Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It’s OK to have emotions; it’s how you deal with them that matters.

Emotions are not bad in and of themselves; they are a part of life.

Most of the time, you cannot control the emotions or the feelings you experience.  In the past, I’ve written about how feelings are like the weather.  They come and they go.  And just like the weather, sometimes, strong feelings are unwanted.

Even though we can’t control the weather, or our emotions, we can still adapt to the environment in which we live.  The defining factor between good and poor mental health is how you deal with your emotions.

(It is in that sense that people talk about “controlling their emotions”.  In actuality, one controls his/her emotions by responding in a positive and productive way – not, however, by stopping them from occurring altogether.)

A major part of mental health recovery is focused on dealing with your emotions in a healthy way.

Everyone has unwelcome emotions.  Those who have mental health problems are prone to dealing with their emotions in a self-destructive way.  So, in order to get better, those habits need to be changed for the good.

For example, drink excessive amounts of alcohol to deal with the pain of losing a loved one is not a good way to deal with emotions of sadness and grief.  There is nothing wrong with feeling sadness and grief; those are natural emotions that occur in life.  What is harmful is how one deals with those strong feelings.  Long-term, self-destructive behaviors left unaddressed can result in more problems like alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide.  All the while, the sadness and grief are not given space but buried deep down inside a person.

Healthy ways to deal with strong emotions must be determined by the person experiencing the feelings.  Some things work well from some but not for others.

Still, even today, I am trying to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t work for me.  It is tricky because it even varies from day to day.

I have a default setting that, when things get bad, when I am experiencing strong emotions, I want to restrict my eating or not eat at all.  Or, I want to exercise until I get dizzy from exhaustion.  Obviously, these are not healthy coping skills.  It has been a struggle to over-ride those default settings.

Years and years ago, I developed those self-destructive methods to cope with my emotions because I thought that my emotions we the result of something bad inside of me.  I thought that I was to blame for what I was feeling.  And I thought that I “shouldn’t” be feeling that way.

I had to learn that it is OK to have feelings.  Having emotions means you are human.

Instead of the self-destructive behaviors, I try to deal by:
Talking about how I feel – whether or not I feel like I “deserve” to feel that way or not.
Taking a walk – fresh air and light exercise helps me think clearly and efficiently in order to make better decisions.  Sometimes, I need to listen to my iPod while I walk because I need to allow myself not to think anymore.
Doing the dishes – sometimes mindless activity is needed to distract from the relentless thoughts.  It is a small accomplishment that doesn’t take much effort but is still satisfying.
Scheduling a time to cry – I don’t want to cry all the time, but sometimes I need to.  So I tell myself that I can cry later when the time is right.
Taking a nap – sometimes, being over-tired triggers unwanted emotions.  Taking a nap or going to bed early can rejuvenate and refresh the mind.  I always feel better after a good rest.
Remembering who I am – I am a child of God.  He wants what is best for me.  He will only give me what He knows I can handle.  He only allows bad things to happen because a greater good will come from it.  If I can pray, then that is also a good coping skill.  If not, then I repeat to myself “I am loved. I am enough.”

Learning to deal with your emotions starts at a very young age.  Most of the time, we learn how to deal from our parents or caregivers.  If they have unhealthy habits, their children will most likely develop unhealthy habits.

There is nothing wrong with showing emotion.  This article from does a fantastic job explaining why it is important to show your children that you are experiencing strong emotions, like anger and so on.  But, as expressed in the article, equally important is that you continue the process and also show how you deal with your emotions in a healthy, non-self-destructive way.

Remember, emotions are not bad; you are not a bad person if you feel strong feelings.  How you respond to your emotions is what really matters.  Suppressing your feelings will only result in bigger issues.  So, it is important to find beneficial ways to express your emotions and allow them to have a proper place in your life.  Eventually, your emotions won’t seem so scary if you have healthy habits ready to deal with them when it is needed.

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