It may feel like nausea in your stomach
Possibly, you find yourself holding your head because you notice a throbbing pain
In these instances and other physical manifestations, your body may be letting you know you are in the midst of experiencing difficult emotions.
If you read my post from last week, you may recall negative emotions, as difficult as they are to endure, have a practical and ancient purpose - survival. Jaak Panksepp, author of Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions (1998) describes it as, "basic instinctual action tendencies and habits related to primitive survival issues."
When our reptilian brain experiences the “Fight, Flight or Freeze” response there are physiological effects throughout our body. Check out the image for a visual description of the effects. Our experience of symptoms like a headache, nausea, muscle soreness, which we may interpret as the onset of illness, can be an indication our body is trying to tell us something. We should pay attention.
Unfortunately, more commonly what we may notice, or more likely what our family, friends, colleagues, or even strangers on the street may notice is . . .
excessive use of anything that separates ourselves from the experiencing of our internal state of being: substances, entertainment, busyness with just about anything
Difficult emotions - anger, frustration, anxiety, exclusion, etc. are rooted in fear. Fear being a very normal response to anything that affects our perceived survival - that may concern our physical needs and safety, emotional connection, and intellectual validity. However, despite being very normal to experience these emotions, we do not have a great deal of comfort in experiencing them, and we humans do a lot to suppress them until they explode out of us and cause plenty of other problems in our relating to others.
We are so deeply impacted by a steady stream of images of the perfect life - achievement, exuberance, epic - that we often don't even have to leave our home before we feel bombarded with our own belief of inadequacy.
So how do we manage this daily experience? Accept that difficult emotions are normal. Observe the physical symptoms before we are taking out ones we love with the side effects. Detach from the onslaught of messages, real and perceived, that we should always be doing more so we can be our physical, emotional and intellectual selves authentically.
Here are some practical suggestions:
- Allow yourself time each day to observe the physical sensations in your body. By identifying the signs of difficult emotions as well as times of contentment, happiness, surprise, ease, etc. we help ourselves recognize we are not always sad, angry, disappointed, etc. Even when that is what our mind wants us to believe. I invite you to try this body scan recorded by Dr. Michael Torres if a guided practice is helpful to you, or this yoga practice lead by Jaysea Devoe, a 14 year old yoga teacher (at the time of recording).
- As a friend, parent, sibling, or someone you trust to sit down with your or go for a walk simply to be a listening ear for your fears and concerns. Asking for help is not easy and is a practice in and of itself, however asking for help is a step toward recognizing your self-worth. This person may or may not say anything, but can validate the reality of your circumstances by simply taking time. Solutions do not always come with conversation, but for even a few moments you are being allowed to be with those feelings with the safety of companionship, and that is likely one less time you be reactive with your feelings.
- If talking with someone is difficult, try creating a list of things you can do rather than reaching for your device and social media. Prevent yourself from filling your mind with negatively reinforcing proclamations and images. Expressing your difficult emotions through creative outlets are ways of working through them rather than suppressing them. Here is an idea for creating your list.
- Post positive affirmations in a few places in your house. Even though our truest friends can be helpful in validating our emotions. Ultimately it has to come from our internal decision making to change our perceptions of ourselves and our circumstances. Here is an idea to get you started! You can also visit Inner Rainbow Project for more ideas of positive affirmations you might post around your house.
Let me know your thoughts. What do you tend to do in response to difficult emotions? If you tried any of these suggestions, let me know how you felt afterward. See you next week