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Stop Running from Feelings

January is Mental Wellness Month. This calls us to do a check-up for our internal well-being. You might be asking: What is mental wellness, anyway? The Global Wellness Institute defines mental wellness as “an internal resource that helps us think, feel, connect, and function; it is an active process that helps us to build resilience, grow, and flourish.”

In other words, mental wellness is both an asset we can draw upon—and which changes but persists over time—as well as a process that requires our ongoing participation. Mental wellness is an umbrella term that includes various aspects of our lives: mental/intellectual, emotional/feelings, social/relationships, and psychological, which governs our actions and reactions.

Processing Your Emotions Promotes Mental Wellness

Just as it’s important to look after our physical gut health, it’s important for all of us to develop a healthy “emotional digestive system,” meaning that you’re able to cope with and work through emotions as they arise. Many of us have never learned how to process emotions.

Since we don’t know, we tend to pick up unhelpful coping strategies like drinking, drug use, overworking, overthinking/worry, or even isolation. So, instead of being in denial about our emotions or running from them through escape mechanisms like drinking alcohol, or by using withdrawal or isolation as a means to avoid them, we need to learn how to cope with and work through emotions as they arise.

But how do you accomplish this in a healthy fashion?

First, you need to be aware of your difficult emotions. Because we are so accustomed to avoiding our uncomfortable feelings, we may not be able to recognize or admit them. Once we take note of our feelings’ presence, try to nail down what the feeling is, whether it’s sadness, anger, hurt, fear, jealousy, or something else that brings discomfort. It’s likely that we may feel a mixture of them, so it might be helpful to consult an object like an emotions wheel (which lists dozens of possible feelings) to pinpoint what’s happening. Then try employing one or more of these methods to process these emotions:

1. Talk it out. If possible, finding someone who can talk with you through your issues is a great way to ensure you are seen and heard. Having a professional listen to you helps validate your experiences and can also offer up different perspectives that you might not have considered. You can also reach out to a trusted friend, partner, or family member to talk through any feelings that are surfacing—chances are, they have dealt with similar issues and will even feel more comfortable opening up themselves once you become more vulnerable. Otherwise, you can reach out to resources like mental health support organizations (some have hotlines offering free help) or online support communities. Often, it takes only an understanding person to help you work through your experiences and the feelings that accompany them.

2. Write it out. Journaling has been shown in many studies to offer a variety of benefits: meeting health goals, offering accountability, reducing stress, creating more successful habits, and so much more. It also allows us to look back later in life and witness how far we’ve come, how much we’ve achieved, and how we’ve been able to overcome challenges in the past. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a less writing-intensive practice, we can keep a daily gratitude list. Though you never want to avoid the real issues we are facing, gratitude lists are a great way to balance out any negatives by focusing on positives; this practice helps bring to the forefront all we have to be thankful for. Or, if you’re not much of a writer, try another hobby or activity that calms you, whether it’s creating art, sewing, reading, or volunteering for a cause that moves you.

3. Act it out. Physical activity is a great way to release tension in the body and mind. There are so many options: We can choose traditional exercise routines or aggression-releasing sports like kickboxing, or simply go for a walk or run (an outdoor setting adds an extra healing dose of fresh air and nature to the mix). Other physical practices like yoga, stretching, breathing techniques, and meditation/prayer are additional great ways to release stress and instill a sense of calm that lasts long after the time spent on the activity itself. Or commit to a short period of mindfulness to ground yourself in the present moment; this helps quiet those frantic thoughts of the past or future, which are often the causes of negative emotions in the first place. Alternatively, we can fully sink into those emotions and let them out! Punch a pillow, squeeze a stress ball, scream, cry—whatever safe outlet for your emotions feels helpful.

Why It’s Important to Process Your Emotions

Having a healthy emotional digestive system allows us, over time, to become more resilient, and to avoid the many pitfalls that can occur when we bottle things up instead of facing them. Without processing them, some people can turn their negative emotions on themselves—such as through actions like self-harm, substance abuse, eating disorders, or suicide—while others may express them through actions that harm others, such as physical or emotional abuse, toxic relationships, bullying, or violent crime.

Of course, we want to give ourselves the best base possible for mental and emotional wellness by making lifestyle choices that help you feel better, from proper diet to enough sleep—so make sure you’re taking care of your physical body. One final note: If you find that the above tactics are not sufficient for working through your emotions, seek professional help. We don’t need to go through life feeling bad—and our physical health relies on our emotional and mental well-being, too.

Remember, friends, you are worth it! God made you to experience love, joy, peace, hope, and goodness – oh so much goodness. And if our low moods and troubled emotions take over, we have no more capacity for what we were meant to experience. Make ROOM for the good stuff - you're worth it!

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