For many of us it’s really hard to be on the planet right now feeling so much collective hurt, and wanting desperately to help stop it all.
If you really want to help the world and imbue it with beauty, you have to process what you feel.
It can seem difficult to find healthy ways to release the emotional weight of what you’re feeling.
If you’re not careful the heartaches will turn into body aches, then the more powerless you will be, and the beauty you’re seeking to express will dull.
In fact, that is what started to happen to me.
So here’s how I’ve been working towards healthy emotional release to reclaim life-force, power and vitality. I share all this in hopes that it may be useful for you too.
Stirring the pot and checking out isn’t a strategy for coping
Immersed in news or scrolling through our social feeds absorbing, sharing, and writing about our upsets, doesn’t mean we’re actually moving through the emotions and feelings in a healthy way. We’ve just stirred the pot.
When it all starts to feel like too much to handle, do you get the urge to shut it off and stuff it down?
Whatever your version of checking out is — be it binge watching TV, scrolling through pretty pictures for hours, drinking more alcohol, or eating more sugar (I’ve done all of these), it’s a poor strategy for truly feeling better.[Read: 6 Tips to Kick Sugar Cravings to the Curb]
Disconnect feels good temporarily, but it doesn’t mean all those feelings have been neutralized. They’re still swirling around in a frenzy with nowhere to go, except to fester in your body.
Holding in your emotions is like holding in your pee
I think holding in emotion for too long, is like holding in your pee for too long also.
When you finally decide it’s time to go, the muscles are still so clenched it takes forever for anything to come out, and it can hurt when it does.
If you hold your pee in for long enough, it will toxify your body to the point where it actually kills you.
In the book You Can Heal Your Life, Louise Hay explains how stuck emotions can turn into physical ailments, and offers ways to release them. This is an excellent starting place for choosing new habits of coping.
Pain shows up in your face too
When we hold in upset, our face muscles tighten into clenched jaws, downward mouths and furrowed brows that actually make us appear to be meaner and less approachable — the opposite of who we probably want to be perceived as!
Does your body ache because your heart aches?
While I’ve believed in Louise Hay’s work for many years, this was the first time in my life I so specifically experienced dis-ease from negative emotions lodged in my body…and it scared me.
My internal world has been a roller coaster since late last year, then it got really kicked up right after the Charlottesville incident, and hurricane Harvey ripping through Texas.
But as the tragedies just kept coming, the feeling of despair got more intense.
Just days later in Oregon, tens of thousands of acres of the most beautiful forest were burning uncontrollably and ashes rained down from the sky.
With fires still raging, I left on a whirlwind trip to NYC to do makeup for fashion week, private clients lessons, and events. Simultaneously I got word that my family in Florida was trapped directly in Hurricane Irene’s path.
A few nights later my phone rang very late and I was told a good friend back in Portland had unexpectedly died.
And so the clenching began
I had responsibilities and obligations that wouldn’t allow me to just fall apart for a few days. I didn’t want to let people down and I couldn’t afford to lose the income by not showing up.
I chose to do what many of us feel we have to do, stuff the emotions down, and keep going.
I’d burst into tears for brief moments in the bathroom. I knew I’d have time to deal with it all when I got back home to Oregon. So I clenched, sucked up the tears, wiped away the smudged mascara and emerged with a reasonable attempt at a smile.
But then more came…
As the quaint town of Santa Rosa was burning to the ground where a dear friend lived, my thoughts drifted to another friend who survived the Las Vegas shooting and is still not able to talk about what she experienced.
Days later I posted a video of my friends’ – two beautiful women – at their wedding. A wedding so filled with love that it poured in, through, and around everyone who was present. Immediately after that post I lost quite a few Instagram followers. So I reminded everyone on my social media that love is what the world needs now for everyone.
And to punctuate the importance of National Coming Out Day, I came out yet again — identifying myself as an LGBTQ person and sharing a bit about how it is to feel unsafe and have rights stripped away just by being who I am. See how I addressed it here.
Now with the emergence of #MeToo (if you’re not sure what that is, here’s one article to explain) I’ve waded through plenty of memories – long tucked away – where my body, safety and job security were violated at the hands of abusive male power, without recourse.
So after all of this, when I finally slowed down long enough to process my feelings, I found out that my whole body (even my scalp) ached inconsolably – and it was because my heart needed to be consoled on a very deep level.
Emotional release isn’t always easy
Salt baths, extra sleep, drinking lots of water, being near water, eating nourishing foods, having quiet time, walks, petting animals, flirting with babies…none of my usual soothing methods were making the ache go away as quickly as I’d hoped. Even massages just made the aches louder, stirring things up, but not making them better.
I went to a gong meditation to reset my nervous system. If you don’t know what that is, I highly recommend you look up one in your area (or a crystal bowl meditation) and go try it out! The sound vibrations help to release stuck emotions in the body.
My intention was to let go of whatever wanted to come out, and not be ashamed if that meant sobbing through the whole thing. Instead I laid totally silent, almost emotionless, without shedding a tear.
I guess when I told my body to hold on to the feelings, I didn’t realize the physical repercussions would be so long lasting.
Resistance creates suffering
With every single traumatic event, whether it’s humans doing terrible things to each other through killing or restricting rights, or nature’s wild destruction, I have felt clenching resistance to it all.
In that resistance there is a feeling of greater pain.
And I see now that I’ve resisted feeling the pain from that too.
Re-reading an amazing book called The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, has really helped remind me of how to unclench, give way to emotional release and bring more awareness to layers of pain to make it easier to with the “disturbances” in life.
If you’re at all curious about EFT (another physical/mental way to release resistance), I love Brad Yates on youtube.
I also highly encourage you to check out the book The Astonishing Power of Emotions: Let Your Feelings Be Your Guide.
Opening and closing
Like the waves of the ocean that reach out and pull back in, we must expand and contract naturally with the ebb and flow of life.
Some days you’ll need to contract and that’s ok, but that doesn’t mean shut down.
As The Untethered Soul says:
When you close your heart center, energy can’t flow in. When energy can’t flow in, there is darkness.
As the plane descended on my way back from Sunny LA to cloudy Oregon this week, I saw that above all the clouds, there was sunshine and blue sky. It was a good reminder that light is always there whether we see it or not.
Stretch, but not till it hurts
When I was taking a stretch class at The Oaks at Ojai, the instructor Lynnie Kustal gently said these words of pure wisdom:
Start where you are. Use what you have. And do what you can.
She implored us to notice our body, listen to it — and not push through pain because that’s how we’d hurt ourselves.
The point is, find what works for you. Really get in tune with what your body is telling you.
You can do something – even one thing – that you feel good about.
You don’t need to take on the world.
You must take good care of yourself to be effective
I’m a big believer is self-help, but also in getting help. It’s a really awesome thing to seek out mental and spiritual support from qualified therapists and practitioners.
There is no shame in using resources to help you grow. Celebrate that you care enough to invest in learning new tools for your own well-being!
If we can breath in kindness for ourselves and others, as we stretch our capacity to feel and open up to let the feelings move through, we will have the strength and health that will ultimately give us the power to serve, help and heal.
So I’m curious, what are healthy ways you process your emotions and feelings? Let me know in the comments below.
All images and videos by Kristen Arnett.