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Ask the Counsellor: Feeling Out of Control

Dear Ask the Counsellor:

With everything that has been going on recently I find myself feeling uptight and on edge most of the time. I have been yelling at my kids and my spouse lately and I generally feel like I am out of control. I know everyone is feeling out of sorts with the pandemic, but I think I should be coping better than I am. I think there is something wrong with me because I do not feel the same as I did last year when the pandemic first started. Help!

-Feeling out of control


I think most people can relate to what you are saying. This past year has been difficult. The first question I would ask if we were talking is, why do you think you should be doing the same as last year? Stress is cumulative, that means that it piles up like laundry or dishes and gets bigger. For many people, this past year has been one stressful event after another, making dealing with stress as it comes difficult because the last stress is still lingering.

Dealing with stress – much like doing the dishes, does not take away the stress it just means that it is addressed, dealt with, so you have room to deal with more stress. Most things in life are stressful, even some of the good things have stress associated with them, the key is having healthy and productive coping skills that allows you to deal with it. Then, there are what we call bucket fillers that fill your bucket and help you find the capacity to take on new stress in a productive and healthy way. Bucket fillers are activities that you find enjoyable and fulfilling and help you feel good about yourself. These are things like hobbies, but they also often include things that have been in short supply this year, like visiting with family and friends, traveling, seeing, and doing new things.

I would suggest trying a few things to help you cope with stress in a healthy way and help you feel more in control of your emotions.

  • Make a list of healthy coping strategies you enjoy. These are not things you think you should do, or that you think others expect you to do, but things you enjoy. If you like walking, but not running, do not add running to your list because you know exercise is a healthy coping strategy and you think you should be running. Be real with yourself when you write it down, or why bother.
  • Determine which of these things can be done safely, which ones might need to be altered due to current restrictions, and which ones need to wait a bit longer.
  • Do the same for bucket fillers.
  • Strive to do some of these things each week, set a realistic and attainable goal that is specific and states a time frame. I.e., I will do coping strategies each day and one bucket filler each week.
  • Tell your family how you have been feeling. This can be done in a group, as in a family meeting, or individually with each person, or both. A lot of parents think they can not tell their kids how they feel. Parents are responsible for modeling how to manage feelings to their children. Not talking about them can lead a child to assume that you do not experience them. If you do not experience them and the child does, then they often assume something is wrong with them. Since you have never talked about your feelings, then they do not think they can talk to you about theirs. Sharing your feelings, does not mean your child is responsible for them. It is important that you let children know that. Sometimes when parents become overwhelmed, they inadvertently blame children for losing control of their emotions by saying they are upset because of something the kids did.

This shifts the stress from the parent to the children and does not help the situation. It is important to tell your children, that you will be okay, and you are doing things to manage your feelings like taking time outs, deep breathing, going for walks, and talking about your feelings (or whatever you do to help manage stress). This helps children understand they can talk about their feelings; you have provided them with a list of healthy coping strategies that work for you; and you can feel good about modeling how to manage emotions in a healthy way. Just remember, your kids are still learning and might have trouble being as good at managing their emotions as you are!!!

Sherry Tucker, BA, BSW, MSW, RSW
Director of Family Services
Clinical Counsellor / Registered Social Worker