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Feeling Cranky? How to Regulate Your Emotions When Teaching From Home

By Angela Duckworth — May 15, 2020 1 min read
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With my husband and kids at home all day, I find we’re getting on each other’s nerves. What can we do to be less cranky living in close quarters?

Me, too! In my family, being together 24/7 has created more than a few opportunities to irritate each other.

The other day, I recognized my younger daughter’s handwriting on a large sign hanging from the refrigerator: CLEAN UP YOUR MESS! IT’S NOT THAT HARD!

Moments earlier, I’d sent a group text to the family: “PSA, Duckworth family! Laundry has to get done tonight!”

It’s not only the messes we leave behind. None of us has quite figured out rhythms for sleep, work, or exercise. We’re all worried about the future—but at any given dinner, at least one or two of us is desperate to talk about anything but the pandemic.

My guess is that at this point in history, literally every family in the world is struggling to maintain domestic harmony.

There are no quick fixes for emotion regulation in circumstances like these. But it may help to understand what emotions are and how they are generated.

What are emotions? In this short video, Stanford psychologist James Gross explains that emotions, including anger, are coordinated experiential, behavioral, and physiological responses.

Here are three tips from Gross’ research for regulating your emotions while quarantining.

Change the situation. When someone in your family is annoying you, relocate to another room if you can or take a (socially distanced) walk.

Change where you pay attention. For instance, thinking about how enthusiastically my older daughter delivered cookies to friends, or the fact that someone unloaded the dishwasher before dinner, reminds me how everyone is, in their own way, trying their best.

Change your emotion regulation goal. It’s not realistic to go a whole week, or even a whole day, without some grumpiness. If, on a scale from 0 to 10, your irritability is at 9, aim to make tomorrow an 8.

To be cranky at a time like this is human; to understand and manage your emotions, sublime.

Angela Duckworth, the founder and CEO of the education nonprofit Character Lab, is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. You can follow Character Lab on Twitter @TheCharacterLab.

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