We all get stressed out sometimes. We all get angry, tired, anxious, or plain burnt out. So what do we do when we get there? How do we take care of ourselves? How do we learn from these emotions?
If you can’t think of the answers to these questions, don’t worry. It’s ok if you don’t know how to handle these emotions yet, because most people don’t. Most of us see these emotions as bad things that should always be avoided, and that something is wrong with us if we experience them. This isn’t always the case.
Uncomfortable emotions aren’t there to get us, they’re often our greatest teachers and road signs. If we’re stressed, anxious, or depressed all the time, we know that something in our life or attitude needs to change. If we get angry, we might have stumbled over an emotional block that we get to work through and release so we can live better.
But how do we do this?
We use a toolbox. Everyone has one. This toolbox contains the tools we use to handle emotions.
Sometimes these toolboxes are well-stocked so that we can handle any job life throws at us. Some of our toolboxes are rather sparse. Others are full of hammers when what we really need are screwdrivers.
Let’s take a look at our toolboxes. What kind of tool could we find in there? Let’s take a look at my toolbox first. It may not look like your ideal toolbox, but it sure works for me:
- Yoga, walking and hiking outside
- Uplifting reading like my religious texts, blogs, and books like Healing from the Heart by Dr. Judith Moore (this book was key in my recovery)
- Talking to my husband, Mom, or friend.
- Cleaning my apartment, artmaking, and cooking. Great activities for when my hands need something to do while I think.
- iPod: good music, inspiring podcasts and my SoulArt courses.
- Dangerous behaviors like using drugs, smoking, self-inflicted injury, having unprotected sex or drinking.
- Zoning out in front of the TV or computer
- Blowing up at someone to express anger
- Wearing ourselves out by overworking or overexercising
- Bingeing or restricting food
- Bottling up emotions until they make us sick.
- Supporting rituals like “you-time”
- Supportive friends, family or a counselor you can talk to
- Journaling and creative expression
- Service to others
- Good books and other resources to help you work through emotions
- Activities that help you unwind without tuning out. Yoga, reading, and that old self-care cliche, the hot bubble bath.
- Anxiety-soothing activities that keep your hand or body busy while your mind is free to think like cleaning, knitting, wire-jewelry making, kneading bread dough, whatever.
Ok, let’s back up for a second. I participated in last month’s Self-Discovery Word-by-Word, and I loved it so much I wanted to contribute to this month’s too. When I realized that this month’s word is “Anger”, I almost decided to skip it. “What do I know about anger?” I thought. “I hardly ever get angry.”
That was two weeks ago, and since then I’ve realized that there are two kinds of people in this world that don’t get angry: People like my Uncle Rhett, who never take crap from people but deal with it in a low-key way, and people who get walked all over and pushed around until they finally explode.
How did I never see it?
I’ve never been good at standing up for myself. My mom often says that when I was little, I never got candy when the pinata broke because I wouldn’t dive in and fight for it like the other kids. I cry when people get mad at me. I avoid conflict of any sort and when someone pisses me off, I keep my mouth shut.
I’ve lived this way all my life, afraid to express any emotion I considered negative or inconvenient for other people and those corked-up feelings manifested in my body though weight gain, adrenal fatigue, compulsive and restrictive eating, depression and anxiety.
When I discovered Intuitive Eating a few years ago, I realized that I had a whole underground chamber of emotions to sort through before I could ever be free of eating problems, and I’ve only recently reached the point where I can deal with these emotions without gorging myself on chocolate chip cookies. I’ve slowly let my suppressed anger bubble to the surface so I can experience it and then let it go.
I’ve learned that emotions aren’t good or bad, they’re just emotions, and I’ve finally…finally…given myself permission to experience them. I’m not a bad person for feeling angry or sad or competitive. With this kind of emotional freedom comes a greater ability to experience feelings and understand their roots, to go deeper and deeper and fully understand why I hurt in the first place. With this understanding comes freedom of choice: “Should I really let this bother me?” or “Is this really a big deal?”. It’s like a ladder to greater mindfulness, and embracing my anger was the first step.
Now, emotions allow me to gauge how I’m doing and how I need to take care of myself. They’re like pressure gauges and thermometers. Pissed off? Time to get some space. Overwhelmed? Time for self-care. Resentful? There’s a misunderstanding somewhere and we’d better work it out.
In this sense, anger is a gift for self-awareness. When used properly, it’s a tool for self-improvement. Learn from it, experience it, use it. It’s a beautiful thing.
This post was written as part of the Self -Discovery Word-by-Word series. The May series is hosted by Jules at Big Girl Bomshell. Get details here to participate!