Building Emotional Strength for the School Year to Come

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Building Emotional Strength for the School Year to Come“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.”

That line is from one of my favorite Gershwin musicals, Porgy and Bess, and also from a classic tune by Ella Fitzgerald. Summertime really is a time to relax and rejuvenate for the school year to come. It is also a time to build your emotional strength.

Most educators have heard the term emotional intelligence (EI), the ability to identify and manage your emotional responses and be able to navigate the emotional responses of others. EI was popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence. Our ability to balance our emotional responses is critical to success and achieving goals. Keep in mind that, emotions are chemical reactions caused by external and internal stimuli that happen within the midbrain. Feelings, or emotional responses, are how we interpret and act on these chemical reactions. Feeling happy, sad, mad, or elated is a manifestation of our background experiences and cultural and social interactions. We can manage our feelings, whereas it’s difficult to manage the natural chemical reactions within the brain.

So, this summer, take time to get to know what may trigger emotions and how you respond to those emotions. Below are some ideas to help you gear up for the coming school year.

Know that you are in charge of your feelings.
Because feelings are our responses to a chemical reaction, managing them is up to us. Think of times when you’ve felt mad at or saddened by someone. It was possibly the person’s actions or inaction that caused you to feel the way you felt. However, it’s not really true to say that the person made you mad or sad—you chose (consciously or unconsciously, actively or out of habit) to respond in that way to the stimuli created by that person. I’m not suggesting that being mad or sad is not an appropriate response. What I am saying is that how we choose to sustain or use our feelings to achieve an outcome (positive or negative) is up to us.

Take time this summer to get in touch with your feelings and decide if your responses are helping you achieve positive goals. Shaming and blaming others for how you feel is often futile. Saying that others make you feel mad, sad, frustrated, happy, elated, or something else gives away your power. Take a moment to prepare yourself for those difficult situations that are bound to happen next school year—how will you choose to respond without giving away your strength?

Know your happy place.
Finding your happy place sure sounds schmaltzy, but it’s a good idea to picture in your mind a time when or a place where you experienced joy, happiness, tranquility, or peace. I love to lie on a beach by the ocean (I prefer the Aegean Sea!) and just stare at the water—this is my happy place. When I get stressed, anxious, or worried about something I can’t control, I take a mental break to travel in my mind to that beach in Mykonos. It calms me down and allows me to put life into perspective.

I hope you’ve had time to find some happy places this summer. Whether you were at your lake cabin, on a trip with your friends or family, or simply lounging with a good book, keep that image—and the feelings you had at that time—fresh in your mind. Call upon this memory when you are about to encounter a difficult situation or find yourself stressing over something you can’t control.

Know what to do for others.
While you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to your own feelings, you can’t control how others feel. However, you can assist others in finding a way to balance their own feelings. The first thing we all need and want is to feel safe and secure. When dealing with someone who’s experiencing negative feelings, acknowledge their feelings and provide a space where they feel safe to express themselves. They need to know that they are being heard—being a good listener can go a long way in helping someone deal with their feelings. Help people recognize their ownership of their feelings in a positive and reassuring manner. Do what you can to help them build their self-confidence so they are able to move beyond the negative feelings. Finally, offer them ideas on how to deal with this type of situation in the future.

Know what to do for yourself.
One of the best ways to keep yourself feeling positive is exercise. Make sure that you schedule time throughout your week to be healthy. Exercising for thirty minutes a day is often recommended. This can be going for a walk, riding a bike, walking on the treadmill while watching your favorite show—anything that elevates your heart rate and gets you breathing hard.

Speaking of breathing, be sure to consciously breathe deeply at least five times per day. Most of us breathe shallow throughout our day. Deep breathing can help reduce stress, increase blood flow, and clear our thinking. To do deep breathing, take in as much air as possible and hold it for a second or two before exhaling.

Finally, learn relaxation techniques to turn your mood and feelings around. Yoga, meditation, walks in nature, listening to calming music, and getting a massage, pedicure, or manicure are all ways to relax. As the school year gets going, we tend to forget to take time for ourselves. Finding that just-right relaxation practice can be extremely helpful in acknowledging, managing, and adjusting our emotional responses to achieve positive goals.

Enjoy your summer!

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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