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February 5, 2020

7 Healthy Ways to Deal with Emotions

Feelings and emotions are part of the human experience. How we deal with them are learned coping patterns, some of which benefit us in the short and long run, and some don’t. Most of these patterns we adopt in our childhood. The way we learn is partly by copying what we see in adults, partly pure survival mechanisms and partly by ‘trial and error’.

The intensity of emotions experienced might vary between different people, but sadness, joy, anger, frustration and fear are part of life. The important part is how we deal with these unpleasant emotions. I consciously didn’t write ‘bad’ or ‘negative’, as these words imply that we shouldn’t have these emotions, and they are something to get rid of or to be ashamed of – a false belief, as ‘what we resist, persists’.

Common coping patterns are avoiding, escaping and numbing. Instead of feeling unpleasant emotions we run away from them by seeking relief through outside distraction like watching tv, binge eating, alcohol or drugs. The problem is, if we run away, we actually don’t process our emotions, but store them. Imagine a bucket that we keep filling up with water, without emptying it – at one point the bucket will overflow. Not processing our emotions has negative effects on our physical and/or mental health, as well as our relationships.

This is exactly what I experienced. After years of avoiding, escaping and numbing I found myself struggling with severe anxiety and daily panic attacks. I could not be still, because when I was a wave of supressed thoughts and emotions would swipe me off my feet. Well, the good thing is, I had to learn how to process emotions in a healthy way.

So how can we do that?

  1. Feel it, accept it, be with it. Get still and present. Where do you feel it in your body? How exactly does it feel? Name it. Our vocabulary of feelings and emotions is often quite limited. Identify how you feel and accept it, and at the same time know that it’s temporary.
  2. Movement. Any form of movement that you enjoy will help you shift your state and bring you back into the present moment. It leads to a number of physiological responses that bring your body back into relaxation. Personally, I turn up the music and dance. It is a great and healthy way to express your emotions and move on. As opposed to suppressing emotions, it helps you process them.
  3. Relaxation. Techniques like breathing exercises, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation are great tools to deal with stress.
  4. Journaling. Whatever is on your mind spill it out onto paper. I recommend pure stream-of-thought journaling, without analysing or reading it after.
  5. Take action. Once you’ve processed your emotions, step away from them, analyse the problem and set up action steps to solve it.
  6. Shift your perspective. Instead of only seeing the negative, see what’s good already. Gratitude is a mindset that shifts your perspective from scarcity to abundance. Practice seeing things from different perspectives.
  7. Humour. Don’t take yourself and life too seriously. Think forward in time: ‘will this issue still matter 2 months from now?

Dealing with emotions is an ongoing practice. I promise, it gets easier over time.

If you have any other tips, put them in the comments. I’d love to read them!

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Alexandra Arenz  |  Contribution: 650