This is my “depressed stance.” When you’re depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand. The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you’ll start to feel better. If you’re going to get any joy out of being depressed, you’ve got to stand like this. ~ Charles M. Schulz
Last year in the USA over 255 million prescriptions were written for anti-depressants. That’s really quite an amazing number. According to the CDC, today more than 1 in 5 women age 40-59 are taking anti-depressants. At least that keeps the drug industry happy.
Every week you can read about the latest celebrity meltdown, divorce or overdose and realize that fame and fortune by themselves do not bring happiness? There’s much more to it. Happiness is much more than money or achievement. And an unhappy life is a life of suffering.
No one’s life is perfect and without challenges. We all have things happen from time to time that will shake us to our core. How effectively we handle them is what I call our emotional fitness. Are you emotionally fit enough to handle life’s major and minor stressors and upsets and still feel Ok?
Are you able to handle any adversity or negative emotions that might surface and still be productive in all areas of your life? That is emotional fitness.
Our busy, fast paced, plugged-in lives create stress which magnifies the emotion. Feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, depression, overwhelm, anxiety, fear, and self-pity just to name a few, all seem to get bigger under stress.
Most people tend to want to run from their emotions and avoid feeling the negative feelings but in my opinion that will make them persist. Attempting to suppress emotions requires energy that might keep them down for a moment, only to have them surface in a more profound way later on. That’s not effective.
Here are some things you can do to improve your emotional fitness.
Begin to understand your body’s connection to emotions. I look at emotions as being wired into our nervous system, so that by moving or engaging our body differently it will change the emotional experience. In my private client practice, I work to disconnect the emotion from the nervous system.
I calibrate the emotional experience on a scale of 1-10. So if the emotion is totally overwhelming, it would rate a 10, not really feeling it would be rate a 1. Measure the intensity of the feeling before you do anything with it and then measure the intensity after. This will give you evidence whether the feeling shifts or not.
Here are some simple examples:
Breathing- If you are feeling most negative emotions, you are probably breathing up high in your chest. If you change your breathing into your lower abdomen, around your navel, the emotion will shift. Try it for yourself and see. Think of something that bothers you, and now breathe lower into your abdomen. Does the intensity change?
In order to be more effective in your life and feel better, all you have to do is shift the emotions that surface. You don’t have to eliminate them completely. If you can take a level 10 emotion and make it a 6, you will not only feel better, because the emotion is more manageable, you will have more energy to do what you want.
Posture– Many negative emotions will cause us to unknowingly shrink ourselves down and compress. If a person is depressed, they have to physically close themselves down in order to feel that way. If you make yourself as large as possible by spreading out your legs and arms, and opening up your chest with your chin up, the feeling will change. Again, it is simply about moving the dial on the emotion so that you can be more effective.
Try combining the deep breathing with a widening of your body, taking up more space, and the feeling will shift even more.
Welcoming- I like to have conversations with emotions. Notice what you are feeling and say “welcome my friend, thank you for stopping by”. It will frequently change in intensity just by that alone.What works is to embrace the emotion, make friends with the emotion, or at least understand the emotion.
Having a sense of curiosity about the emotion gives you an advantage over it. Emotions don’t want to hang out with you if you are curious about them. They tend to leave. My belief is that every emotion is here to serve us in some way so I am curious about them.
Inviting- Imagine in your mind that you have two chairs, one for you and one for the emotion. Yes this is silly, but it works. Invite the emotion to take a chair next to you and offer it a cup of tea. This is yet another example of making friends with the emotion. Be curious about it.
What does it do in your mind’s eye? Will it sit with you or does it flee? If it’s still there, thank the emotion for joining you. Tell the emotion “I’m here for you anytime you want to stop by. Thank you, I appreciate you.” Simply notice what happens and how you feel. You will feel better because the emotion can’t exist in the same form if you are initiating making peace with it instead of fighting it.
In any moment, we are either operating based on our past or based on the inspiration of something compelling to us. The more you make peace with and embrace your emotions, the more they will shift not only in that moment, but also in the future. Your mind will begin to recognize that you can consciously change the emotion anytime of your choosing, so future events will reduce in intensity as a result. You will be happier and feel like you are in more control of your life. Try it for yourself. People find this to be a pleasant surprise.