With Christmas having come and gone, many of us may be suffering from a post-holiday hangover-not just from the drinking, but from the spending, the eating, the partying and the dealings with family, too. So what exactly do we do to not get depressed and discouraged?
The key lies in the ability to process our emotions. Once we have identified what they are, we must find creative ways of expressing them.
Emotions are energy in motion. Every feeling we experience has a physiological response. When we are sad, our faces are downcast; when we are happy, we smile. If we don’t express or process our feelings, they stay stuck in our cells and cause stress-related disorders.
Let’s look at some tools for processing emotions and staying healthy.
1. Share your feelings. Talk about them.
Talk to someone with whom you feel safe and who can listen without judging.
Describe the behaviour that has given rise to your emotion, identify and own it, and ask for more information if necessary, e.g., “When you didn’t call me back last night, I felt confused and hurt. Why didn’t you call?” Or, “When you called me last night, I felt loved and cared for.”
A pilot for an international airline, Kevin was out of town frequently and had a hard time maintaining a relationship. He felt guilty about his absences and afraid to confront issues when he did begin to connect with someone.
His emotional work began with increasing his sense of self-worth and his ability to address issues as they arose. As he practised sharing in an emotionally healthy way, he began to confront the smaller issues in his relationships before they developed into bigger ones. His level of self-worth grew along with his ability to maintain a relationship.
2. Keep a journal.
Journalling has long been an effective tool for stress reduction-it releases a neurochemical that counteracts the stress neurochemicals in the brain.
John, a successful young lawyer, became plagued by stress-related headaches and shoulder pain. He also grew irritable with his co-workers, which led to one of the partners at his law firm calling him in for a talk.
He was not eager to try journalling since he already spent so much of his time writing, but he agreed to give it a try. Eventually, it enabled him to identify the cause of his emotions and to make the changes necessary to reduce his stress level and to gain peace at work.
3. Write letters that you don’t mail.
This is one of the best-kept secrets in emotional health. It allows us to say exactly what we feel without the threat of repercussion and further judgment.
Kathy was at her wits’ end with the stresses of the holidays. Not only did she have to deal with being a single parent, but she also had to contend with her family’s negative attitude toward her divorce. She felt tired, sad and angry.
After attempts to discuss with her family how their judgments hurt her, she ended up feeling worse. We decided that writing a letter that Kathy wouldn’t mail would be worth a try.
Kathy wrote and wrote. She found herself able to express both the feelings caused by her immediate predicament and many of her feelings from the past. The healing came in their expression, which allowed Kathy to let them go.
Give these three powerful tools a try in the days ahead as you begin to feel the after-effects of the holiday season. There are other effective ways to process emotions, which you can look forward to reading about in future issues.