The Book of Self-Care: Remedies for Healing Mind, Body, and Soul by Mary Beth Janssen (Sterling Publishing, 2017), inspires one to be more aware of oneself. Janssen encourages readers to take time to meditate and focus on breathing. Follow her step by step instructions for successful meditation. The following excerpt is from Chapter 9, “Emotional Housecleaning.”
Our issues truly are in our tissues. Unprocessed emotions get stuck within us. It’s important to feel all the emotions that bubble up inside us, but it’s also important to know when to let go instead of stuffing it. If you stuff, it just keeps coming up at times and in ways that can keep you from being your joyous self. This becomes so toxic to our mind-body physiology, these unprocessed emotions. Our emotions are at the root (squared!) of so much of our stress and discomfort. They tie into our relationships as well as our communication style. When you learn how to change your perception of or emotional attitude toward stressful situations, you remove their ability to negatively affect you. Regular emotional housecleanings are warranted in our self-care regimen. Acceptance and forgiveness are elemental in this process as well.
In his song “Emotional Weather Report,” Tom Waits predicts “tornado watches issued shortly before noon Sunday for the areas including the western region of my mental health and the northern portion of my ability to deal rationally with my disconcerted precarious emotional situation. It’s cold out there.”
Weather is a particularly apt metaphor for emotions. Blistering heat, frigid cold, drought, calm waters, clear skies, radiant sunshine—all are forces of powerful energy, just as the experiences of our lives, our past and present relationships, become part of us, down to the cellular level.
In the old comic strip Li’l Abner, there was a character who walked around with his own personal storm system roiling overhead. We’ve all known people who move moodily through their day, raining on many a parade. Others go beyond simple negativity to place their emotional outbursts front and center; still others sink into grief, despair, and fear. Often these emotional challenges can have genetic components or may result from chemical/hormonal imbalances. They can even be set off by environmental triggers. These people may require special help to negotiate their way out of their emotional prison.
Yet for most of us, negative flare-ups are more immediate, triggered by our day-to-day experiences. This everyday play of emotion has the potential to be one of the most predominant stressors in our lives and can be a source of tremendous toxicity, wreaking all manner of misery and mayhem on our lives, including failed relationships, addictions, and potentially serious health issues.
Because we all differ in our life experiences, what evokes a strong emotional response will differ among us also. Developing the emotional intelligence to handle the ebb and flow of feeling is therefore a different process for everyone.
But developing the discipline to manage the way we respond to changes and challenges in our lives is not only possible, it’s life-giving. As we learn to observe and respond to our emotions with grace, empathy, and maturity, our mindfulness rewires our neurological system and harmonizes our brain wave patterns so that it becomes easier to respond in the future.
The stakes are high. If we indirectly deal with our emotions, stifle them, or vacillate, we live indirectly and thereby cheat ourselves of transformation. Have you ever dealt with an adult and thought, “He reacts like my teenage son!” In fact, adults can be “stopped” at certain ages in their emotional development and remain there if they do not take action. When we divert or block our pain, conflict, or fear, we become anesthetized to life and truly narrow our consciousness. Our senses become dulled, along with our capacity for intimacy with self and others.
All of us tend to walk through life carrying a lot of baggage: past hurts, resentments, and sadness. It is important to let these unhealthy emotions go before they create fragmentation within us, leaving us confused and depleted.
The skill of “present moment awareness” is invaluable for leaving the past and exuberantly enjoying the present. This skill gives you the ability to place your attention on your emotions from the moment you get up in the morning till the time you go to bed at night. It’s a conscious witnessing of behaviors, moods, and actions.
Key to present moment awareness is not to avoid an emotion but to attend to it, to feel it, to sense it without trying to analyze, change, or end it. Let your emotions be and let them speak to you. When you’ve done this successfully, you can let go and surrender to the flow of the emotion toward healing and balance.
Knowing your emotional landscape in this way will prepare you to take to take full responsibility for your own feelings. This in turn will allow you to inform rather than blame when you communicate your needs to others.
Here’s a practice that can help you work through an emotion from your past. You can also use these techniques to help deal immediately with a highly charged emotional encounter.
1. Identify an experience that has provoked an uncomfortable or toxic emotion. Do this in a very matter-of-fact way.
2. State the reasons for this emotion (the event or issue) to yourself or out loud or write them down as clearly as possible. Try not to be accusatory in tone or use words that reinforce a sense of victimization but be as accurate as possible.
3. Focus on the emotion. Emotions are thoughts connected to sensations in the body. That’s why they’re called feelings. Allow the feeling or “aura” of the emotion to well up and fully witness it in mind and body.
4. Catalog the physical sensations that this emotion creates, identifying the location and intensity of the feelings. Does the emotion create a backache, stomachache, or headache? Does it make your heart race? Be very specific.
5. Identify the beliefs that support the feelings you’re having. For instance, if you’re angry at a sibling for always using your cosmetics without asking, the supporting belief that brings on the anger may be “I can’t afford to be supporting her product usage and mine.” When you identify the belief in this way, you can work toward a resolution by communicating with the other person. Instead of lashing out in anger, you are maturely coming from a supported belief.
6. Really reflect on what the emotion reveals about you: a fearful ego, a need for approval, a need for control, a need for respect, a need for love? Try to be very clear on what it is that you feel you need, that you may not be getting. This is where regular meditation, as we’ve discussed in previous chapters, becomes a very valuable practice. You’re more connected to your inner voice, to your higher self.
7. Now work toward releasing the emotion and any painful body sensations. Have this intention: “I will let go of this anger toward my sister.” Affirm it. Perhaps build a ritual around this: free-form ecstatic dance, energetic breathing—anything that helps discharge the emotion from your mind-body physiology. This very conscious act prevents the negative emotion from controlling you any longer.
Although steps 8 and 9 are optional, try them; even if you don’t, do step 10:
8. Reframe the way you see the situation. See the opportunities along with the risks in difficult emotional situations. For instance, an argument may give you the opportunity to practice empathy as you strengthen your listening skills. You may begin to understand relationships better.
9. In crisis situations, when someone else is forcefully pushing his or her ideas onto you or attacking you or your beliefs, try this instead of fighting back: Sidestep and deflect the force of the attack, using your energy to find a middle ground where the problem at hand is addressed. Avoid making statements; instead, ask questions while inviting advice and constructive criticism. A solution to the problem may be revealed. Lighten the mood with a joke or a smile. In any case, you will become an effective negotiator, an important skill in both our personal and our professional lives.
10. Now that you have released the emotion that you’re working with, celebrate! Take a luxurious bath. Go somewhere beautiful for a walk. Prepare and eat a nourishing meal. Listen to your favorite music. Get a massage.
When you have finished the entire process, tune in to your body and mind. Do you notice a shift in attitude? Congratulations! You just gave yourself a tremendous gift.
Reprinted with permission fromThe Book of Self-Care: Remedies for Healing Mind, Body, and Soul by Mary Beth Janssen and published by Sterling Ethos, 2017.