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Emotions Are Not Destiny

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An obvious fact: These are incredibly emotional times. Yet, it is not just the presence of strong emotions that makes this time unique; it is the incredibly wide range of emotions that each day seems to bring that stands out and feels so bewildering.

Only a few weeks ago our daily routines with students were suddenly interrupted. The shift to distance, remote, and virtual education became an immediate expectation, often engendering fear and feelings of uncertainty and being overwhelmed. New tools, new techniques, new schedules, new ways of interacting with students and colleagues all arrived simultaneously. So much of what was familiar disappeared.

Before these emotions could subside, expectations for learning continuity and progress emerged, even if self-imposed. Conscientiousness and sense of responsibility gave rise to guilt and worry about how much is enough. Should students be given access to us at any time, or just during school hours? What about students and families who are not checking in and responding to reach outs?

Additionally, separation can give rise to feelings of loneliness and nostalgia for times before the virus when relationships seemed to happen naturally. Familiar connections could be taken for granted. Trying to teach and nurture learning from a distance without daily in-person contact is hard.

Still, there are reasons to feel grateful for our circumstances in light of the challenges and trials so many others are facing. Making a difference for learners under such unprecedented and challenging circumstances is ample reason to feel pride and satisfaction.  

So what are we to make of such a diverse palette of emotions? How can we find balance and meaning in the midst of so much uncertainty and unfamiliarity? Of course, there is no magic bullet or easy solution.

However, there is a strategy well known in resilience research and practice on which we can draw. It is known as the three Ps.

The first P is personalization. It can be tempting to personalize what is happening to and around us. We can feel responsible. We might even feel as though somehow we are to blame or responsible for these circumstances. This P cautions against allowing the situation to define us. What is happening may affect us, but it is not who we are. We can respond to what we face, but it is not us.

The second P is pervasiveness. When multiple emotions and experiences occur simultaneously, we can feel as though every aspect of our lives is disrupted. This response can quickly lead to feelings of debilitation and being paralyzed. In reality, even though we are experiencing uncertainty and pain in one or some areas of our lives, there are elements and aspects of life that remain stable and predictable. A focus on family, friends, hobbies, and other relationships and activities can be a useful antidote to feelings of pervasiveness.

The third P is permanency. As challenging and emotional as these times are, they will pass. Stability and normalcy will return. It is true that at first what will become normal may feel odd and unfamiliar as we make our way back to life with in-person contact, and face-to-face learning and teaching. We will need to be patient, but we can be assured that what we are experiencing now will not be permanent. We can be hopeful and look forward to familiar routines, more consistent connections, and comfortable engagement with friends, colleagues, and even strangers that soon will become friends.

We can give ourselves permission to experience our emotions without having them determine who we are and how we will respond to what life gives us. What might be your first step?  

Thought for the Week

Only by allowing ourselves to risk bruising by life’s rocky stretches can we remain fresh, flexible, and growing.

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