Transitions Are Testing Times: Building Our Emotional Tanks, Slowly Yet Consciously
Having worked for 52 long years, my father hung up his boots last year. At 78, he by no means was willing to slow down but since his company was shutting down, it left him with no option. For someone who has borne the trials and tribulations of life with considerable grit, dealing with retirement has been the toughest – a transition that he is ill prepared for. When an entire life has been defined by the work you do, the absence of it rocks your very core. Time has suddenly stretched to terrifying proportions. Filling up a day with engaging activities is a mighty task. In the absence of a spouse and a dwindling set of relationships, the isolation makes the twilight years even more painful.
Another acquaintance, recently married, kept complaining about persistent headaches and low physical energy. By terming it as hereditary, she sought sympathy as a hapless victim. On further probing she narrated her in-law woes and an unsupportive husband. With her dreams being dashed a feeling of being trapped for life was crushing her completely. Even though she did acknowledge the correlation between her anxiety and ill health, her only solution was to keep consulting more doctors.
Transitions are a reality of life. And not all of them happen smoothly.
Transitions are a reality of life. And not all of them happen smoothly. Marriage, divorce, illness, single parenting, career change, motherhood, loss of a loved one, change of location can take a toll on us both emotionally and physically. The rising number of people grappling with their changing circumstances is a cause for concern. In conversations these days, words such as depression, tension and stress have become the new normal. In a report released last year, The World Health Organization ranked India and China as the most depressed countries in the world. An India Employee Survey by HR tech start-up Hush, reported, that as many as 22% respondents felt that their productivity is low due to overwork and stress. For a country that is essentially collectivist in nature where tightly held relationships extend beyond the immediate family; this is a shocking statistic.
We are living in times when our propensity for anxiety is heightened. Our emotional energy tank is prone to quick depletion more than ever before. The question we need to ask ourselves is: Are we doing enough to build this reservoir?
Sadly, our education and upbringing have always relegated it to the background, leaving many of us incapable of dealing with emotions that cause discomfort. Many of us expend our energy in quelling emotions such as shame, guilt, jealousy and hurt. In a bid to uphold a socially acceptable image these emotions never get fully acknowledged, expressed or resolved. As a child, I remember being told by an elder, “Don’t talk about unpleasant stuff, only share what is enjoyable.” Each time someone gave a superficial impression of ‘all is well’ it was met with appreciative nods. Dealing with it, even if it was by suppressing it was seen as a sign of courage. Unfortunately masking our emotions doesn’t dissolve the discomfort, caused by an unpleasant experience. It leaves behind a residue that keeps building up till such time as it explodes in the form of bitterness, uncontrolled anger, vindictiveness or depression.
Navigating the many transitions in our lives calls us to pose deep, pertinent and even uncomfortable questions of ourselves.
- How will my failings show up in my marriage and how will I cope with my partner’s eccentricities?
- Coming back to work after maternity leave, how am I dealing with the guilt of leaving my child behind?
- Now that my children have flown the nest, what new purpose do I create for myself?
Emotional literacy doesn’t come naturally, it’s a skill that needs to be developed.
As we dig deeper to explore the intertwining of our emotions with that of our thoughts, needs and values; we start building a relationship with them. Emotional literacy doesn’t come naturally, it’s a skill that needs to be developed. “I am envious of the way my friend’s husband cares for her’ is a far more accurate description of one’s predicament than “I am not feeling good.” When I am aware and can describe the specific emotion that I am feeling, even when there is social abhorrence towards it; I take a step towards being authentic. The more authentic I am, the more congruent am I with what I say and do. There is no deep-rooted baggage to carry the weight of; leaving us feeling light and spirited.
When I am aware and can describe the specific emotion that I am feeling, even when there is social abhorrence towards it; I take a step towards being authentic.
With the rise of artificial intelligence and the increasing outsourcing of services to bots, the isolation felt by reduced human interaction is going to rise. In a Facebook post, a woman reeling in agony over her despairing situation wrote out a lengthy post sharing her plight. The sympathy poured in, in ample measure. One can only imagine how intense her pain must be for her to seek solace from strangers, over a digital medium. Moreover, did it really address the cause of her pain?
The pain of life’s whiplashes will not vanish but it can definitely be alleviated. By taking charge of our emotions we are building an arsenal of effective response strategies.
Some steps that one would proactively undertake on an ongoing basis:
- When in a crisis, seek help:
Outpouring oneself to friends and family is cathartic but that’s just a temporary addressal of the issue. A more recommended option would be to get a life coach who will get you to dig deep and de weed the issue from its root.
- Journal your thoughts and feelings.
Writing down your feelings in a book or an app, is a great way to ventilate our pent-up thoughts. Like the whistle of a pressure cooker, this provides the release of pressure from time to time.
- Invest in self-improvement courses each year.
I echo Socrates’ view that, ‘an unexamined life is not worth living.” Self-discovery courses facilitate the much-needed shedding of some restraining mindsets and a re-cataloguing of our thoughts and feelings. It’s like an Intel Pentium processor upgrade that helps us work more efficiently with our emotions.
- Get Curious, go behind the scenes:
When you find aberrant behaviour, dip into their life journey. It’s easy to label a person as “Oh he is such an angry man.” A more appropriate question would be “What incidents have made him so angry?” When you understand the triggers and the motivations of another, you build a lens to evaluate yourself too. You may even see a bit of yourself in the other, enabling you to be a little more compassionate rather than judgmental.
- Seek diverse perspectives:
Polarity of perspectives draws defined boundaries allowing little space for a genuine dialogue based on facts. Currently our political affiliations (or even the lack of it!) triggers extremity of reactions; ones that are not just limited to raucous TV debates but even drawing-room gatherings. Building an appreciation for an opposite view enables us to hold multiplicity of perspectives. When dissent is welcomed instead of it being feared, extremity of emotions gets levelled out.
Exploring the breadth and depth of our feelings, is only way we can be better prepared for the transitions that life takes us through.
Building emotional potency is a slow process, one that requires conscious and sustained attention. Exploring the breadth and depth of our feelings, is only way we can be better prepared for the transitions that life takes us through. It’s about time we gave this part of ourselves far greater attention than it has received till now.
Aparna Mathur is a leadership coach and facilitator and co-founder of Growing Leadership of Women. The views expressed are the author’s own.
Picture Credit: Benjamin Voros