By Kathleen Krol, LCSW, RPT
After a cool start, spring has arrived with its warmer days and longer nights. Soon it will be summer and the end of the school year. At this time of the year, patience can wane and internal thermostats can rise as family members spend more time together. Awareness of our own emotional stress threshold can be overlooked in the day to day hectic shuffle of life and coexistence in a family or personal relationship. Good communication skills tend to slide with the people with whom we are closest: family and significant others. So how do you monitor your internal thermostat and maintain good interpersonal skills to minimize overheating?
How do we check our temperature throughout the day? During the course of the work day, challenges will come up, whether as an employee, self-employed, student or homemaker. Many people push through these stressors with minimal awareness of heightened emotional tension and physical discomfort. If there is awareness of these sensations, we may try to suppress them. After all, the job still needs to get done. How often do we pause to check in on how we are being affected by our daily tasks and how well we are managing them? Take moments throughout the day to get a drink or take a bathroom break to scan your body for any tension. Ask yourself “What am I feeling right now?” Use deep breathing, muscle relaxation (purposefully tightening part of the body that is tight, hold 3-5 sec, then relax and repeat 2-3times) or use thought stopping meditations. For bigger concerns, write them down in a note pad and put them aside until a time when they can be addressed.
Utilize small windows of time for mini-breaks and refreshers. Sometimes 5-10 minutes may be the longest break we can get during the day. Mindfully give some needed self-care and a reminder that you are important rather than using the time to mull over some concern or to plan ahead to the next task. You can do this in simple ways by enjoying a cup of tea or a piece of fruit, take a walk around the block, take deep breaths or listen to a favorite song on your way to the store or to pick up the kids.
Reorient yourself to where you are now and what you are doing in the moment: Rushing from one errand or activity to another can be slowed down by pausing as you leave your house or drive your car; take a couple deep breaths and orient yourself to the present by noticing your five senses, ie. The sights around you, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the ground or your seat, any tastes.
Anticipate and prepare. Most of us have some idea of what pushes our buttons and can anticipate how others might act that could trigger these buttons. Being conscious of our own pattern of reaction, gives us a chance to try a different response. When transitions take time for our child or teen, extra time may be needed in the preparation stage. Giving reminders ahead of a transition can also be helpful.
Let go of “other stuff”: Check in with yourself at the end of the day at home or work, before walking in the door or before children come home. Are you still carrying something left over from earlier in the day? Being aware can reduce the chance of redirecting your frustration onto your spouse, children or pets.
Positive communication. Sometimes just changing the words you use or how you say them can make a small but significant change in your interactions. Use Praise, positive reinforcement and acknowledging when something is done correctly. This is usually more effective than pointing out every time something is done wrong. Try to avoid negatively phrased words such as “can’t,” as in “You can’t do that!” which prompts the child to become defensive in response. Instead, give choices and alternatives when redirecting behaviors.
Clear communication. Be clear when communicating plans and check that everyone is on the same page in remembering the important details of an event. Mind-reading occurs when we assume a family member will recall “this” is the place you always meet. Forgetting small but crucial changes in time or other details causes wasted time and frustration. Aids like wipe-off boards, communication logs or texting information can be beneficial tools.
Promote regular positive sharing. Plan once a week minimally to share at dinner or before bed, something positive that happened in everyone’s day and also express gratitude for something done by the other family members.
Be kind to yourself. At the end of the day, don’t be too critical of yourself. Remind yourself we all have days that don’t go as planned and where we did not respond the way we should have with others. Tomorrow is another day!
Kathleen Krol, LCSW, RPT is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapist at the Resiliency Center. She does individual and family therapy using Play Therapy and Sand Tray therapy. She specializes in work with children ages three through teens and adults, who have experienced trauma, grief and loss, anxiety, depression, behavior issues and abuse. She is trained in and uses EMDR, parent coaching, cognitive behavior and stress management techniques and Trauma Art Narrative Therapy. For a free phone consultation, contact Kathleen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-289-3101#1.