So far I have addressed the reality that we are not emotionally healthy all the time, it’s simply not possible to be perfectly consistent. I encouraged you to seek out healthy relationships to help heal your attachment deficits. Now, we’ll delve into the value of spiritual connection to our emotional health. One caveat here is that not all spiritual practices are the same, even within the same branch of spirituality. I am referring to practices that promote the well-being of individuals in body, spirit, and mind, not to practices that promote hate or preservation of the self without regard for how one’s behavior negatively affects others who have different beliefs.
A spiritual practice can help a practitioner tolerate uncomfortable feelings by connecting to the benefits of conflict and struggle as being important to our development as a person of faith. When we connect to the larger purpose of challenges, we shift our view from, “This is awful!” to “What can I learn about myself from this?” or “How can I use this experience to draw me closer to the source of my spiritual practice?” “This is awful!” can be a necessary step in the process, as honoring our actual experience is critical to our emotional health, but staying in that space will not lead to growth.
We connect to the global community instead of isolating ourselves. Healthy spiritual practices promote the good of all, regardless of other’s beliefs. There is a consideration for how our actions will either help or hurt others. This tie to the collective good can ease our sense of isolation in day to day life. When we are connected to others, we can develop or grow our emotional health.
Many spiritual practices encourage prayer or meditation. These can help calm the mind and relax the body which promotes healing and releases stress and tension. Relaxed muscles promote healthy blood flow throughout the body. Blood carries nutrients as well as aids in the process of removing toxins. Think of a river dammed up by debris. It reduces the flow of water downstream and causes flooding upstream. Our bodies don’t do as well when flow is decreased and many spiritual practices have the capacity to relax a person. When we are physically healthier we can be emotionally healthier and connect with others from a grounded, relaxed place versus a stagnant and tense place.
So what are you doing with your spiritual practice? Do you have one? I’ve listed just a few benefits. There are many more. Consider how you can use a spiritual practice to increase your enjoyment while you are on this planet, including increasing your emotional health.
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
Our feelings about situations or relationships can be misleading yet we often base our understanding of reality on a feeling we have. Shift your thinking to the data. Does it prove your feeling is right or does the data offer up a shadow of doubt? If you feel your friend doesn’t like you ask yourself why. What tells you your friend doesn’t like you? Is it because she hasn’t called in awhile? Do you know why she hasn’t called? Probably not. You are likely starting to build a case for your feeling but it’s based on assumptions and skewed data in an unwise attempt to prove your theory. Be very careful how you read into information. Step back and take on a neutral stance. Then sort through the data. Also, it helps to contact those involved, in this case the friend, and ask. We have a tendency to create stories without checking our facts.
Having trouble sleeping? Are thoughts running around your mind and keeping you awake? One technique I find helpful is reciting verses in my mind. Perhaps you don’t read the Bible but you know some positive statements. You could recite those. You’ll need to put reins on your mind to keep it focused on reciting which helps you stop thinking about the things that are keeping you from sleeping. Before long you will just drift off to sleep. If you wake up during the night, just do the same thing again.
The more air time you give to thoughts that keep you from sleeping, the worse it gets. We train ourselves to ruminate by doing it again and again. Notice it, stop and switch to reciting. Try it tonight and see what happens.
My heart is grieved. I see so much hate being thrown around on social media and in the news from Black Lives Matter to Anti-Mask protests and beyond. I’m pretty sure people on all sides of the issues are not stupid, wicked people. I think, for the most part, we are all scared and hurting in some way. Some fear the loss of control, “If I give in to the demand to wear a mask you’re going to just keep taking away my rights.” Some fear culpability, “If I say black lives matter, then I have to admit there is something inside of me that thought they didn’t or perhaps I am some how complicit in their oppression.” Some fear the loss of protection, “If you don’t wear a mask you might infect me.”
I think our hate for those on the other side of an issue comes from fear, anger or sadness. I think the fear, anger or sadness come from wounds from our distant or not so distant past. We were hurt in some way and now we let that hurt spew out on others. We were oppressed by another, we experienced hurt at the intentional or unintentional words or actions of another, we felt misunderstood, unheard, or not good enough to another. Something happened and the hate toward others started to take root and grow into something dark and hurtful inside. Left unhealed, we just repeat what was done to us, only we think we are justified some how. We’re not. We’re just as guilty as the person who hurt us. We are repeating the cycle.
We have this wonderful aspect to our humanity that enables us to change. We can look at ourselves, learn about the hurtful parts of us, heal the pain, and function in a kind, understanding way toward ourselves and others. This takes work. It takes humility and it’s worth it. I don’t say this from an “I’m all that” place but rather from knowing what it’s like to be the one hurting others, doing the hard work with others by my side to delve into the why, and find healing. I’m not always good at it but I try to see the other side. I try to understand where the other is coming from rather than demand I’m right and you’re wrong. It’s freeing, really it is. It feels so much better to put down my arsenal of attacks and listen instead. I don’t have to agree with you to listen and understand your view. Listening to you helps me soften. We might not end the conversation in agreement, but we will still be friends. Try it, you might find freedom if you do. 🙂
When the political, cultural and theological climates are marked with polar opposite views, hate begins spilling out of many of us. We think hate-filled thoughts about people who have different views. People use hate-filled language to express their dissent with another’s opinion. This is not beneficial to anyone. All it does is fuel the hate and does little to create change.
Let’s start with listening and acknowledging. Although this doesn’t necessarily stop the hate immediately, I believe deep and lasting change happens when we are willing to listen to where the other is coming from, when we listen to each other with the intent of hearing them and acknowledging their view. Sometimes we refuse to acknowledge what someone else is saying because we fear we are giving approval. Acknowledgment is not approval or agreement. It simply is saying, “You get to have the view you have. I do not get to decide that for you. I hear what you are saying.”
This is a place to begin bridging the gap whether you are talking about a marriage, a family, a community, a country, or the world. Just start here, “Let’s have a dialogue where you get to tell me your view, I’ll listen, I’ll acknowledge what you are saying and then you will do the same for me.” And that’s it. You may walk away from the conversation unsatisfied since you haven’t reached a solution yet, but that is down the road and can be too big of a goal to start with. You could be setting yourselves up for failure.
Some issues haven’t changed for generations. Although it would be best for all if we could get to some sort of workable agreement soon, that isn’t likely to happen in one conversation. So keep your goal reachable. Just listening to another person is a huge step. Adding the piece of acknowledging what they are saying is a grand goal for now.