Emotions play a crucial role in every part of our lives; art, music, dance, relationships, politics, work, sports, – you name it. It makes sense that emotions also affect us psychologically, from anxiety and depression to trauma, to name a few.
It is common for people going through extreme stress to actually tune out their emotions. Maybe the brain even helps us. This functions to protect us in the short run. Being less aware of emotions means being less distracted. It doesn’t mean the emotions go away; in the long run, blocking emotions becomes a severe problem. Issues can’t be shared or addressed, and can’t be resolved. The anxiety, depression, and trauma continue.
So, what can we do? Some simple steps include:
- NOTICE reactions, usually from physical signs such as tension
- LABEL the emotion. This may take practice such as constructing a list
- EXPRESS the emotion, even if it’s only to yourself
- LET GO of past emotions, which is a process.
Some people can name a long list of emotions such as happy, sad, hurt, angry, confused, numb, thrilled, excited, bored and many more. Others get stuck: they can repeat happy, sad and that’s about it. This is not about intelligence; it’s an indication that these emotions have been blocked, probably for self-protection. For these people, sitting down and writing out as many emotions as they can think of is a good start.
One strategy is to pause, three times a day; lunch, supper and dinner. Review the past few hours. Pick out significant events. Name at least one emotion and put it into a sentence such as “When ____ happened, I felt _____.’’ Don’t be discouraged if this is difficult; that’s an indication of how important it is to learn this. Sometimes, when people first begin, they start out feeling worse not better. That’s understandable, and it helps to know that this gets much better with time.
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Rollin S Rhodes PhD Licensed Clinical Psychologist
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