There are nuances to every emotion, and during any given moment, you can experience contradicting feelings. The elusiveness of your emotions can cause anxiety and stress without you knowing why. Often, the pursual of understanding why can lead you down the path of rumination and negative thinking.
Though rumination and negative thinking can exacerbate mental health problems, overall, it is a problem in itself. While rumination and negative thinking can devolve into an unconscious habit, some techniques can help you find a balance between ignoring your emotions and feeling overwhelmed by them.
So, how can you process your emotions?
Being able to process your emotions starts with becoming aware of them. A popular tool is journaling. Many experts recommend writing down your emotions as it has been shown to reduce stress. A study published in 2005 by Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm from The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Australia recapitulated the many immediate and long-term benefits of journaling. According to earlier studies, some of the objective physical benefits of journaling are improved physical health such as blood pressure, liver function, and improved immune system.
Although there is inconsistent evidence regarding whether or not journaling can improve psychological symptoms, a 2003 study found that expressive writing was beneficial for those with alexithymia, which has similar characteristics found among patients with psychosomatic or borderline personality disorders. Additionally, an article published by the University of Minnesota in 2016 found that expressing your emotions via writing, talking, or another medium, improved mental health in students who were refugees.
The key to successful journaling is contingent upon the way you journal. A successful method was to write about your deepest thoughts and feelings regarding an emotional issue that affected your life. While writing, the point is to let go. Allow your thoughts and words to be undisturbed. Do not worry about syntax or grammar. Just write. In the world of art theory and history, this journaling process is very similar to automatism. A concept that began in the Dada movement and was later used in surrealist art.
If you don’t feel comfortable writing down your thoughts, find a different outlet. There are many different ways to express yourself.
- Ground yourself
Another good tool to become more aware of your emotions is becoming more grounded in your body. This can involve anything from doing yoga to focusing on tactile things (such as things you can touch, hear, or smell). Grounding helps you become more attuned to the physical manifestations of your emotions. Hence, more aware of when something is feeling off.
Some helpful techniques to help you ground yourself include breathing deeply, putting your hands in water, or concentrating on your steps while taking a short walk.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
While journaling and grounding techniques are great for developing awareness of your emotions, partaking in cognitive behavioral therapy with a licensed therapist is a great way to learn more about your emotions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of treatment that has been used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse issues, marital problems, eating disorders, as well as other mental health issues.
According to the American Psychological Association, the core tenets of cognitive-behavioral therapy are that some psychological distortions are in part based on faulty or unhelpful thought patterns or behaviors and that those with psychological distortions can learn better ways of coping and thereby relieving their symptoms.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you better understand the cause of some of the ambivalent emotions you may be experiencing. Not only does CBT give you a better insight into what motivates your thoughts or behaviors, but it also helps you better understand others’. In a safe space and with a therapist, CBT can range from doing exposure therapy to learning how to calm and listen to your mind.
If you are curious about doing CBT therapy, reach out to a licensed medical professional for more guidance.
- Have compassion for yourself
On this journey of learning how to process your emotions, try to be compassionate to yourself. It may be frustrating at times because you want to be able to articulate what you are feeling, but be patient with yourself. Learning how to process your emotions is like learning how to speak a new language. It won’t happen overnight.
While journaling or grounding are not cure-alls, they can help you become more attuned to your emotions. To develop the vocabulary for what you are feeling, I recommend reaching out to a therapist. Therapists are great resources for learning the proper vocabulary to address your emotions. One thing that I have done and has worked for me is to read up on psychology. Although the jargon can be dense, sometimes reading papers that others, with years of experience, have written about whatever it is that I am going through helps me feel more prepared to approach my emotions.
If journaling or reading dense psychology papers is not your thing, you could try meditating, taking a walk, or indulging in aromatherapy. Remember that a therapist is always available to help you navigate your emotions.
Harvard Health Publishing, (2011, October). Writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/writing-about-emotions-may-ease-stress-and-trauma.
Henriques, G. (2017, January 28). Understanding Emotions and How to Process Them. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/theory-knowledge/201701/understanding-emotions-and-how-process-them.
Niles, A. N., Haltom, K. E., Mulvenna, C. M., Lieberman, M. D., & Stanton, A. L. (2014). Randomized controlled trial of expressive writing for psychological and physical health: the moderating role of emotional expressivity. Anxiety, stress, and coping, 27(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/10615806.2013.802308
Scott, E., & Susman, D. (2020, November 17). How To Think Through Stress and Not Obsess. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-process-feelings-without-slipping-into-rumination-3144935.
Simonson, G. R., & Sullivan, A. L. (2016, June 1). A Systematic Review of School-Based Social-Emotional Interventions for Refugee and War-Traumatized Youth – Amanda L. Sullivan, Gregory R. Simonson, 2016. SAGE Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.3102/0034654315609419?casa_token=PW8BxfX-rx8AAAAA%3Axtue8ksP_cNDuzZAy9CR0Jod9zKPQcd3hyINDxe-mwxrdkqca9k0mX55jATAmMjAR-oc7mbw1fo&.
Solano, L., Donati, V., Pecci, F., Persichetti, S., & Colaci, A. (2003). Postoperative course after papilloma resection: effects of written disclosure of the experience in subjects with different alexithymia levels. Psychosomatic medicine, 65(3), 477–484. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.psy.0000035781.74170.f1
The School of Life. (2017, September 7). Unprocessed Emotion. The School of Life. . https://www.theschooloflife.com/thebookoflife/unprocessed-emotion/?utm_source=You+Tube&utm_medium=You+Tube+-+How+to+Process+Your+Emotions+-+Video+Description+-+TBOL+Article&utm_campaign=You+Tube+-+How+to+Process+Your+Emotions+-+Video+Description+-+TBOL+Article.