Where do you process emotions? Do you hold them in until you are in the safety of your alone time? Do you respond immediately in the face of the emotion? I had a pattern of stuffing my emotions in and processing them alone. I simply didn’t feel safe to be angry or sad at work, so I had to learn where to put these emotions because let’s be honest, we all get mad and sad at work.
I’ve learned how to process emotions in healthier ways and I’d like to share a list of places I use as sacred spaces for integration after an emotional experience. I’ve learned that every place isn’t the best place to process and all emotions are not created equal. For me, there are some emotions that are simply best processed alone. And other emotions that are best shared. I had to stop and consider how, when and where I wanted to process emotions in order to find emotional balance in my life. This pre-planning has created a safe space for all of my emotions, the good, the bad and the ugly.
I cry when I run
I’m not always crying when I run as I run 3-4 times a week. However, if I need a good cry you can bet I’m putting my shoes on. The run allows me to clear my head and cry with Mother Nature. My all-time favorite was a run where I was crying in the rain. I felt like Earth, herself, was crying with me in a time when I really needed a friend. Another important thing happens when I’m running and crying. As a result of the exercise, my brain will start releasing feel good neurochemicals that help me process the emotion and the story that accompanies it faster. When I cry alone in a still space I sometimes feel like the emotion compounds itself. Running has helped me move through things and get back to my peaceful center faster than any other technique I’ve tried.
The key is to get into nature, to move your body and get your breath moving. It doesn’t matter which type of activity you pick, only that the activity works for you and that you can be safe crying while you’re doing it. Once you’ve picked your activity the next step is to make it easy to use any time you need it. To go running all I need is a pair of shoes and work out clothes, which I keep stocked and fresh in my running bag at all times. Set yourself up for success and create a bag that has all the items you need so you can quickly grab it and go cry it out.
I laugh when I yoga
I’ve decided that I’m no longer going to wait around for a funny joke to have a good laugh. Laughter is fuel for the soul! Instead, I tried laughter yoga. Laughter yoga is a series of poses and movements that you do while intentionally laughing. These movements open your diaphragm and the laughter releases pent up energy. I find that a simple 5-10 minute session brings about a renewed sense of energy and laughter into my day. I notice it’s easier to laugh when I practice and this is the perfect way to practice. I had no idea how good laughter feels until I tried to do it for an extended period of time. Additionally, I found that moving my face into the different movements the different types of laughter requires was fun and made me laugh even more. There’s nothing like a good belly laugh!
Trying laughter yoga is only a Youtube search away as there are many practitioners who put out free and paid yoga classes. If you’d like to learn more about laughter yoga you can check out Liliana Deleo’s TedTalk. And you can just stop and laugh right now. When you’re ready to try out an extended laugh, give yourself some space from others while you get used to it and then include the family for an extra dose of impact.
I scream while I walk
Mother Nature is a fantastic sound absorber. Look sometimes I just need to get the frustration out and I’ve found there’s no better way than to go for a walk in the woods and scream. If it’s a crowded space I’ll taper my screams with little bursts when no one is around. Other times I’ll let her rip and just walk outside and scream at the top of my lungs. It feels so incredible to get it out when I’ve been holding it in for too long. Screaming doesn’t hurt anyone and allows me to vent without blowing my top in an inappropriate way or at an inappropriate time. By scheduling my scream with a walk rather than holding it in, I allow myself an outlet for frustration that is quick and highly effective. I’ve found that I generally can only scream for a few minutes. If I’m especially upset I can go on a series of bursts that can go on for as long as I’m walking. I might scream for a minute. Then walk for 10. Then scream another minute. I’ve learned to do what feels right and to simply allow the expression to happen even if it might be loud.
You’ll want to scope out a spot for your scream walks that has an environment you’ll feel comfortable in. It might be the top of a mountain or a nature path around your house. I find it best to have multiple locations to accommodate my volume and my urgency. If you need a short cut, find an old country road that you can park your car on the side of, then just walk and scream. If cars come by, they’ll simply drown out the sound. Another great option is to find a set of train tracks and walk the open space around them. Be safe and don’t walk close to the track, but these areas typically don’t have a lot of foot traffic so they can provide a nice sound barrier for you. Finally, Mother Nature truly is the best medicine here. If you have the time to get out into the woods the impact is two-fold. “Research suggests that being around trees is good for our mental and social wellbeing.” The trees help your body release those feel good neurochemicals and the screaming helps you release the pent up emotion.
I shake while I dance
Psychology Today shared “when animals suffer trauma, it has been documented that they will literally shake it off, which helps the animal discharge the energy of the traumatic event.” After hearing this I decided Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off was a good outlet for my emotions, but I don’t stop there. I was at a dance festival talking with a psychiatrist for extremely traumatized in-patient youth who suffered from extreme forms of depression. I asked her how she explained emotions to her patients. She said she found an analogy that works really well and described it to me. Emotions are like water. If they don’t move they become stagnant and dark much like a swamp. When they do move, they become clear and alive just like a stream. This description helped me understand why movement is so important when I’m feeling intense emotions.
Pick a song, any song! Dance in public or dance in private, just dance. Practice dancing with different types of moves you wouldn’t expect like shaking your entire body or flailing your arms around. I’m always surprised with how amazing erratic movements feel and I think you will be too. If you prefer to dance with community check out 5Rythms, this specific format of dance is designed to help you process emotions through a meditative dance. 5Rythyms is a good choice because it uses structured waves of music that take you through a series of different types of music and beats that really give you a lot of room to move your body in surprising ways. My favorite is the chaos wave because I really shake it all out and give it back to the Universe.
These are some of my favorite places to process big emotions. Pick spaces that work best for you and give you the environment you need to feel safe to really let your emotions out of the bag. This process of holding and stuffing emotions creates havoc on our internal systems. Instead, think ahead and create a plan. Have a list of perfect spots you can go to anytime you need to pull the veil back and let your emotions rip.