moments when you can change the channel and create relief in the middle of all these triggers.

So what are you waiting for? Where in your life are the big feelings showing up for you right now? I invite you to look for those moments in the midst of these big feelings when you can change the channel, even momentarily, and experience this relief for yourself. And if your channel change ends up being a nighttime sprint-race, you KNOW I’ll need to hear about it!! ❤️

P.S. If you’ve been enjoying my weekly blogs and are itching for more daily inspiration, friend me on Facebook (Emily Colwell) or follow me on Instagram (dr.emily_colwell).  I post frequently and humor leaks into most of my posts!

Warmly,

Emily Colwell, MSSW, ND

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