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Why children (and big kids) must be seen and heard

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“Children should be seen and not heard."

“Sweep it under the carpet."

“Keep swimming.”

“Move on.”

“Don’t worry.”

“Look on the bright side.”

“Stiff upper lip.”

“Keep calm and carry on.”

So drilled are we on repressing our negative emotions that it’s a wonder any of us know if we’re happy or sad. Let alone the many shades of grey in between.

Personally I blame the stoics… “If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining,” said the wise Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius some 120 years ago AD…

The problem is that there is a human cost to being stoical. We are humans, not robots Marcus. And there is a high price to pay for keeping a lid on it.

But do you know what that price is?

The price of silence

Repressed emotions don’t get the chance to be processed. It might be an argument with a loved one, feeling sad about a loss, or experiencing loneliness during lockdown. But these banished emotions don’t just disappear, dissolve, evaporate. Shame.

Instead, they can show up as a range of psychological or physical symptoms. At Welfy we call this ‘snapping’… which can look like, well, literally snapping – at your loved ones, dog (also a loved one, but dogs deserve a special mention), whoever’s in the line of fire really. Or it could be the 4am “gremlins” – those whirring half-thoughts that won’t subside and wreak havoc on your normal sleeping pattern. Or maybe it’s ‘micro aggressions’ – tiny snipes at work, school, at your sports club or at home that leave you and those around you feeling utterly wretched. Or perhaps it rears its ugly head as good old fashioned road rage, if you’re of driving age… oh we’ve all been there.

Besides being toxic to relationships, over time this ‘snapping’ can affect blood pressure, memory and self-esteem. It can build into depression, or an anxiety disorder. And these issues can equally build up into physical issues in the body leading to a litany of problems from ulcers to terminal illnesses and autoimmune diseases.

A 2013 study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester showed that people who bottled up their emotions increased their chance of premature death from all causes by more than 30%, with their risk of being diagnosed with cancer increasing by 70%.

Put simply, the body and mind cannot tolerate toxic thoughts being trapped inside. Let it out, then let it go
The answer then is to notice negative emotions. To increase our awareness of them in the moment and develop strategies to then let them go.

Here are three Welfy tips to increase your immunity by setting negative thoughts free:

1. Remember we all have a design flaw

Our brain has a negativity bias. From an evolutionary perspective, we are primed to see the negative at all times. Research has found that even preverbal infants recognise negative emotions such as anger, fear and disgust. Clever really as it is designed to keep us safe from the hyenas. But of course, it works against us in our modern-day world where negative emotions like fear and anxiety can dominate our days. 

There is no shame in how we are all, to a lesser or greater extent, wired. As soon as we recognise that the glass is naturally half empty, we can start the work of retraining our brains and noticing more of what is good in the world.

2. Notice it and name it

When was the last time you took a moment to acknowledge what you’re feeling and name it? It’s not something we tend to do but luckily for the next generation, our children are learning this in primary schools now. There is hope for humanity!

Books like the Colour Monster by Anna Llenas joyfully teach children that their emotions can get mixed up but that each emotion has a colour and a name and can be sorted into jars – yellow for happiness, blue for sadness, black for fear. You get the gist.

So next time you feel your mood shifting to a darker place, take a second to acknowledge what you are feeling, accept it and name it, “Ah, that’s anger. What’s causing that then?” “Is there an alternative view I could take?” “What is the emotion trying to tell me?” Be curious, be kind. There is absolutely no shame in being less than ecstatic all the time.

Meditation can be a great tool here and there’s a particularly useful framework called RAIN which can be followed to make recognising your emotions more straightforward so that you can respond, not react, to challenging situations.

3. Be seen and heard

It is our fundamental human need to be seen and heard. To have our feelings listened to and validated. When we are sad, we want someone to stop and say, “I know you’re unusually down and I can completely understand the reasons why. I’m here for you.” And when we can’t take it all anymore, we want someone to notice and gently say, “It’s been too much for you, I recognise that, of course it has. It would be too much for anyone.”

But how often do you give or receive such validation?

Seek it out from someone who has your back next time you’re feeling low. And return the favour. It is nectar to the soul.

Negative emotions like loneliness, envy and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big flashing signs that something needs to change.

Gretchen Rubin

This month’s Personal Wellbeing Report content has been supplied by Welfy, a workplace wellbeing training consultancy supporting individuals and businesses to redefine success. We specialise in workplace wellbeing workshops, wellbeing strategy consultancy and leadership development helping people to live happier, healthier and more productive lives. To find out more, visit www.welfy.co.uk

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