I want to bring something to the fore that doesn’t get a lot of air-time – Emotions and our Emotional Wellness.
We talk a fair amount about mental health and physical health, but do you know what has a lot to do with both of these? Emotional Wellness. Even if we are strong mentally, emotional overwhelm can take us down pretty fast. In the interest of reducing stigma and being open, I can tell you that I know this from personal experience.
Heavy emotions can lead us to do things that damage our physical health and our mental health. The most common unhealthy responses are either ignoring the emotions, suppressing them, or distracting from them. We might get into a pattern of emotional eating, drinking alcohol to numb the emotions, keeping incessantly busy so we don’t have to feel the emotions, over-shopping to distract from the emotions – really anything that’s done to excess and for the purpose of avoiding difficult emotions. We usually are not even conscious that uncomfortable emotions are the reason we are doing these things. The impact on overall wellness is obvious.
How is your emotional hygiene practice?
If you haven’t heard of “emotional hygiene” before, you aren’t alone. Generally, we’re taught how to keep our mind sharp, our teeth clean, our body healthy, but few of us learn how to keep our emotions from piling up on each other. Few of us have a daily practice that gives attention to our emotional wellbeing.
Emotional responses are a sensory system, just like our other five senses. They carry information and messages to us. When I touch something hot, my sense of touch tells me to pull my hand back. When someone does something that I specifically asked them not (a boundary violation), I feel the internal heat of anger. When I am in a situation that I perceive as dangerous, I feel fear. These emotions arise as an intentional signal to me to take notice of what is happening and take action that will keep me safe or happy.
Most of us deal with emotions virtually non-stop all day long. Whether it’s our own emotional responses to events or people, or other peoples’ emotions. If we have people around us, we are dealing with the double whammy of emotions all the time. Just think back through your day so far – where have you encountered emotions – at home trying to get your children out the door this morning, or discussing bills with your partner, at work with co-workers who are overworked and having their own life issues, or with clients or customers who have a particular beef with something , with your boss who may be a critical when she’s stressed by deadlines, when your mother called to tell you that your father is in the hospital, or when you had to drop your children off at your ex-husband’s for his co-parenting time?
Of course some events elicit more intense emotions than the “every day” – loss of a job, loss of a loved one, conflict in relationships, fears about personal safety, anxiety about events or people, sudden unexpected occurrences, and things of this nature. No matter how strong we think we are, other peoples’ emotions do have an impact on us.
We are often moving so quickly that we don’t have time to pay attention to the emotions as they arise. And, rarely do we circle back later in the day to give time to processing those emotions. We may do this day after day after day, for months and years. What results is what I call “emotional build-up”. We can get to the point where we are carrying old emotions from past life events and people from our past, that we have never processed. Now, emotions are persistent little rascals. They start as a whisper, and get louder and louder until they are heard. They are not going away until they are heard. What that means is that they increase in intensity until we pay attention to them. Read – explosive anger, crippling fear, or oppressive depression.
Most of us are more comfortable ignoring, supressing or repressing emotions than we are with processing them. In most cases, we simply haven’t been taught how to process them, so no wonder it’s not comfortable.
This leaves us in a state of “reactivity”, where our emotions are dormantly waiting to pop when something or someone triggers a reaction from us. More often than not, it’s someone who acts as that trigger and we project our emotions from a past event onto them. And, since they too probably are in reactivity they get triggered too and it can quickly become a big commotion. “Emotion commotion” as Yogi Bhajan called it. This is just human nature, especially in the busy times in which we live. However, if we want to have long term emotional wellness, we have to pay attention to our emotions – preferably when they are still whispers and not explosions.
What we want is to be in a state of being able to respond, not react. I call this being “response-able”. When we are responding rather than reacting, we are able to have a measure of control over what we say and do and how we say and do it. We are more intentional and less impulsive. We are responding from a place of neutrality or at least reality rather than old wounds or emotional triggers.
In my experience the best way to keep up my emotional hygiene is to make time for a daily emotional clearing practice. It doesn’t have to take a long time – 10 minutes will suffice daily (although, like exercise, more would be better). This daily practice is what I call my emotional hygiene practice.
What does my emotional hygiene practice look like for me now?
Some people might like to do this while walking or running. I like to do this while sitting quietly in meditation. I get comfortable and quiet, and turn my attention inward, blocking out the thoughts that inevitably arise. I need to tell my mind to take a break for a bit. I’m tuning into my body and my heart. As the strongest emotions arise, I may replay the related event in my mind and just experience that emotion, letting it flow through me. Sometimes it’s really intense and sometimes there’s very little charge. The point is that I am giving time for these emotions to be heard and experienced, and thus processed and resolved. I ask what the emotion needs in order to be resolved or calmed. After meditation I make a note in a journal about any action steps I need to take. Then I bring my mind back into the equation and assess what my next right step is in relation to all of this.
Sometimes, an emotion will require action in order to be satisfied. For example, the more urgent emotions of anger and fear often require us to do something before they subside. More often than not, the emotion subsides once it’s been actively acknowledged.
So, how do we create and maintain emotional wellness?
I’d like to offer some suggestions:
- ACKNOWLEDGE & CALM: Acknowledge strong emotions and find healthy ways to create calm, quickly. Personally when I’m triggered into a strong reaction, I tap. Tapping can be done anywhere at any time. It involves tapping on specific meridian points on the face, hands, and chest. When these meridian points are tapped in a repetitive pattern, the nervous system calms down. Here’s an online resource to get you started: https://youtu.be/pAclBdj20ZU
- DAILY PRACTICE: Create a daily practice of sitting quietly to listen to your inner emotions. Identify and name the emotions that you are experiencing. Ask what your emotions need in order to be calmed. Do you need to take some action, set a boundary, or stop doing something? Or is it enough just to acknowledge how you are feeling right now? Once you know what the emotion is and what it wants you can then bring your rational mind to decide what the next right step is.
- TALK ABOUT IT: Whether with an understanding colleague, a counsellor, or a life coach, talking through the difficult emotions often releases the emotions and is beneficial to emotional wellness.
- CONNECT: Get connected with community. When we feel overwhelmed emotionally, we often tend to withdraw, but connecting with like-minded, supportive people helps. As part of my own journey of recovery, I became a Certified Life Coach and Emotional Liberation Coach, so I can coach you to begin “managing your emotions” in a way that makes you response-able and not just reactive. Feel free to email me at Sirisundri@icloud.com to make a time to chat by phone about Emotional Coaching.
- MEDITATE: Meditation creates a complete pause in your day and calms the nervous system. It also creates a natural opportunity to listen to the emotions. Daily meditation is fantastic, but even once a week will help. Again, start in small do-able chunks of time – such as 10 minutes every second day to start.
- EXERCISE: Exercise releases pent up energy and emotions, and can even become meditative. And of course there’s also the good feelings that come with endorphins.
- GET OUTSIDE: Spending time in nature is a fantastic way to calm the nervous system. It also allows you to connect to something larger than yourself (ie. The natural ecosystem) so your troubles may come into a different perspective.
- PLAY: Regularly do something that is fun, peaceful or playful. Whether that is playing imaginative games with your children, walking in nature, or getting together with friends to dance, create some joy in your life.
There are 7 heavy emotions: anger, fear, shame, guilt, desire, grief, and depression. Each emotion has its own signature energy and feeling. For example, anger is hot, urgent and high energy, while depression is heavy, slow, and low energy. Each emotion is a response to particular things and each seeks something specific for you. I’ve created a chart that outlines what each emotion senses and what each seeks to bring you. Click here to request the chart and I’ll be happy to send it out to you.
Wishing you an emotionally rich life!
Does this resonate with you? I would love to hear your take-aways or comments about this post. Post below.