Our inner world of emotions is beautifully complex, having the ability to shape our physiology for better or worse depending on what we do with our emotions. Unfortunately, most of us were not taught emotional regulation techniques or emotional coping skills growing up. When left to our own devices, most of us will either adapt behaviors to distract ourselves from painful emotions, suppress or feelings, or develop very poor ways of expressing them. These defense mechanisms and coping strategies are often learned at a very early age and become ingrained into our subconscious, based on what we witnessed growing up.
We do the best we can with what we know at the time, but sometimes what we assume to be a healthy way of coping is actually detrimental to our physical and emotional well-being. We have to be careful to not confuse "normal" with healthy. It takes courage to confront ourselves, our emotions, and our coping strategies but it is so worth it for the betterment of our health and those around us. Luckily, there are mind-body tools we can use in order to develop better ways of expressing our emotions, allowing them to be felt and released.
There is so much courage and resiliency that comes with confronting ourselves, our behavior patterns, and our emotions. Emotions were meant to be felt rather than suppressed in order to heal. If we choose to suppress emotions, they only intensify, either leading to unintentionally toxic expressions of them or dis-ease in the body from chronically suppressed feelings. In order to prevent this from occurring, we must adapt tools that allow us to sit with ourselves even in the painful experiences, identify our thoughts and feelings and let them rise to the surface. Most of us are not used to this, as we live in a very distracted society. Our brain will often lie to us, telling us that the emotion is too much to deal with..We would rather pick up our phone and mindlessly scroll or binge watch Netflix to distract ourselves from the feeling. But this should not be so! We are wired with the capacity to feel a wide range of emotions, and should not shame ourselves for feeling them. And we definitely should not block them from being dealt with, preferably as soon as possible. This takes time, intentional effort, and often experimentation to relearn healthy coping behaviors and implement healing tools.
There are many effective mind-body exercises that can help us regulate our emotions and promote healing. The first step involves self awareness and learning to get in tune to what we are truly thinking and feeling. This requires daily effort. Because our life circumstances are subject to change, we cannot depend on our external environment to always provide the safe haven from pain and emotional ups and downs. We can, however, develop skills and lean on tools that promote resiliency in the midst of an ever changing world. "Emotion" could be broken down as "energy in motion," as we now have the knowledge that emotions take on physical manifestations in the body!
To release this energy, it is important to give yourself the space to allow the feelings to show up and come to the surface, as difficult and uncomfortable as this may feel. As a society that often associates wellness with the external factors such as managing body weight and nutrition, it may be easy to brush off our mental health and not invest time in our emotional well-being. However, studies reveal that suppressing emotions and traumatic experiences leads to chronic stress, poor immune function, and disease. In a specific study, subjects were instructed to write about their traumatic experiences; after just four days, immune function improved. Harboring anger has been shown to promote heart disease, elevated blood pressure, increased cortisol, and even elevated blood sugars! Our bodies are very connected to our minds, so we must care for our minds at the same level that most of us would care for our bodies in order to prevent chronic illness.
It may take time and effort to discover tools that work for you and to learn how/when to use them. Many people enjoy using creative outlets to express emotions. Journaling, creative writing, expressive artwork, and music can be great ways to express emotions, especially the intense feelings of rage, anger, or even grief. Mindful forms of movement can also be very healing forms of expression, such as Tai-Chi, Qi Gong, yoga, and even walking in nature. Talking to a mind-body practitioner, counselor, mentor, or friend about your experiences and feelings can be so helpful as well. Make sure you are connected to a strong support system with people who will give you honest feedback, respect your boundaries and feelings, and who you trust have your best interest in mind. Shaking and dancing, specific breathing exercises such as chaotic breathing, and even exercise are great ways of expressing emotions especially in a safe group space.
Allowing emotions to come to the surface to be felt, expressed, and released is so important for our health. Embracing tools to feel, heal, and express our feelings is what de-escalates toxic buildup, such as sadness growing into depression or anger turning into bitterness and resentment.. Or even happiness turning into inauthentic hysteria. Rewiring our behavior patterns and coping skills is a life-long practice. If you have made up your mind that you are willing to put in the work for your health, then you are already miles ahead!
To learn powerful mind-body tools mentioned above, contact TCLM to enroll in one on one coaching and/or group visits with our instructor, Geny Moreno, Mind-Body Medicine Practitioner.
Chida, Y, Steptoe, A. The association of anger and hostility with future coronary heart disease: a meta-analytic review of prospective evidence. Journal of American College of Cardiology. 2009 Mar; 53 (11) : 936-46.
Pennebaker, J.W.,& Beall, S. Confronting a traumatic event: toward an understaning of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 1986. 95, 274-281.
Smyth JM. Written Emotional Expression: Effect Sizes, Outcome Types, and Moderating Variables. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1998. 66(1):174-184.
2017 Center for Mind-Body Medicine https://cmbm.org/