Have you ever found yourself stressed, overwhelmed, unhappy or bored and, in the next instance, found yourself reaching for a bag of chips, a quart of ice cream or a package of cookies? (Why is it that we never reach for a bag of carrots or that leftover salmon…?). Emotions are a normal part of life and experience, and they exist for a reason. “Eating them” instead of experiencing them leads to further frustrations and problems – both physically and mentally. Following is some guidance on how to face your emotions, feel them fully and find a healthier way to experience both the ups and downs in life.
First, recognize that emotions have something to offer you. They are valuable in that they give you messages about your relationship with yourself, your relationship with others, your behaviors and your life. Emotions can help you better connect to yourself as well as to others. So honor what you are feeling by looking more closely at the message your emotions are providing you as well as allowing yourself to feel them.
Emotions can fall into one of four categories:
Figure out which emotion you are experiencing by putting it into one of these categories. Let’s say you just got into an argument with your significant other. You can feel yourself tense up and your heart race. You worry that you may have said too much and that your loved one is pulling away from you. You fear a loss of connection and trust because the argument got very heated. You are not sure what your significant other will do as a result of the argument. What if he or she leaves? What if she or he does not forgive you? If you felt “fear”, then that is associated with anxiety – your emotion is “anxious.” Now, what do you do with that feeling?
It is important to delve a little deeper into the meaning behind your emotions rather than taking them at face value. For example, if you are anxious, what is it you fear? In the above example, the person may fear losing the affection and bond with their loved one. If the emotion is one of sadness, what have you lost or what is missing? Being mad is usually due to experiences of judgment, being attacked, not being understood or even being hurt by another. Understanding what has been criticized or compromised, such as a personal value, a sense of who you are or an opinion you hold, is helpful when you feel angry. Feeling glad is a good feeling – but it does not necessarily need to involve food. If you are feeling happy, it is helpful to focus on what you have achieved or obtained from the experience that caused this emotion.
Now that you have named the emotion and you understand what it means, the next step is to take action. For example, in the scenario above, go talk to your loved one about your concerns, clear the air and figure out what you both wanted to share from that interaction. You may also write your significant other a letter with an apology and share what it is you are feeling. If you are angry, use assertive techniques to let the offending party know how you feel or go for a run or brisk walk. If you feel sad or lonely, call a friend or find a way to volunteer and get socially engaged. You may also consider talking to a counselor to process what you are experiencing. Happiness is a good feeling; just keep in mind that sharing laughter, making memories, and enjoying what you have accomplished does not have to include a heavy meal or a caloric-rich dessert.
There is always a healthy way to deal with an emotion. Here at Hilton Head Health, we will teach you ways to cope with your emotions through exercise, mindfulness, and behavior-changing strategies. We encourage you to recognize that what you feel is okay and normal; it is what you do with your emotions that is key to your well-being!