We all have strong emotions coming up from time to time.
Maybe there was a bad day at work, or a fight with a spouse; perhaps traffic was a disaster, resulting in a missed meeting. Maybe there is stress present regarding finances, or mourning the death of a loved one.
There’s nothing wrong with emotions—emotions are an expression of our perception of the reality around us. It’s just that some people get trapped inside their emotions, locked in a behavior pattern which does not serve or empower them; their life becomes an emotional roller-coaster, constantly going between extremes.
Others suppress their emotions instead of expressing them. These emotions, like still water, get stuck and stagnant if you don’t express them. Stagnant emotions cause stress, like a pressure cooker with no safety valve, and in the long run could lead to chronic illness and disease.
So, what to do?
There are seven major ways to deal with emotions:
Sit in meditation (using a chair is great!), close your eyes and allow yourself to observe or witness the emotions without reacting, labeling, judging, or analyzing.
Witnessing is different from suppressing. The idea allows the emotions to exist and allows yourself to experience it, not to pretend it’s not there, or try to deny it, or push it away. Cultivating a witnessing consciousness is a core practice and goal of many spiritual traditions. When you witness the emotions, you liberate yourself from the drama, the story, the pattern that may be a daily reality for you.
By witnessing, you realize that you are not your emotions. There is the witnessing presence, and there is the emotion. This realization by itself allows the emotion to be healthily dissolved.
Yoga tells us that all strong emotions (apart from love, which is not exactly an emotion) are energies on our three lower chakras (energy centers). There are practices that allow us to channel these emotional energies from our lower chakras to higher, more refined aspects (refined as in art, not sugar).
One of the strongest technique for moving energy up our body is called Uddiyana Bandha, or, the abdominal suction. It takes a while to learn it, but it has amazing effects including better abdominal health, toning of the inner organs, a boost in our courage and self confidence, and the sublimation (channeling or elevating) of sexual energies away from the genital area.
Other techniques include reversed asanas (yoga pose) like hand-stand, head-stand, shoulder-stand and the plough pose.
Stay for five minutes or more in the position to feel the effect. If performing a hand-stand, make sure you place your weight on the hair line, not on the middle of the skull.
When you observe babies and kids, you notice they express emotions strongly, but they can move on quickly. A young child will laugh one moment, shout and cry the next moment, and before you know it, will be laughing again.
Western society teaches us to suppress our emotional expressions from a young age: “Don’t shout; Don’t cry; Don’t make so much noise; You are a big boy/girl; Control yourself…”
So, reclaim your right to verbally and physically express your emotions. Allow yourself to cry, to shout, to jump and shake.
If that’s difficult, breathe deeply into your belly, open you jaw and make a long “Aaaaaaaaaahh” sound.
To express anger and frustration, stomp the ground with your feet, shout into a pillow, beat a pillow, or throw a tantrum (Be careful not to hurt yourself, anything, or anyone). To express sadness, stand with your hands stretched beside your body, palms facing up and your head tilted backwards, and make a long “Aaaaaaaaahh” sound.
Put on your favorite high-octane dance music and express your emotions through your body. Notice that sometimes you might have ecstatic joy that wants to be expressed through voice and movement.
Dance like no one is watching. Dance like you always wanted to. Dance like the opposite sex, like a child, like a robot, like a stripper, like a virgin.
Your emotions are also thoughts running in your head. So write them down on paper or on your laptop. Do not try to make sense; don’t worry about punctuation; just allow yourself to write, even a series of half sentences, or the same word or sentences over and over again.
You don’t have to read it later. Just write for the sake of expressing it.
Talk about it
Sometimes you just want to be heard; you want your emotions to be acknowledged. By expressing your emotions verbally, they are validated and allowed to exist. You are allowed to feel and to be as you are, without being requested or expected to change.
So talk about it with a friend. Ask them just to listen and give you empathy, not to suggest anything, hardly even replying (make it extra clear to men who posses a “fix-it” attitude). Notice some people will counteract your emotional expression with their own, so ask them to please simply listen and nod.
Remember the prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” So, if you cannot accept the situation – change it.
First, make sure that the strong emotions have been dissolved in whatever way. Thus, you will be better able to do something about the situation that triggered these emotions.
Instead of wallowing in the emotions and perpetuating your victim identity, take action to get yourself out of the situation.
If you don’t know what to do, just do something small, and take it from there. This is when you can ask a friend for advice.
What you will choose to do depends on you and the situation, and will probably be a combination of a few of these methods. Notice that you might have a tendency to use only one or two of these, and that you always avoid certain other methods. Instead, choose those methods which you would otherwise avoid.
For example, you might be used to dealing with strong emotions by sitting in meditation and “observing” them, which actually becomes a kind of “spiritual bypass” and suppression. Or, you might be dramatic and expressive – crying, whining and telling everyone around you about your situation. Instead, try to witness and then channel the energy that causes these emotions.
Often you might want to cycle through a few of them, for example, witness, then write, then beat up a pillow, then dance, then call a friend and express how you’re feeling, then witness again.
Which ways do you use to deal with emotions? Do you have other approaches that I haven’t listed?
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Assistant editor: Andrea Charpentier/Editor: Bryonie Wise