About a year ago, I had an epiphany. It had been a pretty crappy week, and I was either too busy or too tired to really comprehend how I felt about it, let alone actually feel what I was feeling about it. I sat down on our little L-shaped couch and started scanning through all the movies. Not sure what I was in the mood for, I just assumed that one would jump out and scream “You want to watch me, yes you do!!”
Well the jumping, screaming movie I landed on was “P.S. I love you.” Yeah….. I have a bad week and decide to watch one of the saddest movies ever made. ODD…or stupid. You pick. (If you’ve never seen the movie, see brief summary at end of blog)*
About 20 minutes into the movie I just start bawling my eyes out. I literally had to pause the movie because I was crying so hard. And no, I wasn’t crying at the movie. The sadness of the movie had catapulted my suppressed emotions into action and finally allowed me to grieve my week and all that I had experienced. (It was at this point my husband came home. He thought someone had died.)
The epiphany: There are things we can do to help our body and emotions process and feel so we can move towards health.
You see, I clearly needed to cry. My body and mind were aching for it. I felt so much better after getting that out (minus the stuffy nose and red eyes). I didn’t realize how tense and tired my body was feeling until I cried. Afterwards, my body felt lighter, relaxed, and relieved. I imagine some of you reading this are thinking, “Yikes, she’s a mess. I just get over things and stuff them down. That works for me.” or “Good for her, but I don’t get emotional.”
The thing is, our bodies carry our emotions whether we allow ourselves to feel them or not. According to an article on NPR, just having an emotional thought or response triggers parts of our body. Stress will be manifested in the gut or chest. Anger often creates tension in the arms and hands. We carry emotions in different areas, shame for example, literally stays in the body’s core. People carry the emotion of shame in their core. Can we let that sink in? Imagine stuffed shame…where does that sit in the body? Happiness on the other hand spreads warmth throughout the entire body…people talk about feeling all tingly when falling in love. That is because our body reacts to emotions.
So what happens when we stuff our emotions or don’t give ourselves time to process what is coming up for us? According to Familydoctor.org and many other experts in the field, here are some physical side effects that emotions can have on the body, especially when not dealt with: ulcers, high blood pressure, loss of appetite, overeating, addictive characteristics, development of an addiction, lowered immune system, stiff neck, sexual problems, insomnia, headaches, excessive tiredness etc. The list goes on and on. I bet most of us can point to something on this list that we currently have, have had in the past, or have been cautioned about. Just because you refuse to feel it, doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting you.
People have this false belief that they get to pick and choose which emotions to feel. The lie here, is people believe they can squelch all “negative” emotions and only feel the “good” ones. If we continue to stuff or ignore one emotion, we are lessening our ability to feel all the other emotions as well. If we never let ourselves experience full grief and sadness then we won’t actually feel full joy and happiness. We have stunted our mind and body’s ability to feel emotions.
We experience emotions all day, every day, and the problem is, we have been conditioned to only show and express the ones that feel good, the ones that are acceptable. If you are excessively happy or joyful the majority of the time, you will never be called emotional, but if you are showing your sadness or grief the majority of the time or even twice in a year, you are called emotional. How is it that only people who are in touch with and express all facets of their emotions are called emotional, even though joy and happiness are also emotions? What we are really saying as a culture is that only certain emotions are acceptable to feel and show.
WHO got to decide what emotions are acceptable for us to feel? AND, since we live in a world of cultural and societal norms, what do we do with all these other emotions? Because stuffing them isn’t working. Letting them build up to a disaster surely isn’t working. We become resentful, walking zombies, reactive, and unable to make deep connections because we don’t even know how we truly feel.
I get it, we all want to keep our jobs, so showing anger in the workplace, maybe not great. I also get that if you sat in class and cried all day long, you may be sent in for a psych evaluation. There are norms and appropriate places to deal with things…but we have to deal with them.
SOOOOO here are some ideas on how to connect with, engage, and feel your feelings so you can relieve what’s happening in the body and ultimately live a healthier life.
- Punching bag
- Breaking glass (This should be done somewhere safe, and please clean up afterwards). (Also, goes without saying…don’t throw someone else’s belongings…like the person you’re mad at)
- Running while processing
- Take a walk or hike
- Journal (Writing what you’d like to say or how you really feel can really help get it out, instead of taking it out on someone you love)
- Go yell and scream somewhere (Preferably where none of us have to hear you)
- Talk about it with someone (This is the hardest one. Shame internalizes, so we have to talk about it, or it stays)
- Make amends with someone if necessary
- Self-care. (Something that is loving towards self. See my article on ‘Self-care’ for some ideas)
Engaging Grief and Sadness:
- Put on a sad movie. Nothing helps me cry or feel grief more than a sad movie.
- Journal or do art to work through pain
- Take a walk
- Bubble bath
- Reach out to a safe person to talk to about it (Ask for help)
- Listen to music that either is sad and encourages crying OR listen to music that helps you feel comforted and wrapped up. Cecie’s Lullaby by Steffany Gretzinger is the song for me.
Engaging Stress and Anxiety:
- Breaking glass can feel great here as well
- Deep breathing and grounding
- Ask for help with whatever is stressing you out
- Process with a friend or family member
- Exercise or yoga
- Get a massage
- Acknowledge what you can and cannot control in the situation. Let go of what you can’t control.
Engaging Happiness and Joy:
- Share it!
- Record it through video, writing, picture, Facebook, etc
- Say “thank you” or express your joy to those around you
- Engage in self care and activities that feel good for you. (Who said you can only take care of yourself or splurge when you feel crappy?)
- Meditate on it and let it sink in to your body
The thing with ALL of these, is you first have to own what you feel. “I feel angry, so now I will do…engage…etc”
Hope you get out there today and feel how ya feel, no apologies. : )
*P.S I Love You- Long story short. The husband dies early in the movie, but leaves behind love letters for his wife. These letters help her to grieve, send her on adventures, and ultimately lead to healing. However, they also trigger extreme grief as the wife journey’s through the grieving process and deals with his absence in her life. The movie is great despite the sad theme, as it has lots of humor and Irish music.