When was the last time worrying about a situation, or strife in a relationship kept you from a good night’s sleep, stole your appetite, or raised your blood pressure 50 points? The physical You in no way stands independent of the emotional You; both are woven together in an inseparable tapestry so that it becomes impossible to affect one without also touching the other. Thoughts and feelings can either wreck your body or help you discover who you are created to be!
I’m absolutely fascinated by how the field of neuroscience has progressed to the point where we are now able to observe the way forgiveness or bitterness impact us down to the cellular level! We are understanding better than ever how deeply forces like stress, worry, and fear impact our health, causing inflammation and creating disease states. The good news is that the science also shows us how qualities like loving connection, joy, and peace are far stronger factors in determining our health. Here’s the truth- emotional health isn’t simply the absence of fear, pain and stress. Our health is more greatly influenced by the abundance of love, relationship, joy and hope in our lives.
This being true, if stress and fear are the weaker players influencing our health, could they possibly be helpful to us on our journey? We know that physical pain is helpful as it is the body’s cry that something is wrong. It’s more than a clue; it’s clear communication!
Fear, anxiety, and all their companions – bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, depression, jealousy – are symptoms telling us that something is off. They are unpleasant guides that point us to a place of disconnection from your Creator, from each other, and from who you are created to be!
You may not believe it, but you are an incredible person, absolutely unique in all in the universe. The emotions you feel don’t define you, but are there to help unlock who you really are! When we are unable to face emotional pain and stress, we hinder our ability to truly love and be loved. But by digging below the surface and learning the language of our emotions, emotional pain ceases to be the force that hinders and drags you down and becomes an instrument of growth and change in your life. Just how can this happen?
Here are 7 keys for emotionally healthy living:
1. Understand that your emotions aren’t good or bad, right or wrong.
I used to get discouraged, or think I was screwing up in some way, when I would get depressed, angry, or bitter. Inwardly I thought- I should really be happier! I don’t want to be a bitter person. I don’t want to be angry all the time.
Here’s the deal- our emotions are not right or wrong, and they don’t define your character. Judging yourself based on your emotions is not only unhelpful, it’s inaccurate and misguided.
Instead, think of your emotions like the instrument panel on a car. The warning lights and gauges let you know the operational status of the engine. Our emotions are not our identity, but they are great indicators of what is going on “under the hood.” When we get anxious, upset, or depressed, it’s like the Check Engine light is coming on. It’s a warning sign that it’s time to pause and consider why you feel the way you do. There is always a why.
2. Don’t run from your emotions.
If you want to make easy money as an author today, write a self-help book. People go nuts for them because we are so emotionally disconnected. I’ve read a few myself and see a common thread in techniques that center around blocking out “negative” thoughts and feelings that surface in our lives. It goes something like this- Whenever you get upset, count backwards from 10, look in the mirror, and tell yourself how awesome you are. Sound familiar?
I’m not advocating that we collapse under the weight of every painful emotion that comes our way and sink into destructive behaviors. Our day must go on. Life does always allow us a “pause button.” However, it is important that we acknowledge the emotions that are there. Instead of always turning and running away from emotional pain, or blocking them out somehow, we can develop healthy habits to look our feelings in the eye so that we might uncover the driving forces behind them.
Personally, I’m quite accomplished at avoiding my emotions. I’ve learned that when I find myself failing to return phone calls, browsing through social media for hours, or watching lots of movies, I’m actually playing the avoidance game. The majority of our addictions and unhealthy habits are actually ineffective and unhealthy ways of handling emotional pain. It’s not always a pleasant experience but we must learn to look our emotions right in the eye. How do you that in a productive way? Keep reading…
3. Become a student of your emotions.
In today’s world of distraction, paying attention to your emotions is a skill you must develop. Some of us are hyper-focused on our emotions, and this is as equally destructive as being disconnected. But to be a student of your emotions is to live with an awareness of your emotional temperature gauge and the ability to recognize the warning signs that something is off.
Recently, I was alone in my car running errands. The radio was off, I wasn’t on the phone, and the traffic was very light, so my mind was not preoccupied with my usual distractions. In this quiet moment, I realized that I felt uneasy. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew that I’d been feeling that way for days. I focused on the feeling by letting it rise to the surface, to truly connect with it. Then I prayed that God would help show me just what I was feeling. It wasn’t a long, drawn-out prayer; just a simple question. I suddenly knew it was “worry.” Until that moment, I knew something wasn’t right but I had no idea what it was. It took that time and focus to recalibrate to my own emotional state.
Taking a thoughtful inventory of your emotions requires introspective time. Prayer, introspection, meditation, journaling, or seeking wise counsel from others all play a part in this step. It is vital on this journey to develop a habit of connection and introspection.
4. If you want to change a behavior, the way you feel has got to change.
Your emotions influence your behavior. Before you argue with me on this point, give me a chance to explain. You may think that you are a rational person who does not react emotionally, but at some level all of us live out of our emotions! Self control is important, but it doesn’t negate our emotions. We are created so that our emotions influence our actions.
Have you ever believed something about a person or a situation, only to later find out more information which made you reconsider your original opinion?
Recently, a good friend did something that hurt my feelings. I thought it was probably just a misunderstanding, but I felt too emotional about the situation to talk about it. I sent her a text asking her to call me back, and let her know that it was really important. Several days went by with no response- no texts, no calls- nada!
As I waited, I began to question the sincerity of our friendship. Maybe she didn’t value me after all. This really hurt! Not only that, but I began to doubt all my friendships. Maybe I only thought people liked me, but in reality I didn’t have any friends at all! I began to recall and scrutinize all my past interactions with my close friends, feeling more and more insecure. My self-confidence plummeted and cynicism began to overshadow my conclusions.
I declined social engagements that I previously would have enjoyed attending. I adopted a defensive attitude and became suspicious of other people’s intentions. My family said I was “being defensive” with them. I began to withdraw physically and emotionally.
After a couple of days, my friend called me back. A crazy combination of events beyond her control had resulted in her not getting my text immediately. She said, “Your friendship is so important to me, I feel bad that I couldn’t call you back until now. I am so sorry. I called you as soon I could.”
Wow. I could tell that she meant it. In fact, when she told me what was going on in her life, all of the anger and rejection turned to genuine compassion.
Our emotions deeply influence our behavior. When you believe something to be true, it shapes the way you feel. Thoughts and conclusions naturally flow from our convictions, which in turn, cause us to decide and act. We first believe and feel, we then think and act. Have you ever tried to talk yourself out of a strong emotion? You may be able to suck it up and act in a way that is contrary to how you feel for a short time, but ultimately we all live from our heart and not our head. If you need to change a behavior, the way you feel has to change.
5. If you need to change the way you feel, it’s time to change what you believe.
At some point, all of us face difficult circumstances. It’s easy to blame our emotional pain on these difficulties. However, hard times in life are not the primary source of our negative emotions. Circumstances don’t really drive our emotions – it’s all about what we believe about those circumstances!
Imagine this – you are riding the subway when a man and three young children get on board. The children are loud and unruly, running up and down the aisle and disturbing all the other passengers. The man, the father of these rude children, sits passively, seemingly oblivious to the actions of his children and the growing agitation of the other passengers on the subway. You begin to think to yourself, Can’t he see how his children are behaving? Why doesn’t he do something? What a poor excuse for a father. He obviously doesn’t care. As these thoughts continue, the father snaps out of his daze, sees the situation, turns to you and says, I’m so sorry, we just left the hospital where my wife and their mother has just died.
How do you feel now? Suddenly, your feelings change from anger and disgust to compassion. No doubt your actions toward the man and the children will also change. Where there was impatience, now there is sympathy. Although the circumstances remained unchanged, what you believed about this man certainly did. And your feelings will follow what you believe.
If you need a change in the way you feel, it’s time to change what you believe.
6. We are not always aware of what we believe.
Some beliefs are obvious and wholesome to us. I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. Is it true? It’s worked for me so far, and believing it gives me a hope for tomorrow. In other areas we are completely unaware of what we actually believe. The more deeply-held the belief, the more likely it is that it’s locked away in our subconscious.
Deep-seeded beliefs founded in authentic truth result in emotional health and an overall positive outlook on life. Beliefs based on falsehood or misconceptions are like icebergs that can shipwreck our lives. The exposed tip of these hazardous beliefs are the negative emotions we experience when those areas are touched. Pressure, stress and emotional pain often expose our core beliefs that are not rooted in truth. When my friend didn’t call me back, I not only began to doubt the friendship, but I began to doubt my value to other people as well. I questioned whether or not I was truly loveable. If I’m not loveable, there must be something wrong with me. These doubts about my self-worth pointed squarely toward my belief about myself that I was not even aware I had! Even though the circumstance of one shaky friendship may not seem earth-shattering, it touched a core belief that meant the world to me.
It is easy to overlook, ignore or avoid the deeper beliefs behind our emotions. We can make excuses for the way we feel, but it’s healthier to look deeper into the root cause for our negative emotions.
7. What we believe about ourselves and God creates our core beliefs!
To summarize, we are a passionate people. It’s one of the great things about life. In our lives, like it or not, what we do will be influenced by how we feel. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s our emotions that empower our actions. How we feel stems from what we believe about ourselves and about life, both on the conscious and unconscious levels. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, what you believe is more powerful than you could imagine.
There are varying depths of belief – our deepest beliefs we are most often not aware of, but they provoke the strongest emotions. When something or someone touches these deep beliefs it quite literally strikes us to the core! Our core beliefs are more than a set of truths we hold, they are the canvas that all our other beliefs are painted on. They are the lenses through which we see the world and create our identity. I’m a good person. I’m worthy of being loved and have love to give others. I was created for a purpose. Much deeper than words, these are truths with which we wrestle. You can also develop core beliefs with a much different tone. Nobody really likes me. I’m incapable of really loving somebody. I’m ugly. I’m dirty. I’m all alone!
You may not be aware that you believe something like this, but the minute something or someone touches that belief, the fireworks start. Someone may truly reject you, but they can’t create your identity. Have you ever tried to talk somebody out of something they truly believed? It may or may not be true, but if you believe something, it’s as good as true to you! The key is discovering what is authentically true about yourself. That’s not always easy, but the good news is that even our core beliefs can change!
Wow, so what do you even do with all this? Hopefully, you’ve learned some ways to manage your emotions so that you can uncover more of the person that you truly are! But when it comes to what you believe about yourself and about life, how do we go about separating what is true from what is a lie? I think back to the cheezy guy from Saturday Night Live looking in the mirror telling himself, I’m good enough…I’m smart enough…and doggonit people like me! Although it’s far better to look in the mirror and say I’m smart rather than I’m stupid, our core beliefs may not be altered by these tricks. We can only come to know truth and displace lies through connection with our spirits and our Creator who know what is true about us. This connection is where the action happens!
There are some incredible resources available to you on this journey to help with that connection. Here are a few that have been life-changing for me:
- Seed Digging: in 2014 Shawna Burns released her first book on the practice of Seed Digging, a practice she and others have used for years with clients to dig for the core beliefs behind emotional issues. She actually teaches how teachers, parents, or individuals can practice these techniques on themselves or the people in their lives. Her book is available through her website, on Amazon, or here at the Natural Food Store.
- At Shawna’s Seed Digging Wellness Center, based out of Harrison, Arkansas, they are seeing incredible results on a daily basis as they help people deal with emotional issues. You can contact them by phone at 870-741-8484.
- At the Emotional Healing Ministry in Cabot, Arkansas, a wonderful team of people offer their services in Seed Digging Therapy on the 2nd and 4rth Thursday of the month. I can attest that these guys have helped me and countless others sort through emotional turmoil and find more of the truth of who I really am. You can set up a time to meet with their team by calling them at 501-606-0958.
Holly Reicks & Eric McMullen, C.N.C, M.Ed.
1. Freeman, W.J. 1995. Societies of Brains: A study in the neuroscience of love and hate.
2. Burns, Shawna. 2014. Seed Digging: A simple technique that leads to incredible inner peace.
3. Leaf, Caroline. 2009. The Gift in You.