Today’s post is all about emotions and how you can cope with them.
Recovery brings out A LOT of uncomfortable emotions – anxiety, fear, panic, shame, guilt…
It can feel super distressing and scary having to face so many negative emotions and feelings that many people find it hard to take consistent recovery action because of it.
BUT in recovery we need to be able to do the scary things, we must face our fears, we have to get uncomfortable if we want full recovery.
So how do you do it? How can you face those negative emotions in recovery and keep going in spite of it?
I will talk about it in today’s post and also give you a practical process you can use to cope with your emotions.
Emotions are the driving force behind everything we do
Emotions are one of the most powerful driving forces behind human behavior. Most of our reactions and actions are driven by our emotions.
Our strong emotional response has evolved by evolution to protect us from danger. We have emotions like fear, anxiety, panic that warns us that something is wrong so we can take immediate action and move away from possible danger. Emotions are a much quicker alert signal for our brain than our thoughts can ever be.
But when we have an eating disorder our fears and anxieties are not the correct signals from our brain. It’s not normal or healthy to have this intense fear of food and fear of weight gain. And actually, to fully recover, you need to do the opposite to your emotions – you must do the things that are scary, you must face your anxieties repeatedly in order to overcome them and rewire your brain.
And this is where learning how to cope and deal with your emotions is absolutely crucial to reach full recovery.
Dealing with uncomfortable emotions
I want to teach you a basic process you can use to deal with your uncomfortable emotions. This practice can apply when you are dealing with any negative feeling like guilt, shame, anger, anxiety, fear -, uncomfortable physical sensations such as pit in your stomach, feeling restless, tingling sensations -, or urges like urge to restrict, to purge, to compensate calories or any other disordered unhealthy behavior.
The basic principle of this exercise is that we won’t try to suppress, numb, distract or make the feelings go away but instead we fully allow our feelings without judgment. The goal is not to make the feelings go away or to change them but instead to accept them.
Why would we want to deliberately allow those uncomfortable feelings?
- Firstly, the more you try to make something go away, the more it grows in power. In other words, what you resist, persists. And actually, when you stop fighting, you stop resisting, then over time the emotion loses its intensity and power.
- Secondly, our emotions are there to be felt. If we suppress our emotions it stays stuck in our body and it can cause serious damage to our health. In terms of our mental health, it can manifest as constant anxiety, chronic stress, anger, shame, guilt. In terms of our physical health, suppressed emotions can manifest as digestion issues, headaches, back pain, lower immune system, and so on. Because suppressed emotions are a constant source of stress to our body. This is why we don’t want to suppress it anymore but instead feel it so it can be released on its own.
- And thirdly, you want to be able to deal with and rather sit with your emotions (instead of reacting or acting on them) so you can increase your tolerance to your emotions. For example, if in eating disorder recovery you get intense feelings of guilt after eating, and you won’t be able to sit with that emotion but you immediately react to it by restricting or compensating – you will never recover. So being able to feel the feelings instead of trying to make them go away is an essential skill you must master if you want to take consistent pro-recovery action.
Before we continue – you have to use your own judgment if this type of practice would be good for you or discuss it with your treatment team, doctor, or healthcare provider since everybody is different. Sometimes we need medication for our symptoms or a trained professional to help us deal with our emotions.
Expansion is a technique that helps you to sit with difficult and uncomfortable emotions. To fully feel and allow them without judgment. This way you are no longer fighting with your emotions, trying to suppress, resist or distract from them that can make those emotions and feelings worse.
Expansion consists of 4 steps:
- Step 1 – Observe
- Step 2 – Breathe
- Step 3 – Create space
- Step 4 – Allow
This great technique is from the book “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris and I highly recommend it.
So next let’s talk you through the steps of this process. You can find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. You can close your eyes if you feel it helps.
1. Step – Observe
Scan your body from head to toe. Notice any uncomfortable sensations in your body. You will probably notice many of them but pick one that bothers you the most. And now just notice the sensation and describe how you are experiencing it. Maybe it’s the knot in your stomach, lump in your throat, tightness in your chest. And focus your attention on this sensation with non-judgmental awareness. Observe it without judgment but with curiosity, like a scientist. Notice where it starts and where it stops. If you had to draw an outline around this sensation, what shape would it have? Is it on the surface of the body, or inside of you, or both? How far inside you does it go? Where is it most intense? Where is it the weakest? How is it different in the center from around the edges? Is there any pulse or vibration? Is it light or heavy? Warm or cool? Moving or still? What color is it? Does it have any textures or patterns?
Step 2 – Breathe
Breathe into and around the sensation. Take a deep breath in and breathe out deeply, by completely emptying your lungs. Slow deep breathing helps to lower the tension in the body and make room for the sensation. It won’t get rid of the feelings or sensations but slow breathing is like an anchor keeping you steady in the middle of an emotional storm. It won’t get rid of the storm, but it will hold you steady until it passes. So breathe deeply and slowly, and imagine your breath flowing into and around the sensation.
Step 3 – Create space
As you are breathing deeply in and out then imagine you are creating more space for the feeling. More space in your body for that sensation to be and flow freely without any restrictions. You open up more space to it and give it plenty of room to move and just be as it is. If the sensation gets bigger you give it even more room. With each breath giving it more space and room in your body. You are expanding the space for the emotion to be in and flow freely.
Step 4 – Allow
Fully allow the sensations, emotions, and feelings to be there without trying to change them or make them go away. Let them be as they are. Just observe with curiosity and non-judgmental awareness. When you notice your mind starts to resist the sensations or argues why you shouldn’t feel this way then just say “Thanks for the story, mind” and continue just observing the sensations, breathing into and around it, creating space for it, and allowing. Say to the emotional sensations: “I hear you. You are allowed to be here. I welcome you unconditionally. I am completely here for you now. It is safe to feel. I am safe feeling this emotion.” And deeply breathe into it. Remember the intention here is not to get rid of the sensation or alter it. It may change on its own and that’s ok. Equally, it may not change at all, and that’s also ok. Changing or getting rid of the sensations is not the goal here. The goal is to make space for it, to allow it to flow through you without getting stuck, to make peace for it, and to let it be, even if you don’t like it or want it.
And this is the whole process. As I said you can use it with any uncomfortable emotions, feelings, sensations, or urges.
At first, it can feel that the emotions are overwhelming and this practice can feel quite intense at times but the more you practice this – firstly, you get better at this technique, and secondly, the emotions start to be released instead of being constantly piled up. Doing this regular emotional self-care helps you become emotionally healthier and builds emotional resilience.
And the good news is that this whole process doesn’t necessarily need to take a long time. And you don’t even have to be lying down or be completely alone to do it. The more you practice it you could start doing it almost in any situation. For me sometimes it can only take 1 minute – to notice the emotion, to breathe deeply into it, to make room for it, and to allow it. With practice, you can start to go through this process much quicker and experience the same benefits.
If you want to learn more about recovery and how to do it step by step then please read my book “BrainwashED”
You can check out my recovery online courses HERE.
Or you can book a one-off coaching call with me HERE.