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  • Lori K Walters

3 Practices for Staying Steady in a Teenage Storm of Emotions

dark grey storm clouds over the ocean

On the west coast of Canada, we had an historic “double bomb storm”. Twenty hours of 50 km/h winds, crashing waves, severe downpours, power outages, downed trees all caused by the lowest central pressure system ever recorded in the Pacific Northwest. I had the extra blankets, candles and flashlights ready. 

It reminds me of a client, Arden, who described bracing herself for big waves of emotions rushing in at her. When her teen was upset, it was BIG and Arden was filled with panic and lost her sense of herself.  She would feel her body stiffen and her mind start spinning, leaving her immobilized, unable to remember what’s really important to her and unable to choose her next step. “It’s like I don’t have anything solid to stand on. I just want to get out of there.”

The Impulse to Turn Away from Big Emotions

It is instinctive to run when you sense danger. Your built-in flight instinct is activated when there’s a potential physical threat, but also when there’s a threat to your emotional landscape. When a wave of emotional pain is approaching, or is even possibly of approaching, it urges you to run for cover.

While it may be actually physically leaving the scene, this can also look like escaping into wine or Netflix to numb out, eating or shopping to outrun something inside of you, withdrawing into your shell, and procrastinating about doing things that require you to slow down. You avoid doing things that might create enough space for painful emotions to come in. 

We’re constantly scanning for safety and ready to run as quick and far as we can. And that means we’re unable to be present to what’s really happening and connect to what’s really important to us.

This fear of facing fear is a tyrant. It has us standing on the decks of our ships with rigid legs, locked knees and jaws, tight bellies and wide eyes, alert to any emotion we believe will knock us down and toss us overboard. As my client said, “I just don’t want to feel that fear again. Anything but that.”

And yet, avoiding the pain only causes other, prolonged pain – the pain of not being fully engaged in this precious life, authentically ourselves, choosing what’s important to us and expressing who we are in this world.

The physiological lifespan of an emotion in the human body and brain is about 90 seconds. If we open to it, it flows through in just 90 seconds! And as you know, if we resist it, the turmoil can last hours, days or weeks.

What would it look like for you to stand on deck in the waves and wind for 90 seconds? 

This was the focus of Arden’s coaching journey: finding her unique way of staying present, standing steady and allowing her emotions to be felt. She dearly wanted to be able to stay true to herself when she was feeling less sturdy.

Over those few months, what became possible for her was a new way of connecting to her inner self during both stormy and fair weather. In our last meeting, she said, “Who I am is my anchor and it’s always right here.”

3 Practices for Staying Steady

To stand on deck and face a big wave, you must develop your captain’s stance. A stance that is solid and yet springy. An attitude of “standing with” instead of bracing, clenching and dreading.

We cannot change our behaviour without bringing our bodies along; our bodies must contain our new way of being. So, cultivate your ability to "stay" by undertaking small daily practices that strengthen your balance and flexibility. Build the ability to ride out the rising, peaking and subsiding of the wave, staying intact and true to your Self. Practice on regular days in calm seas so that you can rely upon these "muscles” when a big wave swells before you.

Here are some suggestions for you:

Stable Stance

Begin with a few cleansing breaths and then build your stable posture from the ground up. Look at your feet and check that they are parallel, shoulder-width apart, with toes pointing neither outwards nor inwards. Let your knees be slightly bent and soft. Engage your quadriceps. Tuck the buttocks under and tilt your pelvis forward. Your shoulders, arms and hands should be relaxed but not loose. Create length in the back of the neck and tuck the chin in very slightly.

When you feel stable, stay in this position for 60 full seconds, firm but not stiff, and allow your body to register and remember this posture. 

Breathe in Waves

Begin by sitting tall, feeling your sit bones pressing firmly into your chair and your feet on the floor, spine straight and shoulders relaxed. Place one hand over your heart and one on your belly and notice your breath as it is in this moment. Feel the rise and fall of the chest and belly with each breath in and each breath out.

Feel the sensation of your hands against your body as you focus on the rise and fall, being with each in-breath for its full duration and with each out-breath for its full duration, as if riding the waves of your own breathing.

Regain your Balance

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take at least 30 seconds to breathe gently and connect with the space around your heart. Lunge back with one foot to a comfortable position. Trusting your foundation, sway from side to side and back and forth. Allow your body to go slightly off balance and then return to equilibrium.  Let your arms move instinctually as a counterbalance as you explore the space around you.  

After one minute, return to the standing position. Switch sides and repeat. When you’re done, take a few moments to linger in your balanced standing position and take a few gentle breaths into the space around your heart. 

A Blessing for You, the Captain of your Ship

There is no change without discomfort, no growth without challenge.

There is no perfectly calm voyage.

And so, with grace, may you turn and face emotions.

You are not lost. You are here. At your helm.

Emotions will not destroy you.

They yearn to teach you something, a fleeting messenger.

So, stand upon your steady legs. Open the front door of your heart to this tenacious emotion.

What gift is it bringing you?

Whether it makes sense or not, whether you can see it clearly or not,

take that wisdom into your center.

Allow it to become part of you and shape you going forward.

And then gratitude.

For the learning.

For the waves of challenges, failures and successes.

For the ancestors and angels who stand beside you and the life force that pulses through your veins.

For the north star within you.



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