• Jesse Williams, LPC-MHSP

Processing Emotions: Upholding Emotional Health

Holistic health is a topic that I've discussed multiple times in these other blogposts. With everything that is going on in the world this week, it seems like a great time for a discussion on taking care of Emotional Health. Whether it is feelings of intense love or intense hate-- burning anger or palpable frustration-- emotions are high during this time. And rightfully so: high emotions are a necessary part of human life, guiding us through decisions and influencing our experiences.

That being said, high emotions take energy and require a release of that energy. It's a process that has to happen. Cramming emotion or saying that you (or someone else) shouldn't feel that emotion just doesn't work. Pretending that if you ignore it that the emotion will go away is inaccurate. Cramming/shaming/ignoring emotion only builds the intensity deep within the subconscious, waiting to explode in an angry outburst, a tearful meltdown, or some other emotionally charged release.

Emotions come into your system, usually from an experience. This experience then triggers a subconscious or conscious thought, such as "That isn't fair," "That was a slight against me," "That is beautiful how that happened," or "I wasn't prepared for that." Then the emotion floods the system. You feel frustration. You feel anger. You feel love. You feel confusion. Sadness. Jealousy. Happiness. Gratitude. Fear. If we are following a medicine wheel style processing, the way to handle emotions within a healthy system follows a path of experience, acknowledgement, acceptance, and release.

The experience happens. The emotion pops up. Then, it becomes necessary to sit with that emotion. To truly feel it. To allow it to exist. To explore it. To identify it. To write about it. To feel it in the body. To act it out. To give the emotion and the experience a respected space.

From this approach, you can see why cramming/shaming/ignoring emotion doesn't work, because acknowledgement and acceptance is a necessary part of handling emotion. It is through this sitting, through this Physical West of the medicine wheel, that the emotion and the experience become transformed. They get turned into insight. They get turned into motivation. They suddenly have meaning. They become important, necessary, and needed.

Think of the emotional process like the life cycle of a butterfly. The experiences that you undergo are much like eggs, growing caterpillars (emotions) deep inside. As soon as the caterpillars (emotions) begin hatching out, they begin eating away. They start requiring energy. Would it work to just pretend they don't exist? No! They will continue eating and consuming more and more energy. But when acknowledged, when engaged, they become cocoons. These cocoons are the part where we sit with and accept the emotion. No action is required-- only sitting and feeling and accepting. It is during this necessary cocoon of emotion that the caterpillar grows and changes from raw emotion into beautiful inspiration. That pupa stage is difficult, but it leads to beautiful growth and empowerment. And in the end, we emerge with newly formed wings-- inspired and empowered, ready to move on and take flight.

But why is this important? Because when you consider Emotional Health, you must consider how you are handling emotions. Are you taking time go through the cocoon--- to accept and sit with that emotion/experience? Are you allowing yourself release? Are you engaging the emotion?

If you are having trouble with processing emotion, try some of these suggestions:

  • Journaling. This one is huge. Writing emotions and experiences on a page doesn't seem like much, but it makes all the difference. Crack open a notebook and try translating your emotion into written word. Tell what happened to you. Let the emotion spill out onto the page with no restraint.

  • Meditating. This one is another important way to process emotion. If you are feeling an emotional response, try sitting with it. Dedicate a time to sit and experience the emotion in its totality. Attempt to feel the emotion. Figure out where it is within your body. Breathe into it. Allow it to have a place. Then release it.

  • Acting. Act it out. If the emotion could move your body, how would it act? Would stomp? Would it run? Would it huddle into a corner, curling up into a ball? Do it! Let the emotion use your body as a vehicle of release. And as you do this, focus in on how it feels within your body.

  • Exploring. Try to pick the emotion apart. What is the thought that's going on? What memory does it trigger? Are there other emotions attached to it? Figure out what it means about you. Explore what this emotion and experience say about your identity.

  • Pushing towards Empowerment. Ask yourself "How does this experience serve/change me?" Question how you will do things differently. Explore what you can do to provide change to your system, so that this emotion and experience have meaning. Then follow through on that change.

  • Bringing in archetypes. Explore an archetype that seems like it would know how to handle the current emotion. Maybe you are sad without motivation: explore the energy of The Knight. Maybe you are feeling angry and frustrated with humanity: seek out the energy of Unconditional Love, The Warrior, or The Hermit. Try to bring that energy into your life to help you process that emotion.

  • Listening to your intuition. If your gut is telling you to channel your emotion into kayaking: go for it. If you feel that the way to deal with this emotion is to speak with others: go for it. If your inner self is telling you dedicate your commuting time to going into that cocoon of emotion: go for it. Let your inner self guide you in processing the emotion. Many times, we have the tools we need, we just don't realize that our inner self knows how to deal with what we are going through. Listen to that inner self!

  • Talking with a mental health therapist about a processing tool that's right for you. A large part of mental health therapy is centered around processing and respecting/managing emotion. If you find yourself stumped or stuck in emotion or a pattern, make an appointment with a therapist to learn some different techniques for processing or to help you explore ways that work for you.

Another important piece of Emotional Health is to simply observe what we are surrounding ourselves with. If experiences hatch into little emotional caterpillars, then what experiences are you bringing into the garden of your life? Many experiences are beyond our control, yet some we willingly bring in. What are you bringing into your life?

Let's say you find the news very triggering. That it grows emotional caterpillars of sadness. Sitting in front a television all day, glued to the news station, is not going to honor your Emotional Health. Maybe a healthy balance for you looks like taking thirty minutes to catch up on the news, then walking away and dedicating another portion of time for processing what you saw. Or, maybe a healthy balance looks more like taking an extended break from the news every week.

On a similar note, solely sticking with a Pollyanna approach is dangerous as well. If you make your life about striving to eliminate negative emotion, then you'll never have those cocoon moments. You'll limit the amount you can grow and change. Then empowerment, enlightenment, and healing cannot happen.

So ask yourself: am I honoring my emotion? Am I allowing myself to feel and process? Do I need more joy in my life? More gratitude? More peace? Am I honoring my emotions with what I bring into my life each day? Am I avoiding emotion? Am I processing my sadnesss? Anger? Frustration?

Emotional Health is not about avoidance, it is about balance. It is about acceptance. It is about processing.

It is about pushing through the cocoon and emerging as a beautiful, new creation.


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