The Most Powerful Resolution: Earning a Black Belt in Emotional Management

At the end of a stressful year after paying tribute to those in the mental health field, Lynn gives us a road map for what personal growth really looks like. From therapy, to books, to podcasts, when we do this work, what are we working towards? What does it look like when you become a black belt in emotional management?

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Episode Transcript

Robin Hutson  0:00 

Happy New Year, Lynne.

Lynn Lyons  0:01 

Happy New Year. Robin, it’s 2021. I think everything is going to be different now.

Robin Hutson  0:07 

Well, I think it’s a little dangerous to end here. I’m now self-conscious using the language that I just did with you. I think that it is a challenge if we project that everything is going to go away and think that 2020 contained everything and that 2021 means everything is back to normal instantly, because it’s not. And I think we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment even for our kids, if we say things are going to be different and expect something to happen quickly.

Lynn Lyons  0:40 

I know I was being totally sarcastic when I said that. Thank you. Thank you for your earnestness.

Robin Hutson  0:52 

Okay, well let’s start that one over.

Happy New Year Lynn!

Lynn Lyons  0:58 

It isn’t gonna be so happy.

Robin Hutson  1:07 

Welcome to Flusterclux, where we talk worry and other big feelings with Lynn Lyons. You’re here because your family has some anxiety issues, or you want to prevent them. I’m your co-host and Lynn’s sister in law Robin. And I’m here to ask your questions.

Lynn Lyons  1:22 

And Hi, I’m Lynn Lyons. I’m an anxiety expert speaker mom and the author and I’ve been a therapist for 30 years, parenting can be a Flusterclux, and I will help you find your way.

The phrase that people are using like now that the vaccination is coming out, people are talking about wanting to go back to normal. And I don’t know that that’s a really helpful sentiment to have. I think people say that a lot. But I just think that so much has happened in the past several months. I think that’s one of the things I’ve really been thinking about and writing about in the last few days is, you know, as, as we’re all sort of doing this end of year, taking stock that we do is what feels different for me what feels different for the people that I work with. What feels different all around me, and a lot feels really different to me, I don’t know how it feels that way for you to

Robin Hutson  2:13 

I have an optimistic nature in general. And when I have been taking stock of the year and looking at my family at the year’s end, we got through this year, we didn’t lose anybody. Nobody got sick. So many people are going through so much more. I just feel like we’re really lucky. We’ve decided to make the most of it. I won’t lie, it was very hard in the beginning, but like we’ve found our pandemic stride now. And we’re kind of really groove into it kind of reconfigured a new life, which is, which is strange, I don’t think we’re going back to normal. I think we’re going to be crawling back to normal, where we’ll be slowly reintroducing things that we have not been doing, but not everyone’s gonna be doing it at the same rate, either. That’s why it’s just we’ve got a lot ahead of us, it’s going to be a weird year.

Lynn Lyons  3:07 

Yeah, it’s going to be a weird year, because I think that that people are going to be trying to figure out what they got rid of that they want to keep gone. In some ways. There was an article in The New York Times that I saw a few days ago about how people are really thinking about the time not commuting, or people going back into an office.

I ran into a friend actually when we were out hiking in the trails behind my house, and he is about my age. And he really has enjoyed not being in an office. Now maybe younger people are missing the social aspects of it.

I just think it’s different for everybody. And like you said, we haven’t lost anybody. So, our experience of 2020 in our family has been very different than a lot of other families who have had to bear so much grief and so much loss. It’s really so, so different in different parts of the country, the things that you were experiencing before the pandemic that got worse, or the things that you got away from during the pandemic. I just think there’s a lot of variety isn’t there?

Robin Hutson  4:13 

One of my friends said, you know, why love the pandemic? I was like, why, why do you love the pandemic? And she said, I have a lot of anxiety about where my kids are. So, this year, they’ve been in my house, and I’ve had no anxiety from knowing who they are. And I was like, well, this is going to be a bit of a problem later. So, I found that sort of funny how it’s like placated certain areas of anxiety. But I thought this was kind of funny.

Lynn Lyons  4:40 

Well, I think that is going to be interesting, because here’s the sort of strange kind of twist with anxiety. Anxiety hates uncertainty. So, while the world has been incredibly uncertain, right, you don’t know we didn’t know from day to day what was happening, what was going on what was going to happen with schools, and that’s caused a lot of anxiety for People.

But for people that are anxious within their families, having everybody close, not going anywhere, having people not travel, having kids literally not riding their bikes to school, if you are an anxious parent and your anxiety is really manifests itself in needing to know that your kids are safe, this has provided anxiety and opportunity to really set up shop in a way that was necessary, of course, but it is going to be interesting when things start to open up again and start to get people start getting back to their regular lives. It’s going to be interesting,

Robin Hutson  5:38 

I just realized another industry that took a hit in the pandemic, because of this, all of those tracking software apps to find out where your kids are right now when no one needed them.

Lynn Lyons  5:47 

Well, I think that I’ve been seeing some ads for those. And I think that when I even saw an article probably in Parents magazine came up on my Facebook feed or something about now that you’ve known where your kids are for all these months, won’t it be great to know where they are? Once things go back to normal? So, they’re already taking advantage of that fear?

It’s sort of like I don’t know if you’ve seen those advertisements for the detergent, where now it’s sort of like we’ve got it’s called hygienic tide? Have you seen it? And it gets rid of the germs you can’t see. So, I think that there is going to be a, there’s certainly going to be heightened opportunities for products that are now going to play on the anxiety that the pandemic has created.

Robin Hutson  6:30 

Or intensified

Lynn Lyons  6:31 

Or intensified, right, because that’s, that’s what we have to look at too is that what were the patterns that were in place? See that and this is, you know, you’ve heard me say this a bazillion times, the content doesn’t matter to me, the process stays the same. So, we had a whole big huge, worldwide content for anxiety to play with. And it’s playing with it.

So, for people that were more flexible, or for people that were able to sort of step back for people who are able to problem solve, they’re still doing that. But for people who are anxious, this has created anxiety.

 I’ll tell you a little story. And she might be listening. This is a friend but my younger son currently in order to be with his friends who he hasn’t been with, they haven’t been together in March, they all quarantine for the last few weeks. And they are currently in a house in northern Maine, seven and a half hours from where I live. And I live in New Hampshire. And one of the moms there on a lake in Maine, one of the moms sent around a video of how to rescue yourself if you fall through the ice.

Robin Hutson  7:40 

So,  she didn’t know who she was talking to.

Lynn Lyons  7:45 

She absolutely did, we got a big kick out of it. But here’s the thing, like these kids are trying to figure out how to be together, they made all these plans, they came up with a way that they could do it so that they’re going to be safe, they all got tested before they went and this is an anxious mom, and she sent out a video about how to save yourself if you fall through the ice.

So, I sent a text to my son. And you know, oftentimes I’ve talked about this, we say to them, like think one step ahead. And so, I said to him use your head. And he responded, yes, we’re using our heads to determine the thickness of the ice. Thanks for asking.

You know, and maybe even the challenge as we’re thinking about this new year, right, so, so happy new year, as we’re thinking about this new year is being able to sort of pay attention to what are the patterns that kind of got hold of you? Right? What are the what are the what are the things that you’re noticing about your anxiety or your moods or the way that you’re interacting with your family that maybe have been amplified during the pandemic?

Robin Hutson  8:51 

I have this visual image in my head that I think sort of explains this for visual learners who are more like me, if you imagine yourself just like lying down on a yoga mat. And when you have worried thoughts over time, you might have worry, like, like the size of a little toy car just driving over you write or you have worry that might be bigger worries, and you might have like a bicycle tire going over you. Right. And then you could have like a really, really big worry where you have an actual car leaving a tire track on you.

Yeah, when we’ve talked a lot about 2020 amplifying our, our patterns. What I like to imagine is if what someone 2019 had a variety of little car tracks left on their bodies 20 probably amplified everything up a size up a scale, right. And so, we have to recognize that we are filled with more powerful patterns now than when The year began. And because of how we faced all the uncertainty and the challenges and the crises, or simply the unknown, so how do we sort of reset back so that we have little toy cars driving over us? Right? And not 18 wheelers? Right?

Lynn Lyons  10:19 

Right. Yeah, that’s a really good image. And I think that’s, that’s a good way to think about it. Because we talk a lot about predispositions. And we talk a lot about risk factors. And so maybe you just have this little weak area, maybe you just have this spot where worry was sort of waiting to move in and take over.

Or maybe you know, what if we think about it in terms of social connection, that maybe you’re somebody who always had a little bit of a difficult time feeling like you could reach out to people and make connections? And that loneliness was something that you really struggled with? Well, then that would also be amplified during this.

What if you’re somebody who tends to need alone time, right? So, you are somebody who really, oh, gosh, when your kids went off to school, you really enjoyed being in your house alone. And you were really irritable and grumpy and cranky, if you didn’t have that alone time, then this pandemic would have amplified that. So, it really is looking at all the ways in which this experience of 2020 really amplified a lot of things for us. Right?

How, how did it change our screen use in terms of how we’re interacting with our phones, one of the things I know that I am doing that I need to stop doing is I never did like the doom scrolling on Twitter before, never, ever, ever. And in the past year, I am absolutely doing that in a way that is completely foreign to me, my 2019 self does not recognize that behavior at all.

Robin Hutson  11:52 

We were talking about this at dinner with my kids. And my son read this humorous take on the fact that the fear of large words is in fact, like a very, very large word. I don’t know what the word is, it was a very long word. And then he talked about learning that there is a fear a phobia of getting peanut butter on the roof of your mouth. And we laughed, and we’re like, well, if that’s a fear, there’s probably other stuff going on, too.

Lynn Lyons  12:19 

It’s not the content.

Robin Hutson  12:22 

And so, we were talking about that. And, and then my daughter said, but, but if something happened to you about peanut butter, I mean, we were kind of being joking, but she’s like, what if in fact, you had a parent choke on peanut butter and die? Right? So, there’s like a legit fear. And it was a great opportunity to say, look, it’s not that you’re not supposed to worry, people do worry, worry is natural. And the goal isn’t to not ever worry. And then I got to say Aunt Lynn even worries.

Lynn Lyons  12:57 


Robin Hutson  12:57 

And so, I think that that’s always such an important thing that I wonder with people who hear you speak or read your book, or listen to Flusterclux, do they think the goal is to not worry, because it isn’t? Like, you’re never gonna, like you say you never get rid of worry, right?

Lynn Lyons  13:13 

Well, and that’s, you know, that’s my whole thing that I go on about this elimination culture that we have, where the goal is to not feel certain things and to not worry, and it’s impossible to get rid of worry, it really is your relationship with it that matters more than anything else, you know, when you’re talking about a fear of peanut butter, and maybe what if you had a relative that choked on peanut butter? Well, then we absolutely know that if you have a traumatic experience, then your brain connects to that your brain goes through a process of storing those memories in a way that is going to protect you in the future.

So, we are hardwired, to have these thoughts to have these fears to have these reactions. It’s really just how much you let them take over. And the way that worried becomes sort of you know, that monster truck driving over you is when you when you indulge it consistently.

So, when you think that that worry is really helpful when you think that that worry is problem solving. When you allow yourself as you’re lying on that yoga mat to just imagine horrible things happening. And your body and your mind and your soul experience those things as real events. That’s when worry becomes problematic, because then your goal is then to avoid either thinking about that or feeling about that or even being in that situation. And the more avoidance you get. That’s just that same elimination. I’m not going to do these things because I don’t want to think or feel or experience this.

Robin Hutson  14:47 

Do you feel like as carrying a title of an anxiety expert, were there moments this past year? Did you have a couple moments where you were really grateful for your training?

Lynn Lyons  14:58 

Yes, I will. Well, one of the things I’ve noticed, honestly, I’m a really good fall-asleeper. So, I put my head on the pillow. And usually within two minutes, I’m asleep. And when I talk about the alphabet game, which is the way that the little cognitive technique that I use to help fall asleep, I will often tell people look, by the time I come up with a topic to use during the alphabet game, I’ve already fallen asleep.

And what I’ve noticed this year is that I have had more trouble falling asleep than ever before in my life. And it’s because I’m ruminating about things. And I tend to be very optimistic as well. And I tend to think that things work out. And I trust that my kids are making good decisions most of the time, and etc., etc. I’ve had a lot more to chew on just like everybody else. And where I’ve noticed it is that falling asleep is not the easy thing. It used to be for me, it’s getting better, I think.

But there was a period of time. And probably just like every other parent, my kids’ lives were disrupted. My son graduated from college. He’s been here ever since his future is very unknown right now. And I am absolutely worrying about that.

I just said to my husband the other day, like, do you ever worry about what’s going to happen with him? And he said, No, I think I think this is fine. I think this is good. Everybody’s in the same boat, he sort of said, I absolutely am feeling the same thing that everybody else is feeling.

And I’ll tell you, it’s also hard to be an anxiety person, when the level of anxiety around me is so high, because I worry truthfully, about not being able to adequately help all the people who are experiencing such high levels of anxiety in my practice. And that’s been draining for sure.

Robin Hutson  16:46 

Yeah, you and I’ve talked about this, that the mental health profession has been tested as much as the health profession, the stats are quite depressing that the majority of the people who need mental health providers don’t have access to them.

Lynn Lyons  17:02 

So that’s always an issue. And when we look at the number of people who are depressed or anxious, and the number of people that actually get treatment, it’s really pretty low, it’s usually less than 50%, probably way less than 50% in many parts of the country. So, we know that access to mental health care has always been an issue for sure.

Right now, that’s really coming to a head. A lot of people don’t go for help. A lot of people don’t ask for help. A lot of people are trying to figure out how to make it more accessible to more people. And I think in that way telehealth has really helped tremendously. They dropped a lot of the telehealth restrictions in terms of licensing and what insurance companies will take and all that kind of stuff.

But there are a lot of hoops that many people have to jump through in order to get mental health support, which is unfortunate. And we’ll see what happens after this. If I had to say, what might be a positive change that came from this, specifically in my field is that we really did see, we had to see firsthand that telehealth made it easier for people to get treatment. I don’t think that’s going to go away.

Robin Hutson  18:09 

Yeah, I don’t either.

Lynn Lyons  18:10 

But I think you know, I mean, a little shout out to all the mental health professionals out there. Like I know, the people in the hospitals and teachers and administrators and all these people who’ve just been working so hard during this.

The thing about mental health professionals is that because we are doing it often privately because people don’t talk about it. Because the information that we are talking to people about is confidential. We are seeing in our offices, the teachers and the nurses and the doctors and all the people that are absolutely stressed out by this, they’re coming to us.

And I just want to give a little shout out to my fellow mental health professionals, we have not taken time off during this. And it’s been enormously busy and stressful and exhausting. I can’t tell you how many of the therapists that I supervise and that I work with have said, I am busier than I’ve ever been. I’m more stressed out than I’ve ever been. This is exhausting. I don’t know how I can keep this up. I just think it’s important for us to recognize that the people, the people doing the mental health work are helping all the other people who are doing the other work.

Robin Hutson  19:20 

Thank you to our mental health professionals.

Lynn Lyons  19:22 

Yeah, thanks, guys.

Robin Hutson  19:25 

So, Lynn, the Anxiety Audit comes out today that we’ve been talking about, that’s where you go through seven of the most common patterns of worry and how they all the different ways that they show up with people. And then you sort of walk them through what each of these patterns are and how to pivot from it.

One of the things that I still think is very curious and worth talking about is how people individually see themselves in their own. I hate to say these words that sounds so self-helpy but everyone is everyone who listens to a show like Flusterclux is someone who is interested in the mind interested in feelings interested in reflecting on these things, because they probably have some sort of goal.

You know, these are people who are interested in, you know, doing better, like in the most generic term, right? What does it mean to do better when managing your anxiety? And if you take this audit, and you reflect on all of these different ways that you know, oh, I have this pattern, and I scroll Twitter at 1130 at night when I should be sleeping, ruminating about bad things that I don’t like happening in the news, which sounds familiar, right? Yeah. Oh, yeah, we pivot from them.

But they’re, they’re always going to show up? Yeah, when we do this work, what are we working towards? What does that what does it look like when we are, you know, black belts.

Lynn Lyons  20:48 

So, when you’re a black belt, it doesn’t mean that you never have any of these patterns, right. So, say you’re a black belt, let’s just use the example of anger, say you’re a black belt at anger, managing anger, it is silly to think that you will never feel anger, it’s silly to think that you will never have the impulse to throw your laptop through the window. Or that you don’t fantasize if somebody cuts you off in traffic, you don’t fantasize about how it might feel kind of interesting to smash your car into their Fender, right?

So, it’s really not about getting rid of any of these things. It’s really, I think the first thing is, is recognizing the feelings when they show up, right? And this is emotional literacy. And we talk about it with kids. But we certainly want to talk about it with parents too. And then the other thing is, how do you own this pattern, and give yourself some space and time to do something differently.

Because I think that one of the ways that people stay stuck in their emotional patterns is that they are always attributing it to the external forces that cause it. So, we want to find a reason for it, or we want to blame or we want to or, or we just want to get rid of it. We don’t want to pay attention to it at all. And we just want to say, Oh, I shouldn’t be feeling this way, allowing yourself to recognize the patterns when they show up, to recognize that you’re doing it, right. I know what my patterns are. I know what I do.

Robin Hutson  22:22 

When you say the space and the time, that space, having the awareness of your feelings, so that you’re not just in the feelings, it’s the ability to step outside of your feelings, and look at them objectively, right?

Lynn Lyons  22:35 

And sometimes, it’s really hard to do that in the moment, of course. And this is why I talk so much also about the postgame analysis that the expectation isn’t that you’re going to be perfect that you’re going to be a perfect parent that you’re going to be a perfect partner, that you’re going to be a perfect daughter.

The expectation is, is that when your pattern comes flying up, in the best case scenario, you notice it and you and you can say to yourself, okay, so here you’re about to do your thing. So, don’t do your thing, then but it’s still really great if you do your thing. And then sometime in the not too distant future, after you do your thing. You say to somebody, you know what, I’m sorry, I did my thing, right.

And that may be that you get you get stuck on something that you’re ruminating about something that you’re going over something out loud, that you’re freaking out about something that you’re, you know, whatever it is that you’re doing, being able to, you know, if we say if you’re a black belt, then maybe you’re able to catch yourself before you do it, maybe half the time.

If you’re a black belt, you may do it half the time, but then you own it, and you recognize it and you say to whoever needs to hear you say it. And sometimes it’s you that needs to hear you say it. That’s that pattern that I get stuck in sometimes. And with a little self-compassion and a little self-awareness. You say, Hey, I’m sorry, I was doing my thing.

I can tell you from doing this 30 years that there is nothing more satisfying. When families are working with me that they start owning their patterns, that they start talking about them out loud. Sometimes it requires an apology. Sometimes it just requires saying like, oh, gosh, I did that thing again. I know that’s hard for you. And I do that.

That’s what makes families so much more functional. And when we look at the other side of that, the other extreme of that, say you’ve got a family where there’s violence, say you’ve got a family where there’s somebody who’s an out of control alcoholic, and nobody acknowledges it, nobody talks about it. Right, We hear the term gas lighting a lot. Now in our country, there is emotional gaslighting that happens in families when you don’t talk about what’s going on. So, a black belt family and emotional management. A black belt person at emotional management allows themselves to recognize what their past patterns are, hopefully catch it, not all the time. And when they don’t, they step back. And they say what they need to say, in order to own it.

Robin Hutson  25:10 

Because we all have our patterns. We all do. I mean, I obviously got to participate in the anxiety audit as we were making the course. So, I love being the guinea pig. And I’m just so jazzed about it. And I’m still thinking about overwhelm what you talked about and how you explained to overwhelm in a way that that really shifted things for me, most parents can relate to that sensation.

It was such an aha moment, because so many people except normalizing overwhelm, yeah, you don’t have to run. And I just love what you said about that, that’s just for that section alone, I feel like everyone will get so much out of the anxiety audit, it’s, you know, as we go forward with this new year, it’s an opportunity to understand these patterns that we have, be aware of them so that we can claim them afterwards or prevent them from happening before but how that has such a tremendous positive benefit for how we’re modeling emotional behavior for our kids to

Lynn Lyons  26:19 

I just think that if we can just normalize these things, so that so that we recognize this as part of being a human being, so that our kids recognize this as part of being a human being that we’re all flawed, that we’re all works in progress, that we’re dealing with our own emotions and our relationships. If we just keep working on being able to talk about it, and to accept it, and to not be so afraid of it, I think that is just the biggest gift that we can give ourselves and give our give our families to the ability to just talk about it in a way that makes it part of being human being.

But it’s just this idea that we’re, we’re I think we’re over pathologizing things for our kids so that they’re afraid of their own feelings, because we haven’t given them permission or tools to deal with them. So, they’re trying to get rid of them. They’re scared of them. They see themselves as having a mental illness, or they see themselves as less than because we haven’t talked to them enough about how normal these patterns are.

Robin Hutson  27:24 

Hence your Mr. Rogers appreciation club president role.

Lynn Lyons  27:29 

Yeah, I’m the president of the Mr. Rogers appreciation club. Yeah, ’cause that’s what he did. And it was revolutionary when he did it.

Robin Hutson  27:35 

Right. And the work isn’t done, right.

Lynn Lyons  27:37 

It’s a work in progress. Always. I mean, I, I, I was just writing about this today, sort of trying to put into words, what I experienced during this year, and there were some things that that I experienced, at my age, I am not young, that really, I believe will be life changing for me, at this point, both professionally and personally, we’re always a work in progress. For sure.

Robin Hutson  28:04 

I had an epiphany, as well, after the anxiety audit, I was thinking about the period in my life where parenting felt really overwhelming. And I was stuck in that pattern for a while. years, the additional benefit of you owning your own stuff means that you’re likely raising kids who do, too, and therefore, as a family, you can just hang out and be together and have more fun. Yeah,

Lynn Lyons  28:31 

yeah, it’s about it’s about connection. And it’s about it’s about making it Okay, to have these experiences and these feelings. And I know, I’ve talked to you about this before. I know I’ve talked to it.

I talked to you about it on the podcast, but one of the things that’s most satisfying for me, and this is probably, you know, now that I’m sort of one of the elder therapists, this is my 30 years if you’re doing this is to be able to say to people, yeah, I felt that way too, or Yeah, I absolutely had that thought or Yep, that’s exactly. I know exactly what you’re talking about. And it’s okay. And you just see them immediately, like the relief that they feel when somebody like me who’s older and experienced and they consider, you know, a mentor, somebody says, yep, yep, yep, yep. Been there been there. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. I think that’s, that’s the connection.

And that’s what allows families to, to be able to be with each other. It’s just this permission to feel and this permission to talk about things and to make mistakes. We teach these things to our kids, and  it’s over and over and over again,

Robin Hutson  29:44 

How a parent feels understanding emotional management or understanding how to practice it understanding anxiety management, all of those things, the more seasoned and schooled from white belt to black belt, the parent becomes The more the family can benefit, we’re going to do the anxiety audit live at the end of the month, I can’t wait.

Lynn Lyons  30:06 

The other thing too is that if we think about it, Robin,  think about how many listener questions we’ve gotten that, that that, you know, the parents are writing in, but they’re asking us about their parents, or their adult relationships, right.

I mean, many of them are about parenting, of course, but so many of them have been asking about themselves as adults. And how do I handle this relationship hot? You know, I’m the child in this relationship with my parent, or how do I handle my ex-husband. So, it really is, I think, on purpose, we did this in a way that sort of says to the adults that are that are having this experience with us, this is really time for you, we’re gonna let you put on your person hat instead of your mommy hat or your daddy hat. We’re gonna let you explore what’s going on inside of you.

Robin Hutson  30:54 

So, come reset with us. You can do the anxiety audit live with us on January 23, and registrations open and it’s limited to a small number of people so that there’s enough time for QA or you can do the self-paced course, or you could do both. There’s a bundle discount. If you

Lynn Lyons  31:11 

want to do both. It’s going to be pretty awesome. Looking forward to it.

Robin Hutson  31:14 

Yeah, me too. I’m ready to do it again.

Lynn Lyons  31:16 

And thanks for joining us for another episode of Flusterclux. Bye, Robin!

Robin Hutson 

Bye, Lynn!

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