Roll Out the Stress: Manage Emotions With Movement


Emotions are felt in our bodies. Rolling is one of the most powerful ways we can quite literally “roll out” the stress from our bodies.

Distance learning is a grind. Recently I noticed our 4th grader struggling to sit through longer recorded video lessons. Everyday she would tell me the exact number of assigned video minutes: “Can you believe, mom, that there’s a 34 minute video for social studies?!” I’d empathize and encourage her and she’d duly finish her work. 

Finally she just couldn’t sit through another long video. Tears flowed as complaints about coronavirus, and all levels of frustration poured out. As she expressed her feelings, she flopped onto the bedroom floor, rolling and even pounding on the ground. 

Her acting out was out of character. I could have told her to stop whining and return to her desk, but in that moment, I went into complete observer mode. And then I decided to join in. We both rolled side to side, back and forth on the bedroom floor. Soon the tears turned into chuckles as we laughed at ourselves, and more importantly, had the chance to release our difficult feelings.

As the rolling came to a natural end, my daughter’s tears disappeared and her frustration dissipated. We talked about how hard teachers were working to make this new environment possible. We talked about how she can break up the long videos into short bite-sized ones with breaks in between. 

She said, ”Yeah maybe when I need a break, I can just come roll again.”  And I said, “Deal.”

Here are a few lessons I learned in those moments with my daughter that can help manage difficult feelings:

Validate Emotions

One of the most important things we can do is to validate emotions by providing space and letting the feelings flow for a bit. Instead of engaging in a power struggle, just step back for a moment, slow down and notice your child’s feelings and not just their behavior. Use phrases like, “I can see you’re really upset/mad/sad right now,” or “It sounds like you’re having a hard time.”

Use Movement to Release Stress

The reason rolling on the ground together was so cathartic was because movement is necessary to release the difficult emotions. Emotions are felt in our bodies. At our nonprofit, we often teach through movement and play how to release stuck emotions. Rolling is one of the most powerful ways we can quite literally “roll out” the stress from our bodies.  

Think of the Ground as An Anchor

The ground itself is an anchor. Often in our Mindful Littles teachings we ask students — youth and adults alike — to plant their feet and notice the ground beneath them. The ground can provide us concrete stability when a situation feels uncertain or unsure. During our Roll Time, it literally felt as though the ground absorbed our pain.

Admittedly, rolling on the ground felt so good for me as well. Children are often our greatest teachers. Following my daughter’s lead, I learned a new and simple method for stress release — one we may not be able to do in school, but is definitely an option as we continue navigating this “new normal” in our home.

Why It Works

When we feel emotional stress, the rest of our body feels it too thanks to all the nerve connections in the brain. We might feel tension in our shoulders, a tightness in the belly or a restlessness that needs release. Honoring the mind/body connection through movement is a great way to release the stress we feel both in our brains and our bodies. Next time you or your kiddos are feeling stressed, try rolling around on the floor, playing tag or throwing an impromptu dance party!

Source: Physical Activity Reduces Stress, ADAA

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