Want to know the truth about emotional health? I think we all want to know what we can do to have it and keep it. No one really enjoys being in an emotional spiral or even an emotional swirl. We like it best when we are stable, when life around us is stable, and we have a sense of all is well. Unfortunately, that is not reality. And that is the first truth.
Accepting the hard moments or hard days is necessary for experiencing emotional health. Emotional health is not synonymous with emotional neutrality. Living in a narrow range of emotion with no high or low is denying reality. Life is full of pain, hardship, uncertainty, disappointment as well as exuberance, explosive joy, and celebration. Actually feeling the rhythms of life is not being bipolar. If you find yourself so low you cannot get out of bed for several days in a row and at others so high you don’t sleep at night for several days in a row while rearranging your home, for instance, it’s possible you are bipolar and you may need an evaluation. The normal highs and lows of life however are not a cause for alarm. But many of us don’t like those highs and lows. What’s your alternative? To live in a restricted response to life around you and that is not emotional health. You are stunting your true experience.
To enlist the first truth of emotional health, start noticing what you are feeling. Allow the feeling to be there for as long as you are comfortable with it. Name it. Are you feeling sad, discouraged, disgusted, pissed off, concerned, unsure, afraid, content, excited…? Notice the full expression of the emotion in your body not just the cognition of it. If you are feeling pissed off, what does it feel like in your body? Be aware of its physical sensation. Simply let it be there. You don’t need to do anything with it, just notice and let it pass, like a wave.
For some, allowing emotion to be fully experienced is unsettling and may even trigger such an extreme connection that you feel out of control, like the emotion is going to take you over. If that’s the case, don’t feel it. Shut it down. Anchor yourself to the given moment: My feet are touching the ground, I can see the clock on the wall, I hear it ticking, I am right here in this room. Then, find a good counselor to help you with processing your emotion.
Sometimes, especially with sadness tied to grief and loss, it feels so strong that we cannot sleep well or we sleep too much, our appetite changes, our interest in things we once enjoyed disappears, we have lethargy, maybe even an increase in anger. These are all signs of depression. Depression can be situational: I lost my job, I’m going through a breakup or divorce, my child died, I have cancer. It can also be a physiological issue in your brain. For both, see a counselor and a medical provider. You may benefit from working through the situation with a counselor and taking medication, either to help you through a really challenging time or to help balance your body’s chemical production.
To sum up this truth: feeling deep feelings is normal, being neutral all the time is not emotional health. Sometimes we do feel too deeply and we can serve ourselves well to get that checked out by a counselor and a medical provider. If looking for a counselor, check out your insurance for covered providers or PsychologyToday.com. You can put in parameters for location, insurance they take, therapy techniques they use, and more.
If you can’t wait for the rest of this series, check out my book: The Journey Forward Workbook: Daily Steps to Achieve Emotional Balance and Healthier Relationships or my course The Journey Forward Workbook Series
For those of you who read my blog regularly I have no explanation for why I haven’t written a post in a long while. I just didn’t feel like it. That’s all. Some days…or months! are like that. We are all doing well, including Anna.
Thanksgiving in the US is tomorrow. Normally my family has a large gathering. This year it is not happening. I know this is the case for many others. Our plans have changed in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. We are also trying to be mindful of the impact this pandemic is having on many medical facilities. Given all that, what can we do to honor the reality of the changes this year while still celebrating the holiday?
I think it’s helpful to be aware of what you are feeling and why. This is not new to anyone who reads this blog. I frequently write about the importance of awareness: knowing what you are thinking as well as what you feel physically and emotionally. Stuffing our feelings inside does not taste nearly as good as the stuffing we shove inside a turkey! It might make the moment easier but in the long run you are setting yourself up for some kind of unhealthy leakage or explosion. I know this first hand 😉
So start by honoring your true experience but not letting it dominate you. You notice what you are thinking and feeling. You find the parts of your thinking that are based on made up stories or predictions i.e., “We’ll never have another family gathering!”, “Thanksgiving is ruined forever!”, “This pandemic is never going to end!” Those predictions could come true but we don’t know for certain. All we know right now is it is safest to limit our gatherings, our usual Thanksgiving traditions will need to be altered, and we are living in the midst of a pandemic. Keep your thoughts reigned in to what is true. The truth is painful enough for us. We certainly don’t do ourselves any good by adding the emotionally crushing predictions.
Next, consider what you are grateful for. When the pilgrims celebrated their first harvest celebration, they had already endured tremendous hardship, illness, and loss. Sometimes the less we have, the more grateful we can become. The little things begin to take on more meaning. Many of us have a roof over our head, food to eat, and technology that allows face to face communication. We can step back and be grateful for those. We can look around us, at nature, the sky, sun, moon and starts and marvel at their beauty. Take a moment, breathe as deeply and slowly as you can, and soak in the beauty…the gratefulness. Let this moment bathe you and nourish your soul. Carry it with you and share it with others.
Some might disagree with my title. That’s OK. I believe no matter what is happening to or around us, we can choose how we will respond. As we enter into a Presidential election here in the States, it’s easy to allow other’s words or actions dictate our words and actions. You have more power than that.
I like to start with breathing. Slow your breathing down. Let your exhale be longer than your inhale for a few breath cycles. Begin to notice what you are feeling emotionally and physically. Notice your thoughts. Allow the situation to just “be” without having to judge the situation or act on it. Just pause, breathe, and notice.
After a few minutes, consider if there is any action you still want to take. Standing up for something you believe in is healthy but not if it is meant to be intentionally hurtful to another. That’s retaliation. I generally don’t think retaliation comes from a centered, grounded place inside. I think of it as a reactionary way to hurt another because you believe they hurt you. If it’s retaliatory, go back through the breathing, non-judgmental, non-reactive, just be with it place. Give it some time. Perhaps you will change your mind and find a healthier step you choose to take.
This video, by Brene Brown is a quick and creative guide to how you can best show up for a friend in need. Click here and check it out!
For some it seems elusive. I find it at times and at others lose it. It seems peace is connected to a choice we make about how we look at our circumstances. When Anna was waiting for her first transplant I struggled to find peace. I didn’t like not living at home and being away from all things familiar including people. I didn’t like the unpredictable nature of the transplant world, every day wondering if it would be the day we got the call for available lungs. I didn’t have a lot of peace.
By Anna’s second transplant I learned a few things. The main difference was being at peace with whatever was happening. I learned to find contentment in the space of the unpredictable and unfamiliar. Paul, one of the writers of the New Testament of the Bible, spoke of learning to be content in the midst of hardships. His were a lot more intense than mine but the concept of finding peace in any and every situation is accessible to all of us.
It is a choice to breathe and relax. To look for glimmers of sunshine in the midst of dark circumstances or simply be at peace right where you are. Life is filled with discomfort. Acknowledge yours, give space to grieve, be angry or sad. Then take a few slow breaths and remind yourself you can get through this a breath at a time. You can choose to hang on to icky emotions or let them go (for now, they will likely come back but you’ll deal with them when they show up again). You can choose to do something that fills your soul in the midst of the challenge (as simple as looking at a flower, the sky, a color you like, remembering a pleasant time or place). You can even follow the gentle prompt of my online yoga friend, Yoga with Adriene, turn the corners of your mouth up.
I understand it can be hard to find peace, but I also know it’s possible. Choose peace 🙂
Tired of the same story new day theme we are living right now? Even with some areas loosening restrictions, most of the loosening (if you even have that) isn’t different from what we’ve been doing. We’re still being guided to wear masks, limit outings, and minimize contact with others. Personally, I’m over it. While I understand the necessity of this (after all my daughter who is in the at-risk group lives with us) I just don’t see how the shut downs are a long term solution. Even as a short term solution this has been devastating for so many across the globe. This simply isn’t sustainable. In my mind, we’re done. We’re not doing it anymore. But in reality, I have to abide by the rules. This creates conflict.
What do we do when our mind wants one thing and reality dictates another? We wrestle until we give up. Think of a two year old who wants her way. The caregiver says, “No” and follows through. The two year old throws a fit on the ground until she’s worn out and stops protesting. Then the caregiver gently pulls this pile-of-a-spent-tantrum child into her arms with a soothing voice, “It’s so hard when you really want something but can’t have it…” Brushing tear soaked strands of hair away from tear stained eyes. Caressing this spent child’s chubby cheeks and sealing it all with a sweet kiss.
I’m not two and there’s no one to really hold me like that. But I need it and you probably do, too. What do we do? When all else fails, we have to give this acceptance to ourselves. Try a visualization. Allow yourself to have that temper tantrum. Feel the anger and sadness all wrapped up in a powerful force. Cry if you need to, scream in your mind or into a pillow. Flail in the safety of your bed or in your mind if you don’t have that luxury. When the fit is over, cradle yourself in your arms. When I do this, I usually see God inviting me up into His lap. He gently envelops me in his powerful arms and soothes me. That might not be what works for you. Find a loving figure or your adult self and see them holding you, soothing you. Take a deep breath expanding your entire chest cavity. Exhale long and slow. Let it all out. Repeat. Let your body relax. Now go do something good for yourself that is healthy, legal and wise 🙂