I have been curious about emotions lately.
My guess is we may be dealing with unfamiliar and mixed emotions. On the one hand, we may feel positivity associated with slowing down and having the opportunity to reconnect with ourselves, our families, and our loved ones. Leading psychology professor, Barbara Fredrickson states positive emotions like love, gratitude and calm allow us to broaden our perspective and make us think and act more creatively and flexibly. They build resilience.
But, at the same time, we are processing a completely different worldview. A lot has changed. With large scale and prolonged uncertainty and upheaval, it is normal for us to expect negative or unfamiliar emotions: loss, disappointment, boredom, worry, and frustration.
Source: The Willows Community School
Last week, I talked to our Head of Guidance, Tom Matthews, about the impact of isolation on adolescent mental health. Mr Matthew's emphasised the importance of families being able to normalise negative emotions and perceived stress. We need to be realistic. Experiencing a wide array of emotions is a normal part of the human experience, especially when living through a global crisis. Says Contemporary philosopher, Alain de Botton, "Let's respect the storm that we are going through and not expect ourselves to be totally sane all the time".
We should not see negative emotions as a sign we are not coping; instead, we should view them as important sources of information. They are cues, signals—telling us to approach or avoid, to stay or to go. Says Professor Marc Brackett, 'It is the range of emotions that we experience—not any specific one, that opens our eyes and encourages us to grow, learn, and become catalysts for change.'
Learning to ride our emotions gracefully requires self-awareness and a set of skills that fall under the umbrella of emotional intelligence. I believe emotional intelligence is the skill that matters far more than anything else for human flourishing.
And without a doubt, it is crucial now.
In 2015, I was fortunate to get a scholarship from St Andrew's College, to study with Professor Marc Brackett, the Director of the Yale University Centre for Emotional Intelligence. The course involved learning how to teach the RULER program of emotional intelligence to students (These learnings have created the foundations for all my understanding of student well-being). At Yale University, RULER is an acronym that explains the components and processes of emotional intelligence. These include:
It is these skills that will allow our young people to navigate uncertainty in their lives.
Source: Marc Brackett, Greater Good Magazine
Permit our young people to feel. This is about creating a family or school culture where it is normal to share and talk about emotions rather than sucking them up or squashing them down. It is about asking, "How are you (really)?" and actively listening. I find it interesting how our emotions are a big part- maybe the biggest part- of what makes us human, yet we don't necessarily talk about them much. Being in isolation gives us this opportunity to experience the benefits of holding space, communicating and being more present with our families. In this podcast, Brene Brown has a heartfelt conversation with Marc Brackett about the importance of giving our young people permission to feel.
At the beginning of this year, as part of our whole school well-being goal, Dr Sven Hansen shared his expertise on emotion and resilience with all St Andrew’s College staff. We were fortunate to attend an inspiring workshop on how to develop 'situational agility.' Situational agility is about having self-awareness about how we respond to challenging situations- emotionally, cognitively and physically. With Dr Hansen’s tools and framework, we were taught how to be more conscious of our reactions so we can role model resilience to our young people. This learning will be particularly relevant in 2020.
This global crisis will inevitably impact the emotional climate of our young people. Moving forward there are threats and opportunities in regards to mental health. More than ever, we need to focus on cultivating the skills of emotional intelligence in our young people. They matter more than anything.
Kerry Larby, Head of Well-being and Positive Education
Friday 8 May 2020