Emotions are wonderfully intricate, kaleidoscopic and unique personal experiences which shape the way we view the world. They are the driving forces behind why we do what we do, how we respond to situations and what motivates us to change or take any action. Essentially emotions are indicators that help us adapt to our environment, so in one way they are a means to an end. However, they are also an end in itself, as we desire to reach some emotions by doing something in our lives. This complex phenomena instead of using then as tools to guide us, we get entangled in them, unable to work through them and let them go. Whether it is a person suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety, alcohol or drug addiction, or depression, or even if one is not having these issues, emotional instability can occur at anytime.
What is Emotional Processing?
Emotional processing is a survival skill, as vital as learning any major life skill, and in some cases even more important. But nobody talks about how to deal with our feelings, we are never taught what to do when we get angry or feel depressed. Since childhood, we are taught to suppress our feelings. A child is distracted when they are upset, with a chocolate or a toy and distraction means the child suppresses their feelings. In adulthood, the chocolate becomes money, the toy may be a relationship. Our distractions change but the process remains the same. When we can’t process emotions, we eat them away, drink them away, or find distractions in working or pleasurable activities. So when an emotion arrives we either get carried away by it and react, or we suppress it. Neither of this is true processing.
True processing, is the ability to be aware of an emotion, without wanting to judge it or get rid of it or react behaviorally because of it. Letting an emotion come and go, being an observer, learning to calm the body and then learning what the emotion is signaling to you, is all a part of processing or of emotional regulation. Here we learn to work with what we are feeling instead of against it. We learn to not get overwhelmed and carried away by feelings, not to avoid them as well. We validate our feelings, work through them and respond adaptively. In order to do all this, we need to begin by identifying our emotions so that we become aware of where we need to work.
Easy Ways to identify our emotions:
1. Notice when you are not relaxed, notice changes in the body
Every emotion is a physical event in the body. Learn to spot heaviness, dullness, restlessness, heat, throbbing and other accompanying sensations in the body. If you can’t identify sensations then see if you are relaxed, if not then see which part of the body feels stressed. Try and be present with the sensation in the body. Separate the physical sensation from the thoughts in your head. Be very aware and breathe through while watching the sensation.
2. Improve your emotional vocabulary
Instead of using general terms such as feeling low, feeling good, try and use more appropriate words to describe how you feel for example, resentful, hurt, anxious, helpless, lonely, etc. We feel a wide array of emotions and learning to see the subtle differences and identifying emotions distinctly helps us process them better. Also, be careful that when you are identifying emotions, you don’t end up getting lost in thoughts and narratives about the situations.
3. Write down what you feel
Noting down your feelings, using analogies, being descriptive is a great way to identify your emotions and train yourself to be more aware of them. Keeping a pocket diary or noting then down in the phone helps one to even keep track of how one has been feeling since a while. In fact, journalling about our emotions is a practice that has a lot of therapeutic value in terms of helping us let go and release our emotions.
4. Share with someone what you are feeling
Even if you are unsure of what you feel, share your state of mind with a friend. Bouncing off of someone else helps us get clarity about the nature of our emotions and accompanying thoughts. Find someone who is a good listener and is not intent on giving you a lot of unnecessary advice. Opening your heart out to someone, allows us to do cathartic release and we immediately feel a sense of relief. The overwhelming quality if an emotion fades.
5. Don’t distract yourself from your feelings
Learning to sit with our feelings and observe them without judgement, suppression or being carried away by them is the most important tool in processing them. Our instinct is to avoid or get rid of what we are feeling but that’s never helpful. Be aware of the physical sensations of the feelings and learn to calm your body down, without following the unending train of thoughts that comes with the emotion.
At ZorbaWellness – Rehabilitation Centre in Mumbai, we believe that at the core of many mental health problems lies the unmanageability of emotions and thoughts. Rather than working on the surface level problem, working at the root cause of these patterns is our goal. Clients who are addicts or suffering from any other mental health problem are taught to deal with these difficult emotions instead of distracting them from it and they learn to process the feelings and regulate the body. Hence, raising Emotional Intelligence is key in mental health treatment and recovery. After all, we are human, we are bound to feel, but those feelings don’t have to control us, instead we can learn to manage them and live a more holistically healthy life.
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