Episode 7: Staying S.A.F.E. in an Emotional Storm

What You’ll Learn on this Episode:

  • You will learn that everyone faces emotional storms
  • What it means to be emotionally dysregulated
  • Why it can be hard to think clearly and act the way you desire when you are dysregulated
  • You’ll be introduced to the S.A.F.E. approach to deal with storms
  • How to think about storms differently so you can plan, prepare and practice.


*This transcription below was provided for you or your convenience; please excuse any mistakes that the automated service made in translation.


Have you ever been overwhelmed by some really big feelings and it was hard to feel like you were in control? In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about what it’s like to be in an emotional storm, and why it can feel so hard to get through it. This is the first in a series that will focus on how we can better regulate our emotions. I’m Leigh Germann, and this is leadership parenting staying safe through emotional storms. 

Did you know that resilience is the key to confidence and joy? As moms, it’s what we want for our kids, but it’s also what we need for ourselves. My name is Leigh Germann. I’m a therapist, and I’m a mom. Join me as we explore the skills you need to know to be confident and joyful, then get ready to teach these skills to your kids. This is leadership parenting. Where you learn how to lead your family by showing them the way. 

Hi and welcome to this episode of Leadership parenting. I’m really excited to be with you all and to talk with you a little bit about something that I think is really useful for all of us to consider.


So, recently, I gave a presentation to a really large group of women about mental wellness and emotional health. And the theme for my presentation was centered on weathering emotional storms. What are they and how to do that. So this happened to be a Christian group of women and we began by talking about the story in the new testament work, Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat while a terrible storm was going on. And all those disciples were panicking. Now, the men in this story were fishermen. This was obviously not their first time on a boat in open watch. So even though that’s true, they were really overwhelmed out of their comfort zone for sure and even completely at a loss as to what to do. So we know by that that it must have been a pretty big storm. Well, when I read stories, I’m so fascinated by all the details that are happening. That are are not being described all the internal stuff going on in people’s heads and their bodies that contribute to their choices and ultimately to their actions. And this is really a great exercise, one I practice every day literally in my work with women and one that we all can be practicing with those we care about.


And here’s the assumption that I make. If someone is having a tough time emotionally, they’re really likely to act on that in some way, either through acting out in a fight or flight mode, which might show up as tantruming or, you know, if you’re a kid or if you’re an adult, maybe losing their temper, panicking, getting really scared. Even having a panic attack or possibly another set of emotions like sadness where someone might be withdrawing inward, shutting down, or withdrawing socially. No matter what the tough time I am gonna make the assumption that a person is feeling overwhelmed. That on a normal, sunny day with no challenges, they probably are gonna do fairly well. But when a big storm comes, it shakes them up.


And in my profession, we call that being dysregulated. And the storm dysregulated these fishermen, Something big and hard was happening in their environment. Of course, that was the actual physical storm. And they were having responses inside of them. In their emotions, they were having a lot of fear.


And the story is very well known for how as an allegory to how we deal with fear and worry and doubt and all of those really big hard things. And the contrast of being able to have that storm quieted or calmed. And I love the analogy because we all have external storms that we can see with our own eyes and internal responses to them. That can be very big and very disturbing to us. The really powerful story because of that contrast of being very afraid and then very calm. And when we feel dysregulated, when we feel all of those big feelings inside of us. It does feel so stormy inside. It just feels like it’s bigger than what we can handle sometimes.


You know, we wanna be able to learn how to recognize when we’re in a storm. And that’s why this assumption is so important for us to know about ourselves and to know about other people that we care about, that we’re involved with when they are getting really upset for us to understand that This is deeper than just a response to what’s going on around them that they’re feeling so dysregulated in their body and that they need this almost miraculous calming to occur so that they can get back to themselves and be able to think clearly and figure out what to do. So, this is a great assumption for you to make also about your kids or your spouse when they are getting upset because it helps you see them in a deeper way so you can hold space for them. And not get reactive yourself. But it’s also a great way to think about your own tough times.


You know, there’s a reason why you and I get impatient, yell, withdraw, or any of the things that we get critical of ourselves for, things that happen that we don’t really like about ourselves. And that’s because when we or someone else we care about is dysregulated, It’s really hard to think clearly. It’s really hard to connect to the things that we care about, those values that we’ve talked about. And it’s really hard to act in the way that truly represents how we want to be, how we want to show up. And this is because we have a brain, and this brain has its own mind. It is really built to first and foremost keep us alive and protect us. Which is wonderful. We appreciate that, but it also complicates things for us.


So what’s happening when we’re in an emotional storm is that we are overwhelmed by the feelings that we are feeling. And those feelings are really influenced by how our brain is responding to what is perceived as a threat. That comes from that middle part of your brain, that limbic system, that has somehow determined something’s wrong, and it pushes the panic button or the you know, the alarm button, and all those neurochemicals go flowing down through the brainstem into your body. Without really your consent. This is very much what happens when we’re in an overwhelmed dysregulated state that I’m calling a storm. Lots of things can trigger this, it can be something that we visibly recognize and we are aware of and we’re conscious of that’s triggering this or it can be things that kind of surprise us interesting some of the newest research really has narrowed it down to disconnection. If we feel disconnected, this can trigger a sense of not feeling safe, disconnection from ourselves, not feeling connected to others, or feeling like we just don’t belong or don’t feel connected in a situation. These are some of the things that can trigger this emotional storm feeling. So big storms take our breath away. They make us focus on what feels dangerous and disconnects us from our whole brain to thinking.


In this presentation, I talked with women about how to handle an emotional storm. And I had a little poster that said, during a storm, stay in the boat. Because in a violent storm on the water, where is it safest to be? In the churning waters or in the boat? So I compared having a strong mental health or emotional wellness to learning to be able to stay in the boat during a crazy storm. And I’d like to have that conversation with you all today.


So I started out by asking the people in the room this question, what does it mean to have strong or good mental health? What are we talking about? A few people said it’s feeling good most at the time, or it’s being really strong, like a really strong emotional person. It’s being able to not get stressed when things are going on. And several of them make comments about being happy. It’s being happy most of the time, showing up how I want to, being my best self.


I love asking this question because most of us don’t think about it very much. We kind of know what we don’t want. I don’t wanna be losing my temper. I don’t wanna feel sad all the time. I don’t wanna be anxious. So good mental health is not experiencing all of these things. Right? Well, I think that’s kind of murky. And probably not at all realistic. So let’s talk about something that is more realistic. And hopefully, much more simple.


When I talk about figuratively staying in the boat, what I mean is, rather than be reactive and be part of the storm around us and kind of give into it, jump into it. What I’m looking for us to do instead is to go inward and connect with ourselves. Remember how we talked about disconnection tends to make our nervous system flare up. And even just being disconnected from the people that are close to us from the expectations that we wanted to have, something doesn’t match in our mind. All of that causes us to feel dysregulated. The emotions come up and we’re gonna talk more about how thoughts create those feelings and how to work with those thoughts. But before we can do any of that, we’ve got to be able to kind of calm our bodies down and get connected to ourselves.


I like this quote defining good mental health. Good mental health might have a different meaning to each of us, but it generally understood to mean being able to think, feel, and react in the ways that you need and want to live your life as fully and as independently as possible. I would add to that to be able to recognize when you feel out of sorts. Understand why you feel that way and know what you can do to help yourself through it. In technical terms, this is called self awareness. And knowing how to regulate your body as you have emotions, even big ones, is the goal of building and strengthening and nurturing your self awareness. Self awareness, more simply said, helps us get through emotional storms. So what does this look like in terms of mental wellness?


While in mental health terms, we want to know how to handle our circumstances and resulting thoughts and feelings by being able to regulate them. Or manage them in a way that can help us. And managing our emotional and mental well-being is about learning how to work with ourselves, using what I call the safe approach. And that’s an acronym, s a f e, and it’s four steps to help you feel safe again. When you are in an emotional storm. And the steps are s to slow things down and use your self awareness, so there’s the double s there. A is to acknowledge what you’re feeling and that’s the beginning step of regulating your mood. F is becoming more flexible in your thinking. And e is engaging in what matters to you, which really starts to address the ability to choose what you want to do, to engage in an action that really aligns with what matters to you, your values, in spite of any challenges you might be facing. So now we’ll go over all these steps in the next few podcast episodes. But the takeaway from this safe approach is this.


Your body reacts to storms as threats. And threats turn on your protection system. And your protection system focuses on fighting, on fleeing or running, on shutting down or disengaging. In other words, it focuses on survival and often at all costs. So think about the last time you got really upset your last big emotional storm.


In my last emotional storm, I had a hard time thinking clearly. I was hyper focused on what was wrong. I had tunnel this kind of tunnel vision. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I had a little voice making calm suggestions. But I really couldn’t hear it very well. I was what they call hijacked. And in my case, completely absorbed in how kind of despairing or hopeless this certain situation was. My emotions colored my ability to problem solve. I just couldn’t think. And I said things to myself and in one instance to someone else that I wouldn’t say today, when I’m calm. Because storms do that. And you can see that happening in your kids. Right? Or maybe in your spouse or your parent or in anyone that you are around that has a heartbeat.


Sometimes it’s hard to see on the outside that people are experiencing an emotional storm, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening on the inside. And this relates to that assumption that we talked about at the beginning of the podcast, that sometimes It helps us to make us make that assumption that someone is having some pretty big emotions if their outside behavior doesn’t seem to match. What they want or even what you want. We really need to remember this especially as parents when we’re working with children who aren’t naturally good at regulating their emotions. They just don’t have these skills. They don’t come with these skills. They learn them. They learn as they go. They learn from us, which is why we are studying it now as parents so that we can regulate ourselves And in doing that, we are going to show our children an example of of how to do that. And eventually, they’re going to learn those skills too. So we wanna give them that benefit of the doubt when they’re melting down that we understand that this is a big process that’s occurring inside of them. And we can relate to it because we have it too. And we’re going to lead them through it by learning how to manage our own disregulation and also teach that to them.


So here are some steps to keep in mind when dealing with storms in your life. I call them the peas, the letter p. Plan, prepare, practice, so you can have power in the midst of a storm. So let’s review those real quick. The first thing to do is to look at how we view storms. So mentally, raise your hand if you’ve ever had a difficult external challenge, something hard. A kid melting down, money worries, illness, loss of a friend or a loved one, wow, we could probably spend a lot of time listing the hard things from big traumatic events to that daily scroll on Instagram and all the comparisons it can bring up. Now, virtually, raise your hand if you’ve had an external storm. Okay. Now, virtually raise your hand if you’ve ever had a difficult internal emotional storm. Something in your thoughts or your feelings like sadness or anger or fear showing up in some kind of range of intensity.


I asked this question at my presentation that night and had everyone look around. All the hands were up. Everyone knows what it’s like to have an external storm or an internal emotional storm. So that brings us to our first p. Plan. We just need to plan for life to be up and down, both in our circumstances and in our thoughts and feelings. If you go back and listen to episode two, we talked a lot about the inevitability and the need for life to be up and down. We talked about it being like an infinity sign, where the up flows right into the down and the down flows right into the up. Well, storms are part of that process. Our kids are going to experience them, our spouses will experience them, and we’ll experience them. Times when we feel overwhelmed by our emotions, our body is taking in the lead and causing us a lot of distress. And what we need to be able to do is plan for this to happen and not see it as a negative. And what I’m actually trying to do here is to normalize this emotional dysregulation so that we can get out of that shame cycle and just recognize that there was something we can do about and instead of judging ourselves and instead of being upset that we’re feeling upset, we can just notice that we’re upset and get to work on getting more regulated. So how are we going to do this? That brings us to the second p. Prepare.


It helps to understand how we work as a human being, understanding how your body, your mind, and your essence that essential self work together to help you weather the storms. So in my resiliency system, the first pillar is self awareness. In self awareness, you pay attention to yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, and your behaviors. And you recognize that those are entities. They’re they’re pieces that you can work with. And part of that is learning about your brain, how it works, and how it plays a really critical role in your personal storms. So in the next episode, we’re going to look at how your brain works and what’s happening inside your mind when you’re facing a storm. Your brain has a job to do when it detects a threat and you need to be able to recognize it.


And this is gonna be able to help us begin that safe process that I was talking about. And we’ll learn how to slow things down and know what you need to do to start feeling better. Prepared means learning about yourself, and we will break that down all the way through that safe process. Including knowing how to deal with the feelings and the thoughts and finally choose how you’re going to act. So there’s a lot to learn and knowing the process is the first step. But like any skill, you’re going to need more.


Which leads us to the next p, practice. Once you know the process you’ve got to practice it, fortunately or Unfortunately, life seems to give us plenty of chances to practice dealing with storms. Only this time, we’re hoping to practice with a plan that we’ve prepared for. Okay, that’s a lot of peas, but I couldn’t help it. It’s kind of fun to have something that goes all with one letter helps us remember. And we have that last p, power. Knowledge is power, and the more you know yourself and how you work. The more you’ll know what to do when you become emotionally dysregulated.


Well, that’s a lot for one day, so I’ll leave the details to the next few episodes. This is such powerful work you’re doing, and I’m so happy you’re here. Stay with me as we jump into the safe process. I promise it will be worth it. See you next week. Hey, thanks so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider sharing it with other or help others find me by leaving a rating or a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Thanks again, and I’ll see you next time. The Leadership parenting podcast is for general information purposes only. It is not therapy and should not take the place of meeting with a qualified mental health professional. The information on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition, illness, or disease. It’s also not intended to be legal, medical, or therapeutic advice. Please consult your doctor or mental health professional for your individual circumstances. Thanks again, and take care.


This podcast is not intended to provide mental health treatment.  Leigh Germann is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and not a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist.  She does not provide diagnosis nor offer therapy through the LeighGermann.com website or in the information offered on the website. It is important that you do not disregard professional medical or mental health advice or delay seeking professional medical or mental health treatment because of any information on the LeighGermann.com website including but not limited to blogs, newsletter, videos, podcasts, e-books, programs, webinars, courses and other services. Leigh Germann and offerings on LeighGermann.com are not providing legal or financial advice, business advice, psychotherapy, supervision, religious advice, or medical advice. The information contained on this Website has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

By consuming this information and any information offered by Leigh Germann, through the LeighGermann.com website or any products and information offered there, you acknowledge that you are participating voluntarily in using the website and the products and information housed there, and that you are solely and personally responsible for your choices, actions and results, now and in the future. You accept full responsibility for the consequences of your use, or non-use, of any information provided on or through this website, and you agree to use your own judgment and due diligence before implementing any idea, suggestion or recommendation from the LeighGermann.com website to your life, family or business.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This