What to do when you're feeling stuck
This is Everyday Feels, a podcast about emotions for kids and their grownups. In each episode, Nakita Simpson and Dr. Lockhart explore a new emotion, breaking down why we may be feeling that way.
Nakita: Dr. Lockhart, thinking about this episode, what is happening when you’re feeling an emotion, but you feel stuck in it?
Ann-Louise: Like you can’t get out of it?
Nakita: Yeah. Yeah. What is that?
Ann-Louise: So that’s part of our brain’s way to get us to safety. We might run away, that’s flight. We might go [into] attack mode, that’s fight. We might pass out, that’s fawn. We might stop in our tracks and can’t move, that’s “freeze”. There is no shame in this. Our brain is trying to figure out what to do with this new information and then we react.
Nakita: You know, it’s pretty amazing how our brain just knows. It doesn’t always feel good when we feel out of control, though.
Ann-Louise: Oh, I know it doesn’t feel good at all. It can actually feel really uncomfortable. So today we're going to discuss what exactly is happening when we get stuck and the feeling behind that. We’ll talk about what you can do about it too.
Nakita: Are you ready?
Ann-Louise: I sure am. Are you?
Today we’re gonna hear from Jazlyn, from Canada, who has a story to share about what happened when she felt like she froze.
Jazlyn is 10 years old. Let's listen together.
Jazlyn: My name is Jazlyn. I am 10 years old. The members of my family are my older brother, my baba, and my momma.
Scared is [how I felt] right before we started this recording! I felt nervous and I felt excited. Um…just really the fact that I’m going to be doing a whole podcast so that everyone can hear me.
I was going to talk about the time that I went to a restaurant. Whenever I go to restaurants, I feel excited when I’m about to go. Then in the car I get anxious. Then when I get to the restaurant I can’t choose and I freeze. So I do part of the fight, flight, and freeze. Flight, fright, fight and freeze, and I freeze, so I can’t really do anything. And it’s hard for me to stop doing that. But I have help from an adult, and I have some help and by counting and deep breathing and by having a hug.
In hard moments when I choose usually lately, I’ve been doing pros and cons and the pros of getting something and the cons of getting something, so yeah, that’s helpful.
It problem-solves our feelings because it’s quick and easy, but it can be sometimes hard or difficult. It can be either way really. Not like fully, but it does help a lot.
Ann-Louise: That was a really great story. Thanks for sharing, Jazlyn. I think it’s so important to remember or to know if you’re hearing this for the first time, that our feelings are really our friends. Just like our body feels thirsty when we need water, so we drink and start feeling better, our feelings do the same thing for our body and our brain.
It is a sign telling us what we need. So, instead of feeling bad about how we feel, we can simply notice and describe how we feel.
Nakita: I’m glad you brought that up Dr. Lockhart. I always thought feeling stuck meant I was just frustrated, but realized my body was trying to give me helpful clues to fix a problem. Are there other words we can use to describe this stuck response?
Ann-Louise: Oh, yes, that's a great question. Now there are definitely words we can use to describe the stuck emotion. These are called synonyms. These include words such as reluctant, hesitant, indecisive, stop, hold, or control. Just like I mentioned a moment ago, our emotional response is our brain’s way of telling us what we need. Sometimes we freeze and get stuck because we aren’t sure what to do next. We’re trying to figure out if the next decision is safe or not.
Nakita: Hmm. So, it’s okay to freeze sometimes and not move forward.
Ann-Louise: Absolutely! It’s okay to pause, stop, think, and make a decision based on all the information we have, just like Jazyln did. She weighed the pros and the cons, which means she looked at the best thing that could happen and the worst thing. Then, she made a decision that was right for her. That takes a lot of bravery.
Nakita: I definitely agree, Dr. Lockhart. The pause can be hard. We put so much pressure on ourselves to make a decision or to do something. Sometimes we’re just not ready yet.
It reminds me when I have days where it’s hard to pick out what to wear for the day, the choices feel overwhelming! But I try to take some deep breaths to reset when I know the decision feels too hard for a moment. I try to remember how taking a pause is okay, then taking a step forward is okay too.
Ann-Louise: That sounds so familiar. I remember when I was a kid and I wanted to not be shy, but I felt stuck and didn’t know how to reach out and speak to others in a group. It was hard feeling uncomfortable and I didn’t want to feel that way. What I needed was to learn that so many people feel the same way too and actually have the same reaction, even if they do a very good job at hiding it. Our brains and our bodies are so fascinating! We already know what we need. We just have to listen.
Nakita: Dr. Lockhart, before we wrap up, are there any tools for feeling stuck and any tools you can think of that would help our listeners and even the grownups?
Ann-Louise: Oh, absolutely Nakita. I have one reminder and two really helpful tips.
Always remember your feelings are not your enemy, your feelings give you messages about other people and the world around you. So just embrace those feelings. Even the icky ones. I know it’s hard, but this is an important part of the process.
First, when you feel frozen, stuck, or indecisive, return to the present moment. This is what we call being mindful. Ground yourself by noticing 3 things you can see around you, 2 things you can hear, and 1 thing you can feel (like maybe your back against the chair or your feet on the floor). This helps you to get back in the present moment and know you are in control of the now.
Second, put your hand on your heart and talk to your [worried], stuck thoughts.
You can say something like: “Okay. I know you’re trying to keep me safe by keeping me on the same or familiar path. But, you don’t have to work so hard, because I will get through this. Even if I feel uncomfortable, that’s okay too.” This will build your resilience, grit, and confidence. That means, it will get a teeny bit easier each time you do the scary thing.