Emotions that are unprocessed for a long period become eventually suppressed emotions and have dire consequences for our overall health. The health aspect includes our physical, emotional and mental health. Evidently, once our mental health is compromised, it is challenging to return to the fully-functioning selves as there is no health without mental health. Engaging in usual activities such as going to work, or being a present partner, friend, parent or family member can become a struggle. Hence, it is imperative to care for our mental health by processing our emotions in healthy ways, and not harmful ways. In processing our emotions, the four pillars necessary are:
- Notice that we have emotions.
- To name the emotions.
- Accepting that we are experiencing the emotions through feeling them.
- To act on it. For example, being aware that work meetings may elicit anxiety in us, and instead of feeling overwhelmed, we can find healthy ways to manage our anxiety, such as engaging in breathing techniques or self-talk.
Healthy ways to process emotions
- Express thoughts and feelings to someone that you trust who is not going to judge you.
- Journal-writing down thoughts and feelings helps with releasing emotions.
- Engage in activities/hobbies that are stress-relieving, pleasurable and enhancing to your growth, such as art, exercising, reading a book, watching a movie or joining a karate class if you dealing with anger issues.
- Address distorted (faulty) thinking. Identify when a thought is real or perceived but also be cognizant to differentiate between your own thoughts and projections of others on us. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) asserts that most of our troubles start with our thoughts.
- Introspect personal values, re-align with values if you have lost them along the way and take corrective action.
- Be clear about people and situations that you will tolerate and set healthy boundaries.
Harmful ways to process emotions
- Denial - is refusing to admit that there is something wrong with us and that we need help.
- Withdrawal - is isolating the self from others, which is different from wanting to be alone. Withdrawal has its own consequences, such as extreme loneliness, anger, distorted thinking.
- Self-harm – is inflicting physical pain on the self in order to numb/control the emotional pain. Self-harm includes cutting or starving one’s self, overeating or purging. Although these methods provide temporal relief, they can become addictive.
- Substance abuse - excessive use of alcohol and drugs are widely used to numb emotional pain but inevitably carries grave long-term effects on the brain, physiological and in worse cases can lead to suicide.
- Bullying – is redirected emotions of the self towards another person. Usually, when someone (bully) doesn’t feel good about themselves, they would seek a target to make them feel smaller or insignificant to elevate their unhealthy self. A very destructive way to address emotions.
The responsibility lies with us to protect our mental health.