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    The Truth About Emotional Wellness

    “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” – Haruki Murakami

    Most people come to therapy and the healing arts seeking some kind of emotional relief from the trials and tribulations of life and relationships. Unfortunately, pain and difficult emotions are a part of the human experience. It sucks, and it’s hard. As a deep feeler, I get it. But, I believe one reason why we suffer unnecessarily is because we’re not taught how to understand or cope with our painful emotions. There’s no emotion education in school, and most of our parents and caregivers didn’t learn emotional wellness skills. This can leave us feeling burdened, ashamed, powerless, and disconnected. What we learn instead is to dismiss, judge, or deny our feelings creating emotional blockages that sometimes manifest as anxiety, depression, addiction, somatic symptoms, and physical illness.

    There’s a common misconception about emotional wellness that it’s equated with happiness and contentment. That it means feeling happy, calm, and grateful all or most of the time. The problem is the more difficult to bare, yet entirely normal emotions like sadness, anger, and frustration are invalidated and labeled as “negative” and problematic. With the comparison game of social media, we can’t help but think, “there must be something wrong with me that I don’t feel happy all the time.” But, happiness is just one emotion within a full range of different feelings and sensations we are capable of having.

    The truth about emotional wellness is that it doesn’t mean no longer experiencing difficult emotions. It’s not the absence of- nor detachment from- emotions. It’s not a state of mind, and it’s not feeling gratitude all the time. We are human beings with big hearts and strong limbic systems (the part of the brain responsible for emotional responses). We were evolutionarily designed to feel in order to create bonds, make decisions, and survive/thrive.

    Emotional wellness is the practice of nurturing your emotional experience as it is. It’s the ability to experience all of your emotions by savoring the pleasant ones and effectively cope with difficult ones. This allows us to adapt to life as it happens. It entails turning toward your feelings instead of dismissing them, learning to understand them instead of judging them, and identifying their underlying needs instead of staying stuck. I call this process tending to our emotions. When we do this our emotions can process all the way through to their appropriate resolution, and we can flow with life.

    Emotional wellness skills:

    1. Practicing mindfulness in order to allow all emotions to come and go without judgment or adding narratives that create more suffering.
    2. Becoming curious about feelings in order to understand them and your underlying needs.
    3. Cultivating self-compassion by relating to your emotions with kindness and care.
    4. Seeing beyond labels like “positive” and “negative” emotions and understanding that all emotions, whether pleasant or unpleasant, are information for us.
    5. Validating your feelings (by talking to someone or self-validating) and understanding that all emotions are purposeful reactions to events which may be pleasant or unpleasant
    6. Identifying effective coping skills and emotion regulation tools like deep breathing, mindful walks, art therapy, snuggling your pet, or whatever uniquely works for you.
    7. Talking to others about what you’re feeling authentically, and being open to support.

    Emotional wellness is a practice that can be learned and cultivated over time. It’s the ability to meet feelings with acceptance. Like swimming in the ocean, it’s the ability to swim with the tides of emotion, and when you get swept under to go with the wave rather than fight it so you can come up on the other side intact with energy left over to dive through the next wave.

    So, how do you nurture your emotions? How do you take care of yourself emotionally? How do you tend to your emotional experience in any given moment, so you can ride the wave instead of getting buried under it? My invitation to you is to become curious about your emotions. Learn to savor the pleasant feelings when they come and take them in fully. When unpleasant feelings arise, allow them too. Acknowledge them, be curious about what they’re telling you you might need, and breathe deeply.

    Remember, there is nothing wrong with you for feeling deeply. If there were no emotions, there would be no art, no music, no poetry. Our emotions allow us to experience the full breadth of what it means to be alive and human.

    If you get stuck, that’s okay. Emotional wellness includes getting support and connection. Reach out and tell us what’s going on. You don’t have to ride the waves alone.