I am a firm believer in naming my emotions and my mood states- and lately I feel like I have had many!
I used to do this all the time with my children. It started off as something quite simple and true: Mom’s tired. Mom’s grumpy. Mom’s bored, etc… They soon started to notice some of my behaviours when I was in these states and then started commenting and naming my moods based on what they were observing. I am sure we all have similar stories to tell- the ones who live close to us and with us sometimes know what is happening within us before we do!
Lately, I was teaching in Poland and they were having a heat wave. It was 33+ and very humid. I turned to my colleagues and said ‘I’m shvitzing’. They laughed and asked me what I meant. I explained that in my family, when you are hot and bothered and most definitely sweating, you are shvitzing. I also explained that I believed it was possibly a European thing, maybe even a Hebrew word, but I wasn’t sure. One of my colleagues who knows German quite well remembered that actually the German term to sweat is schwitzen. We were all amused and acknowledged the mutual shvitz that we were all experiencing and moved on. In fact, we actually felt a relief in just saying the phrase ‘I am shvitzing’. Either that or the laughter helped! It was quite interesting.
Dr. Chris Germer, author of “The Mindful Path to Self- Compassion”, mentions this naming game in his book as a tool to calm the brain or to manage and work skilfully with emotions. He even encourages the reader to find a word that is a ‘quirky little expression that may carry personal meaning’ (p.72). Not only that, but he uses the example of the Yiddish word ‘ferklemt’ to describe a frog in the throat! I think it must be a North American colloquialism to use isolated words from different languages to describe states.
In his book, Germer explains that “[t]he more accurately we label an emotion, the more effectively we become ‘unstuck’ from it” and goes on to offer an informal practice around labeling as we move about the world.
He encourages us to pause whenever we feel a strong emotion, take a deep breath, shift the attention to the chest region, observe what is happening in regards to feelings and body sensations and name it once or twice in a loving and gentle manner. He then instructs to shift focus between the breath and the label a few times until the emotion loses its grip (Germer, 2009, p.77).
So, this week’s challenge is to practice this labeling method whenever we feel stuck in an emotion. Maybe even finding our own quirky word for the emotion and turning towards it with a gentle kindness.
Interestingly, a few hours ago, my daughter said to me: ‘Mom, you’re happy’! I stopped smiled, took a breath and said to myself ‘joyful, actually’.
Let us know how you get on!
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