It's OK to feel overwhelmed sometimes. So cut yourself—and your kids—a break.

I have one rule for my clients: You feel how you feel.

It’s just common sense. If you’re mad, it doesn’t help for anyone to tell you to calm down. If you’re sad, you don’t perk up when someone says to think about how lucky you are. And if someone says you shouldn’t feel anxious, you just feel more anxious about feeling that way in the first place.

This rule is especially important during the changed world in which we live due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At this point, we don’t know when (or if) things will get back to normal. While we deal with the uncertainties, we feel the gamut of emotions. Anybody could be overwhelmed by that—you, your friends and family, even the officials trying to maneuver us through the crisis. It’s not only OK to occasionally feel overwhelmed, but it’s normal, too.

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Here’s an example. About a month into the stay-at-home order, a traffic barrel surprised me on Interstate 71. It wasn’t in the middle of the highway; it just sat to the side, steadfastly blocking an exit. And that’s when I, the family therapist with all the fancy letters behind my name, lost my cool like someone who’s never mastered a coping skill. I cursed at that barrel for the next few miles, not taking my next deep breath until I passed the Horseshoe. That outburst released a month of emotional angst, proving that therapists can occasionally embarrass themselves just like everyone else. I felt both drained and relieved.

And then I started laughing at the image of me driving down the highway, cursing at the top of my lungs in an otherwise empty car. I looked insane, but I wasn’t actually crazy (I hope). Anybody can pop like a bubble when they don’t notice how many emotions they’re holding in.

As parents, you’re in an even trickier place. My kids are grown, so while I worry about them, I’m also confident they’ll do the right things to keep themselves as safe as possible. There’s much more pressure on parents of young children to be responsible for their protection. Just when you’re trying your best to be strong for your kids, life throws a threat at you that you can’t even see.

I often tell clients (and write in this column) to be gentle with yourself. Sometimes you need to just get in the car, find a traffic barrel and scream at it (but not in heavy traffic, please). I also talk about specific techniques and behaviors that help us release and process emotions (exercise, sleep, time for yourself, deep breathing, etc.). But it’s also important to understand that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed in the first place.

If a shared crisis puts this much pressure on adults, imagine how overwhelmed our kids must be. There may be times you want the kids to leave you alone, especially during the stay-at-home periods or if you’re working from home. But when kids feel scared and confused, they turn to us for safety and security. We may not have all the answers for them, but we can be there to listen to their fears, give them a hug and even set necessary boundaries when they act out. (Remember, sometimes bad choices are a kid’s way of expressing how overwhelmed they are; they’re begging for rules so something in their world makes sense again.)

If your child totally loses it, take a deep breath and remember they don’t know what else to do. Their fit will eventually end, leaving them drained, relieved and embarrassed. That’s when it means the world to them to know you’re there no matter what. That thought makes them feel safe and secure in a crazy world, and it might just do the same for you.

Carl Grody is a licensed independent social worker who works with families at Grody Online Family Counseling.

This story is from the Summer 2020 issue of Columbus Parent.