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
It’s been a while. I’m not sure why. Mostly, I just never felt like writing. I would think about you, desire to reach out, but not have anything novel to say. But, life is always changing and even a similar topic has unique nuances based on the situation in the present. We are in a new phase of our life with COVID. For the first time in 14 months, I walked into the grocery store without my mask on. I had been out of town and out of the loop for a bit and didn’t realize the regulations in my town had changed to no longer requiring masks. I have been fully vaccinated and the sign said I didn’t have to wear a mask; I was free to go without one. I did not feel good about that. It was a challenge to tell myself it was ok. I felt anxiety about it. Would I be safe? The store was nearly empty at 7 am on Memorial Day so it really wasn’t a big deal. It’s interesting how we get used to things being a certain way and when that way is changed, we don’t like it, we feel uncomfortable.
I remember tears rising when most of the produce in the grocery store was gone in March 2020. I remember the anxiety that built over our rapidly changing accessibility to freedom, groceries, and toilet paper! We had to adapt to our new way of functioning and many of us did. Now, it’s time to shift to a new place. We are adaptable; it’s called neuroplasticity. It means that our brains are capable of changing long-held beliefs and patterns. We like to say, “This is just how I am” when confronted with the idea of change. Reality is you are saying, “This is how I want to stay. I don’t want to change.”
I wonder what you are confronting today that may require some willingness to change? Is it a relationship, a job, or perhaps a circumstance? Consider the neuroplasticity of your brain. Perhaps it’s time to allow it to happen. It’s not an easy process but it can be done. If you need a resource for this check out my workbook, the Journey Forward Workbook: Daily Steps to Achieve Emotional Balance and Healthier Relationships
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.
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 🙂
I’ve been reading Shonda Rhimes’ A Year of Yes. It’s a quick and enjoyable read. I hear the voices of Meredith Grey, Cristina Yang and Miranda Bailey from her hit series, Grey’s Anatomy. As I turned the pages, I was simply a casual observer of her experiences but one line caught me. She was talking about how she fears people will think she thinks she’s better than everyone else and conceited if she simply says thank you and accepts awards confidently. As I read this line, it caught my breath and tears started welling up in my eyes. This struck something deep inside of me.
I hate (yes hate!) posting about what I’m doing. I struggle with promoting my work on social media, this blog, and my newsletter. I believe whole heartedly in the work I do. I have dedicated myself to growing personally and professionally so I can give the very best to my clients and readers. I’m not ashamed of my message at all. I am afraid you will think I’m too full of myself. I had conquered this piece, or so I thought but here it is rearing it’s ugly head once again.
As soon as the pandemic got going I jumped on Facebook and recorded a bunch of live videos. I realized this was a frightening time and immediately put out material to help people get through those initially scary weeks. After awhile I got tired of seeing myself on my Facebook page and I feared you might too so I stopped. I figured there’s plenty of other people out there offering help I don’t need to add to the noise.
But my message isn’t just noise. It’s unique because it’s from my perspective and it’s helpful. I believe in our ability to heal and find freedom in the midst of uncertainty. I know from my own journey it’s true and I want others to experience it, too.
I have a new awareness around this old issue. I’m not sure what my next steps will be but for now, I am writing. I find when I put my icky thoughts out there they have less power. For the record, I don’t think I’m better than others. I do believe I have knowledge that can bring healing and freedom to others and I need to get out of my own way so I can continue to share it.