Processing your emotions – what is it and how do we do that?
Why it is important for us to feel and process our emotions? We all have a subconscious tendency to avoid uncomfortable feelings, known as defense mechanisms, which can hinder our emotional processing. Although it may seem easier to dismiss our feelings or ignore them, they do not go away – they simply get “repressed”. Repressed emotions can lead to emotional buildup causing mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, and/or depression. They can also manifest themselves into physical symptoms like chronic muscle tension, fatigue, sleep, and digestive problems which can undermine our well-being.
If emotions are not processed, we can re-experience them over and over through our interactions with others in our day-to-day life.
Sometimes even seemingly “small” matters may become triggers simply because we are responding through our past.
Signs that you may need to process your emotions
- Feel fatigued, overwhelmed, low, or stressed.
- Flare up easily and is impatient with people around you.
- Staying perpetually busy and filling in every pocket of your time. This could include overworking, overcommitting to social events, and taking up too many projects or activities all at once.
- Indulging in unhealthy behaviors – eating too much, compulsive buying/drinking, etc.
- Experience unease or discomfort when other people share their feelings and/or feel annoyed or distressed when someone asks you about yours.
- Fixation on others. This could come in a form of trying to control or “fix” others or being very judgmental and critical about others, as well as people-pleasing or taking on other people’s problems.
The next important question is – How do we process our emotions in a healthy way?
- Identify the emotion.
Becoming aware and being able to pause when feelings arise is the first step. Sometimes when emotions are high, it can be difficult to know where that feeling is coming from. For example, what may seem like anger may be fear or if you look even deeper, insecurity. Being able to identify your emotions accurately is a big part of learning how to handle them.
- Understand that emotions are a way of communication.
Negative emotions like fear or anger may be difficult or uncomfortable to face but it is vital to understand that these feelings are trying to communicate something important. When you listen carefully and stay patient with these feelings instead of rejecting them outright, you may be able to hear the message behind to better understand them.
- Lean into the emotions without judgment.
Paying attention to how you feel can help you to accept your emotions without self-judgment, allowing you to fully feel how you truly feel – be it positive or negative. When we start to include uncomfortable feelings and experiences as part and parcel of life, we can normalize feeling both positive and negative emotions and embrace them with grace. This will take practice so do be patient with yourself in the process.
- Practice releasing the emotion
Letting go of an emotion is not the same as detaching from it. On the contrary, after you acknowledge and accept an emotion, the need to hold on to it will be gone. Try penning down some of the words in your journal surrounding the feelings. Alternatively, you can also create or draw/scribble or some mark making which can serve as a channel of expressive outlet. The act of engaging in a creative endeavor can help to release trapped emotions.
Here are some other techniques that can help with releasing emotions.
- Controlled breathing exercises. For example, inhale through your nose for a count of 3, hold your breath for a count of 2, and then exhale through your mouth for a count of 4. Repeat this cycle 5 times.
- Mindful visualization. Find a quiet corner to lie down and close your eyes, imagining yourself in a peaceful place where you feel safe and secure. This stillness allows you to be with your thoughts in a present state. By disengaging from external stimuli, you will be better able to connect with your emotions and thoughts.
- Emotions can get stored or trapped in the body, so you can start by being mindful of how your body feels. Scan through your body and feel where you feel the most tension. It could be anywhere like your shoulders, neck, or lower back. You can then practice intentional movement to focus on these particular areas. Some examples include scribbling, dancing, yoga, shaking, and meditative walking.
Do consider professional help as well. A counselor or a therapist can help you work through clarifying some of your processes and learn strategies that can help you cope.