Here’s what you can do to get some information: During your commute to work, listen to a podcast or audiobooks on emotional health. You don’t have to do anything differently, just learn. You’ll be amazed much better you’ll feel about yourself just by understanding emotions. The Change Triangle is how I first learned about my emotions and now it’s my favourite way to teach others about emotions.
3. Practice grounding and breathing even if you are skeptical or think it’s dumb.
It wasn’t until I became a dentist that I started to floss my teeth. In dental school, I learned why flossing was important. And, I was annoyed that my dentist never thought to explain those simple things I learned in dental school that got me to floss.
Similarly, when I was young and people told me to breathe to calm down, I wanted to punch them. Literally, it annoyed me so much because I didn’t understand what grounding and breathing would do. When I tried it, it felt stupid and too simple to make a difference.
Just like I had to go to dental school to learn why I should floss, I had to train to become a trauma psychotherapist to understand why grounding and breathing were fundamental to emotional health.
Filling up with air as we do when we deep belly breathe (technically called diaphragmatic breathing) puts pressure on the Vagus nerve. The Vagus nerve connects directly to the heart and many other organs. When we massage that nerve with deep belly breathing, we actively slow our heart and switch into a more relaxed and open state of mind.
At the age of 56, I now know breathing and grounding to be a key to emotional health and wellbeing. In fact, I start most of my sessions with it. When it comes to embracing breathing and grounding, better late than never! I am living proof of that.
4. Practice self-awareness with a stance of curiosity, unconditional compassion, and kindness towards yourself.
Getting to know yourself is endlessly fascinating unless you are blocked by fear. If you are scared to dip into your internal world, then that is where you begin—with fear.
The fear has meaning and wisdom to offer. The task at hand is to listen to your fear, honour it, and validate it. But, please don’t judge your fear, or any of your emotions and thoughts, for that matter. We must judge our behaviours and actions for whether they are constructive or destructive—it’s important not to take actions that hurt yourself or others. But judging our emotions and thoughts is not helpful. Judging shuts people down.
Approach your internal world in ways that open you up to new possibilities. That’s what makes it possible to change and transform for the better. We cannot change what is not in awareness and we cannot safely become aware of our emotions, thoughts, fantasies, and impulses if we judge them harshly.
Curiosity and compassion are necessities when looking inward. When we cannot approach ourselves in accepting ways, we can work to grow that capacity. It takes practice. The kinder and more patient you are with yourself, the better you will feel. And this self-compassion will compel you to expect better treatment from others. Additionally, you’ll have more compassion to extend to loved ones and friends.
5. Work to simply name the emotions you are experiencing in the moment.
In an fMRI study aptly titled “Putting Feelings into Words,” participants viewed pictures of people showing emotions as evidenced by their overt emotional facial expressions. When the participants looked at these faces, their emotional brain, called the amygdala, reacted which could be seen by fMRI.
When people were asked to name the emotion they saw, another part of the brain responsible for calming emotions, called the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, activated and reduced the emotional activity of the amygdala. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions and putting language on emotions quieted the brain’s emotional reactivity. In 2020, work to name your emotions and you will improve!