The "darker" side of yourself: Expressing negative emotions

Most people are familiar with the expression “I’m just having one of those days”. You know, the days where you are cut off on the highway, your credit card is declined in a long line of people, you are screamed at for something that is not your fault, your child (or children you care for) has a major, full-​out temper tantrum in the middle of The Bay and you feel like leaving them behind. Or sometimes it’s more profound than just a bad day, but a series of not-​fun events in several months or a year. Enough to make you throw in the towel.

The question is, do you actually ever release the frustration or upset from those events? If you feel like screaming, do you? Do you have a Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes moment where you smash someone’s car up just because you are tired of taking everyone else’s abuse? Unlikely, for many reasons (insurance being one of them)!

We have positive and negative emotions. Our “negative” emotions are seen as anger, sadness, frustration, depression, sorrow… and those are healthy to be expressed. The trouble is, no one knows how to express them properly and as a result when you finally do attempt to express them they are literally exploding like a volcano from you — with either hysterical crying for hours at a time or a full-​on tantrum. Both scenarios make you feel out of control and unhinged, and often those bursts either scare you or hurt those around you. As a result, you feel less inclined to express those feelings in a more mature or healthy way in the future and the cycle continues. Sure, the large catharsis feels good, but is it truly healthy?

Sometimes long-​term holding of emotion becomes disease (a physical manifestation of an emotional issue). I have many patients whose bodies are what alerts them to an emotional or mental disturbance just by the sheer fact that they have run out of energy, they can’t cope the way they used to, or their immune system is shutting down. Of course, naturopathic doctors are not therapists and not always can we fully carry someone the entire journey of peeling back the layers of emotional stagnation. However, our background in the connection between the body and mind make us ideal in recognizing when the body is saying no, when it is the mind, and when they are overlapping with their need for balance.

What are healthy ways to discharge negative emotions?

I’m sure as many of you read this, you are thinking this has nothing to do with you. If you answer no to two of the following questions, perhaps you need to consider you have neglected the expression of your emotion, and let’s face it, it’s going to come up one day or another.

  1. I regularly see a therapist or have sought out counselling in the past to assist me in dealing with my ability to cope with everyday stress, a traumatic event, or to help me express myself in a healthy way.
  2. I regularly write in a journal, via blog, or even by e‑mail to get out my feelings and get them out of my head to get some perspective. Sometimes they are just for me to get my feelings out.
  3. I have been exposed to certain types of medicine that address physical manifestations of the body and soul — Traditional Chinese Medicine, Homeopathic Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, Auricular Medicine
  4. I have friends or family with whom I feel comfortable chatting about an issue of which I am having trouble resolving.
  5. I participate in physical activity regularly from which I feel more relaxed when I am finished and better able to put in perspective stressors or emotion
  6. I have tried Yoga, Pilates, Reiki in the past and use them both for physical and emotional release
  7. I regularly participate in one of the above.

Start to integrate some healthy coping mechanisms into your lifestyle — your body will thank you!

Resources to get you started

Ben-​Zeev, D. In the Name of Love: A Philosopher Looks at Negative Emotions. Psychology Today, 2010.

Chopra, Deepak. Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul. Harmony Books, 2009

Mate, Gabor. When the Body Says No. 2008.

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