Feeling the feels
To heal from trauma, anxiety, depression or other mental health struggles, you need to learn to master the art of allowing your emotions to show. They tell you important things about yourself, about your values and about what you might need to do to become more comfortable with a situation. Beyond this, they help you heal and move on from the past. The more you try and bottle them away, the louder they will become until you have no control anymore and you feel they are much bigger than you.
I kind of imagine it as a glass of water. If you keep filling it without letting some of the water out, then it doesn't take long before it overflows. Everyone has a different sized cup too, so some people’s cups may overflow quicker than others’, depending on their life experiences and coping strategies. Which is important to keep in mind when you come across someone else’s struggle, or you feel like you are struggling more than others.
The good news is: it is never too late to learn new ways to cope, make new choices and develop new habits to overcome adversity that life throws at you. It isn’t easy and it will take hard work but your wellness is worth it. Different battles will trigger various emotions, it is important to process them as they appear. If you try and avoid them or push them away then they stuck to the mind, never having the chance to be thought about and filed away in the appropriate place in your mind. It is crucial that you are able to allow yourself to process emotions like anger, grief, fear/ anxiety, sadness, worthlessness and more.
To some, depending on their upbringing and other social factors, allowing the feelings may come easier than to others. Say, for example, you went through a traumatic event as a child and you did not receive the emotional support that you needed at the time, then showing your emotions and processing them may become really difficult. Not allowing yourself the space to feel and process will only take over and hold you back from recovery, and from doing the things you love. We all have patterns of behaviour that need rebooting from time to time, that’s human nature!
Life has a funny way of sending us discomfort as a form of catalyst for change. Suppressed emotions don’t magically disappear the more you ignore them but fester and become toxic, representing themselves every time discomfort comes your way. It is life’s way of giving you the opportunity to change the patterns you have created for yourself.
In order to step out of the bubble of toxic, unresolved thoughts and feelings, it is useful to take a look at your current life and assess what is and isn't working for you. What do you value most and what is taking you away from those values? What conscious and unconscious forces are at play? What situations trigger those uncomfortable feelings? And what unhelpful coping strategies have you developed that you would like to change? These are just some considerations you might have on the way to making new and more empowering and healthy choices.
Resist the urge to make judgements towards your past and present self in this process. Instead, gather your thoughts and feelings, and observe them like you might observe traffic if you were sitting on the side of the road. The thoughts just come and go, they don’t have to mean anything threatening to you. They aren’t there to hurt you. Getting to know yourself on this deeper level will help you process and sort the thoughts/ emotions into their rightful places in the mind. You might find this easier with a therapist in order to guide you through this in the most beneficial way. It can be scary to reach out but it will set you free. Engaging in the present is extremely good for the soul, and recovery from mental distress.
A helpful way of putting these theories into action comes from Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., who developed the COAL acronym:
Bearing these important, caring ways of approaching your thoughts and feelings will allow you to let down your walls and inhibitions and really understand and process those unresolved and suppressed emotions. Self-awareness and compassion is crucial to letting your inner light shine and restoring peace to your mind and body.
Emotions aren’t bad. They aren’t there to hurt you. They aren’t negative. They are just helpful companions, sending you messages that tell you important things about yourself and your current situation. Make friends with your inner feelings and thoughts and watch them set you free.