Becoming Emotionally Healthy

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: Castanets, “It’s Good to Touch You In the Sunlight”

How to Become Emotionally Balanced: Learn to Ride the Wave

Feelings. They happen to everyone, all the time. And yet, we don’t always acknowledge them or talk about our feelings, much less take guidance from these emotions. As a therapist and personal growth coach, it’s not uncommon for individuals to end up in my office seeking the skill of becoming emotionally healthy.

Particularly in our culture, individuals and couples on a quest of “Happiness” can come to believe that being happy means being relatively free of dark emotions, like anger, sadness or fear. In fact, the opposite is true: Research shows that the happiest, most emotionally healthy people are actually the ones who are most comfortable with the full range of their emotions.

Emotionally healthy people tend to be both self-accepting and self-aware: They know how they feel, and they have a great deal of tolerance and self-compassion when they’re not feeling so great emotionally (here’s more on Embracing Growth: Getting Comfortable With Discomfort). They don’t try to avoid bad feelings, and they also know how to (gently, appropriately) support themselves through challenging times: they understand the path of personal growth.

How To Be Emotionally Healthy: Finding a Balance

Are you emotionally healthy?

Emotionally healthy people tend to be attuned to their emotions (and those of others). They know how to “lean in” to hard feelings with acceptance and without judgment. However, even though they’re fully connected with their feelings they may not always react or take action from their emotions. 

A core component of authentic emotional health is knowing which feelings to listen to and which feelings to leave alone.

It can be hard to develop emotional health and learn how to stay in balance between taking wisdom from your emotions, but not always “obeying them. Learning how to tell the difference between helpful and unhelpful feelings, helps you develop self-compassion, self-understanding, and self-control. 

How To Stay Emotionally Healthy: Personal Growth

A key aspect of holistic personal growth is learning how to have an authentic, self-aware, and sensitive relationship with your own emotions. This kind of powerful personal growth work often addresses: 

It’s a lot! While this type of personal growth work often takes months (if not years) of focused attention in therapy or life coaching, it’s so worth it. Becoming emotionally healthy is a foundational life skill for anyone on the path of self-actualization.

The Benefits of Cultivating Emotional Health

Learning how to manage your emotions skillfully allows you to have better relationships with others, feel happier, improve your self-esteem, and also create a meaningful, values-based life for yourself. It’s worth talking about, and that’s where we’re going together today on The Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

In addition to talking through all of the above, I’m answering some specific listener questions like:

  • “How do I get my emotions under control and stop being so reactive?”
  • “How do I stop allowing my anxiety to get in the way of my relationships?”
  • “How do I feel less numb and ‘blah’ and more engaged with my life?””

All for YOU, on this episode of the podcast. 

See you there!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: Resources I mentioned on today’s show include the “Happy Heart” unit of my online Happiness Class, as well as a self-soothing breathing technique I shared on IGTV.

PPS: Once again, I recorded this episode LIVE on Instagram so that I could answer some real-time listener questions. If you’d like to join next time, follow me @drlisamariebobby and you’ll see me LIVE in your stories (almost) every Monday at 12pm MT. Hope to see you there! -LMB

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Becoming Emotionally Healthy

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: Castanets, “It’s Good to Touch You In the Sunlight”

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

Subscribe To The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

[Intro Song: It’s Good to Touch You in the Sunlight by Castanets]

Dr. Lisa: We’re starting our show today with the song by the Castanets called It’s Good to Touch You in the Sunlight. I thought this was a great opener for today’s episode because it’s a song about how to deal with big feelings. And that is where we’re going today. If you’d like to learn more about the Castanets or their music, you can follow them through Facebook,

So welcome to today’s show. I have lots of fun stuff in store for us, but really all centered around how to become really, genuinely, authentically, emotionally healthy. Easier said than done. But important personal growth work. We have been talking a lot about this at Growing Self. We have a lot of therapy clients, coaching clients reaching out to us lately, coming in, wanting to talk specifically about not just the fact that they’re dealing with some challenging life circumstances, but really wanting to know how to be more emotionally aware and how to stay in a good place, no matter what is going on. I’ve also had a lot of really interesting listener and reader questions coming in lately, specifically wanting to know how to manage big feelings, particularly dark emotions, things like anger, or fear, or pain in a healthy way. 

I suspect that part of the reason why this is becoming more of a topic lately is because of the change of seasons, believe it or not. I’ve noticed over the years that as we transition more deeply into fall, for whatever reason, people often enter a more contemplative life space where they are thinking about things and often feeling things differently. Some people trend towards depression at this time of year, but other people just enter a more contemplative space. It’s just quieter, maybe spending more time inside, more alone time possibly. So anyway, for whatever reason, here we are, and it is a timely topic. 

So today on the show, we are going to be doing a deep dive into how to be emotionally healthy, in the truest sense. So I’m going to be answering some specific listener questions on this topic. And also, once again, I am taping this show on Instagram Live today. I might have the chance to answer some real-time questions from people who are joining me during this Instagram experience. So welcome if you’re here. If you are a podcast listener, listening to this recording later after I’ve posted it in my usual channels if you would ever like to join me, I hope you do, you can visit me on Instagram, track me down @drlisamariebobby. At least for the time being, I’m going to be doing this every Monday at 12 pm Mountain. So this might not be a forever thing. But this is what I’m doing right now. And it’s kind of fun. This is my second time. I did it for the first time last week, and it was fun. So I figured I’d do it again. 

So let us jump in. Let’s just jump right into our topic at hand to talk about what it means to be emotionally healthy in the truest sense of the word. I had an Instagram viewer ask a related question. What do people mean by emotional intelligence? That’s a great question, and I think it’s related. Emotional intelligence and emotional health are kind of two sides of the same coin. I think, in general, emotional health means from an individual level, how do we as individuals recognize our feelings, manage our feelings, take wisdom and guidance from our feelings without letting them run amok? So I think emotional health refers to that skill set that we as individuals possess. Or I think emotional intelligence often refers to a collection of emotional skills that we use, not just within ourselves, but with other people, too. So how do we use emotional intelligence in our dealings in professional settings, or interpersonally? Can we extend to how do we recognize, and attend to, and take influence from the feelings of other people, also? So great question, thank you for asking. 

But today, we’re going to be talking about that personal facet of what it means to be emotionally healthy. And again, as always, my big disclaimer here is that in this type of format, a podcast or Instagram Live, I can certainly provide an overview of the subject and give you some tips that I hope, and I know honestly, what will be helpful with this as part of your life that you’re trying to develop. But also, please keep in mind that people who really want to do this work on this part of themselves, often do so by entering into therapy, or life coaching, and explore this in-depth for months, sometimes longer. And so, as always, I just– I don’t want you to hear any of what I’m going to share today and think that you should be able to instantly just do these things on your own.

Even in my online happiness class, I spend five shifts talking about how to cultivate a happy heart, that emotional regulation skills. So this stuff, it sounds easy to talk about. It’s less easy to do. But I still hope that this discussion is valuable, and it provides you with some insight and direction that helps you. So, generally speaking, when we talk about being emotionally healthy in the truest sense, it means achieving balance between having awareness of your feelings, being attuned to what’s going on inside of you emotionally. And also, when you become aware of having feelings, either what we think of as positive feelings: so happiness, joy, excitement, all of these. And also, especially some of the darker emotions that we can judge as being negative emotions or bad emotions, certainly emotions nobody, but not always, enjoys feeling, right?

But dark emotions are incredibly useful and valuable. That’s what I’m going to be talking about today is how to use those. But when we become really emotionally healthy, it means having the ability to, particularly with those dark emotions, being able to feel them and stay connected to them without judging ourselves for having them and being able to not just accept, but really take influence from some of these feelings on the one hand. But on the other hand, I think that being truly emotionally healthy is finding that balance between being able to feel our feelings, and listen to them, and take guidance from them, while also being able to use some discernment around which of our feelings should we listen to, take action on, allow to guide our lives and our decisions, and which feelings are actually not that helpful, and that you might not want to obey? 

I think that this goes into a couple of common myths about emotions that are often surprising to people. And one of them is this myth that happy people don’t have bad feelings or those dark emotions. That really happy people don’t feel angry, or sad, or upset, or afraid, or lonely, or jealous, or annoyed, or any of these things. And I think that there’s this myth in our culture that people who have it figured out are generally absent of these feelings when the opposite is actually true. What research has shown, in fact, is that the people who report being happiest overall, and who really are very emotionally healthy, not just feel those dark emotions fairly routinely, things like sadness, anger, loneliness, all of that happens inside of them. 

But I think the difference is that people who report being really happy most of the time, is that they have developed the capacity to have compassion and self-acceptance for themselves, while they are having those feelings. So when those feelings come up, which they do, they do in everyone, they’re not perceived as being bad or negative. It’s more of a source of information that’s actually positive in its own way. And, also, I think people who have reported feeling happy and satisfied most of the time, not only do they have a higher degree of tolerance for those feelings, they do have a fairly well-developed skill set for what to do when these feelings come up. So actually, I– We did a little thing on Instagram this week where we have posted asking some of our followers to let us know what kinds of coping skills and things they most frequently use when dark feelings come up. And we got some wonderful responses. And I’m excited to share some of those with you which I will later on. 

But another myth about emotional health is that these dark feelings or negative feelings should be avoided. Or that when they’re present in our lives, it means that they’re problematic. That is also not true. We associate dark feelings with things like depression, or anxiety, or mental health issues that are diagnosable conditions. And so, we need to work on resolving those symptoms so that we don’t have them anymore. While it is true that there are conditions where emotions are not reflective of what is really going on in someone’s life, and there are issues that do need to be addressed through psychotherapy, most of the time, in my experience, when people come into life coaching or therapy outside of a diagnosable condition, it is very common that they’re actually dealing with difficult feelings. And they’re not necessarily a bad thing. 

What is actually the truth is that many times when we start digging into those feelings with the intention of understanding them, what is almost always the case is that people are having their emotional guidance system. Provide them with really valuable information through the form of these dark feelings so that when people start listening to these feelings and saying, “Why am I feeling this way?” And as opposed to like, “What’s wrong with me for feeling this way?” leaning into the other side of it, which is, “How does it make sense that I’m feeling this way?” It’s often the case that we discover a whole just treasure trove of really valuable information about what people need in their lives that they’re not getting from their relationships. Or the truth about how they feel about their career. Or maybe they’re not taking care of themselves. Or, maybe, they are living their life in such a way that’s not really congruent with their highest values. Or they are going through the motions in their life and really sort of disconnected from the activities, and the relationships, and experiences that are most meaningful to them. 

And in this case, it’s really very, very helpful to listen to these dark emotions because when we do, they’re saying, “Oh you feel bad because you are unconsciously doing something that is, maybe, painful for you. Or you’re in a relationship that isn’t good for you.” And so it’s like sort of– The analogy is if you put your hand on a hot stove, you feel pain because your body is saying, “Stop that.” And, a lot of times, our emotions are really serving the same purpose. They’re saying, “What are you doing?” And listening to them is actually the path of growth as opposed to labeling them as bad, and trying to get rid of them because then if you do that, you don’t have the opportunity to take the wisdom that they’re trying to share and grow from it. So another big component of emotional health is learning how to make friends with those dark emotions because they’re there to really help you connect with your truest self, and build a life that is aligned with who you are and what you really need. 

Now, it is also a more complex situation than this because on the other side of that balance equation that we were talking about, is another thing that’s true, which is that not everything that you feel is necessarily right and good either. I think that there’s another myth in our culture, particularly when it comes to some of the wings of pop psychology that are out there that says, “We should always listen to our feelings.” And that is not true, either. Not everything that you feel is healthy or a reliable source of information. Some feelings are almost like artifacts of hurtful life experiences that have happened in the past or many people have really negative feelings that are due to ways of thinking about things that are not helpful. 

So, maybe, core beliefs that are outdated or misperceptions about what’s happening. And that’s particularly true and relationships. And so, part of developing the capacity for emotional intelligence, and, also, real and authentic emotional health is learning how to tell the difference between things that you’re feeling that are really helpful and things that are happening inside of you that are not actually that helpful. And that, yes, maybe you feel that way but it’s related to something that is not something that is worth listening to or obeying. So it’s really figuring that balance out. 

So as you can imagine, this takes time and a lot of self-awareness but it’s really worthwhile. Because when people struggle to know how to deal with their feelings or manage their emotions well, one of three things usually happens. First of all, some people who really struggle with their emotions, cope with all of it by numbing themselves. They either ignore all their feelings, but particularly the dark emotions, or–this will sound weird but it’s true. They are not aware that they are having feelings at all. They have so habitually minimized or distanced themselves from their emotional reality that they can have emotions that are not consciously a thing in their head. 

And so, what you’ll often see and this is not always but many times what happens with some men who have been socialized since infancy, to not have feelings, particularly vulnerable feelings. So, maybe, anger is okay but softer emotions like sadness, fear, loneliness, longing, guilt, grief, shame, there’s no space, a lot of times, in the male experience to have those. Those feelings were not reflected back to them. They were not taught what to do when these feelings do come up. And so, they’re pushed away so far that they’re not even recognized sometimes. And so, what happens in these cases is that people will feel very numb a lot of times. And, sometimes, even engaged in behaviors that change their feelings without even recognizing that they are. This is often so deeply subconscious that it happens before they even know that they’re having a feeling. 

And so, many times, again, like what you’ll see with people who engage in things like emotional eating, or even like drinking, or smoking cigarettes, or other processes addictions or behaviors, or substance abuse, is that they even begin to have a dark emotion. And immediately, it turns into a craving for a substance or an activity that they have done so many times they know that it’ll change it. And so, that is really a very reliable and effective way of not having to have a feeling. And while that is a strategy, I guess, people who are cut off from their feelings in this way. They often will do things as this impulsive, reactive, subconscious way of getting away from the bad emotion. And, as such, sometimes their behaviors don’t really make a lot of sense either to themselves or to other people. So there’ll be like, “Why do I do this?” And so they might come in for counseling or coaching, like saying, “I can’t stop smoking,” or something like that. Or that they have these patterns in their relationships, oftentimes, because the other thing that’s true is that people who don’t know how to deal with big emotions, when they are put into situations where emotions do come up, like interpersonal conflict, or stressful situations, they begin to feel totally flooded and overwhelmed, and they just cannot cope. They really do not have the resources to cope with this. And they feel like something is terribly wrong. That’s how they interpret it many times. So they scramble to make these feelings go away by whatever means necessary. 

This can be very problematic in relationships because, oftentimes, the biggest feeling has come up in our relationships. And so, when people, all they know to do is avoid this, they will oftentimes shut down conversations that are starting to get emotionally intense with our partners, which does not lead to good things in a relationship, obviously. Or they will avoid people or situations. They will oftentimes have a lot of anticipatory anxiety, thinking that something is going to be really bad and awful. And so, they will stay away from situations that might make them feel bad. Or they will really dive into distracting behaviors or substance abuse kinds of behaviors. 

So there’s a lot of energy that goes into building up this protective wall to protect themselves from having any feelings that they don’t know how to deal with, which leads to a whole set of other problems. And, also, not the least of which is that people who are really profoundly disconnected from their own feelings, often really struggle to have empathy for other people. They’re often so rational, almost, when it comes to the way they deal with problems, or make decisions that they don’t factor in the feelings of other people, or can really struggle in relationships because they’re not connected with all of this emotional information. 

So they’re trying to navigate the world but missing a sense. Imagine if you didn’t have the sense of smell anymore. There would be a lot of information that comes to you about the world and what’s going on around you that you would not receive because that sense was deadened. And people who do not know how to cope with emotions and have a strategy of avoiding them to the point of not feeling them at all can miss a lot, particularly when it comes to their dealings with other people. Also, what I have found to be true is that if people are insulating themselves from feeling negative emotions, they are also, oftentimes, inadvertently insulating themselves from feeling really positive emotions, too. So you can’t cut off the bottom without also cutting off the top. 

And so, you see people existing in this gray middle ground where they don’t really feel much of anything at all. So they don’t feel that bad but they don’t feel that good either. And that can be a tough place to live, right? So for these people, the path to emotional health really means learning how to be okay with not feeling okay, sometimes. Just this idea that having big feelings and dark emotions are just a normal and expected part of what it feels like to be a human and part of what it means to be a whole person. And that what all of our responsibility is, I think, to learn some strategies along the way to not be tormented and flooded by dark emotions. But like, “How do I manage this when they do come up so that I’m able to understand myself, and understand other people, and stay connected, to understand to other people that I care about when feelings get big? 

So now on the other side of this, there are also people who are exactly the opposite. So they routinely feel triggered. They have big feelings frequently. They might get very angry very quickly. Or get triggered by things going on around them. And they are very comfortable with feeling these feelings to the point where they often react from these feelings without thinking too much about it. So their feelings in the moment are just the most real and important thing that there is, and whatever they feel is then, therefore, how they behave which makes sense because when you’re having big, huge feelings. It’s very present and it feels very true, right, while you’re having them. 

But as you can imagine, this also can often lead to regrettable outcomes, especially when it comes to relationships, again. People who have big feelings and are comfortable with being passionate and angrier, they will lash out sometimes. Or they will take action that is influenced based on how they feel, rather than slowing down enough to do some reality testing or to figure out why am I feeling this way? What is this attached to? Is this based on some old, hurtful thing that happened to me? Is this an artifact of something from my family of origin that is not actually that helpful? Or am I making a judgement about something that is upsetting to me, that is actually when I really slow down and think about it, maybe not a judgment that I want to be holding? Or an expectation that I really should be having for this person or this relationship? 

So they’re not engaging in that self-reflection. Instead, in the moment, they’re just saying whatever they feel or reacting, and making snap judgments about people, or writing off relationships, burn it all down in the heat of the moment, and inadvertently damaging relationships instead of slowing down enough so that they can really solve a problem, or repair things, or to do that deeper reflection within themselves. As such, they frequently do things with, not meaning to, but they do things that wind up making things worse, instead of better, either in their relationships, or in their life circumstances: impulsively quitting jobs, or buying something or, there are so many different variations of this. 

So for these people, the path to true and authentic emotional health is really learning how to slow down, and develop almost a more skeptical stance towards their feelings: learning what their triggers are, where they come from, why they feel the way that they do. Are there patterns around their feelings? Which of their feelings are healthy and reliable? Which they listen to, and which ones thinking back, were actually not worth following and indulging? And I think, also, for these types of people, really learning some strategies to calm themselves down long enough or even removing themselves from the situation sometimes, so that they can calm them all the way down, so that they’re not acting on their feelings, but rather taking some time and learning how to listen to their feelings without acting on them. Because this is not an all-or-nothing thing. People might have a very big intense reaction that is based on old family of origin stuff or outdated core beliefs. They might say, “You know what? I’m not going to act on this.” And also, there still might be some kernels of wisdom and things that are really valuable in that also. So it’s not one thing or the other. It’s usually a combination of all, and that’s why I think that really developing true emotional intelligence is such a process and growth area for many people that take a lot of time. 

Now, one last thing that I just want to mention, because I think that some people, a smaller segment, certainly, but some people fall into this third camp of how to manage emotions, particularly when it comes to challenging emotions that come up in relationships is that there are some people who are either not fully consciously aware of how they feel, or they’re aware of how they feel but they’re not totally comfortable with it, and they don’t know how to address their feelings within the context of the relationship and healthy ways. So they tend to engage in passive-aggressive behaviors. 

You see this a lot in couples counseling: Person A will ask Person B to do something or for help with something, or will just have generally expectations that they want Person B to be nice to them or something like that, but Person B is actually upset with Person A. Again, sometimes this is conscious but sometimes this is not conscious. And it can be a variety of things: Person B is not getting their needs met in the relationship, or Person B is not feeling loved or cared for. But they don’t know how to talk about it, or again, they might not be fully conscious of this. But even though these feelings are pushed aside, they don’t go away. And they will always come out sooner or later. And so, Person B, in this case, might express their feelings in low-key hostile behaviors: forgetting something, or not doing something that they know would make their partner happy, or even doing things that are weird or annoying, or even hurtful to Person A but they’re always couched in this, like, “Oh, it was a mistake,” or “I didn’t think of it,” or it was something that was outside of person B’s control. 

So they have these feelings but because they do not know what to do with these feelings, or they’re not full in their awareness, they have to displace it. So they’re having feelings, and they are communicating their feelings but almost in this very distant way that feels for-better-or-for-worse kind of more comfortable for them in the moment. The path to health for these people, again, is really learning how to take ownership of their feelings. And again, sort of more like that first example that I described. It’s like, how do we get more comfortable with being angry, or having things that you want that you’re not getting? How do you address that in a productive way? Because they oftentimes feel like something bad will happen subconsciously if they address it very directly so there’s a lot of avoidance. And yet, they’re still acting on it in a sideways way. 

So there is just so much here when it comes to emotional health that I just wanted to give an overview of some different things that can happen when emotional health is still developing. And the only reason that I wouldn’t describe these is because I think that all of us can fall into some of these camps when we’re not really consciously thinking about our emotional health and what kinds of things we can do to strengthen it, all of us. So, again, the path of growth here is a process. There’s nothing that I’m going to say right now that’s going to magically change any of this. But skills that are really important and helpful to learn in all of these different presentations of the spectrum of emotional health and what it can look like, are, first of all, getting really, really clear about how you feel in the first place, which can be hard to do. Even, sometimes, people who are having big intense feelings, it lacks nuance. They’ll be able to say, “I’m mad,” and be very connected with that idea. But when you help them really dig down deeper and deeper into it, it’s like, “I’m hurt,” or “I felt disappointed,” or “I felt afraid in that moment, or a little bit vulnerable.” 

Even the people who have a lot of “comfort with their emotions,” oftentimes aren’t really slowing down enough to really be fully aware of all of the different layers and nuances of that. So, really, self-awareness is huge when it comes to this. A lot of the work that we do in life coaching or therapy, particularly in the beginning weeks and months of this work, is around facilitating that self-awareness so that people are able to say, “Aha, this is how I feel. This is what it’s about. This is what it’s attached to. This is what I’m thinking about in this moment.” And then from there, from that place of self-awareness, we can start to work on things like mindfulness skills and present-moment awareness that help people really stay in the here and now with their feelings without judgment, without needing to frantically get away from their feelings, without needing to act on their feelings, without judging their feelings. 

So those present moment awareness and mindfulness skills are really huge. Also, I think cognitive skills are very helpful because, many times, people are thinking about certain things in such a way that they are becoming upset, or becoming upset with themselves for having feelings. And so, really beginning to develop those skills of metacognition, thinking about what you’re thinking about, are enormously helpful for people who are looking to grow in this area. Because we often think about our thoughts and our feelings as being different things. There are cognitions and then there are emotions. What is true is that they are very, very, very linked. The way we think about things often creates emotional reactions inside of ourselves that, many times, feelings are secondary to our belief, or judgment, or interpretation of what is happening in reality, right? So our feelings can follow our thoughts. 

But it is also true that when we are in a mood state, it impacts the way that we think about things. For example, when we’re feeling really elevated or anxious, we tend to zone in on problems, or threats, or potential danger, cognitively. Once we are elevated or in a mood. I mean, you’re in a mood, and it really changes the way that you think about things, oftentimes in such a way that supports your feelings. And then your thoughts and your feelings feed off one another. It can be difficult to get out of that. 

So again, I just wanted to mention some of those things again to reinforce this idea that the path of healing and growth in this area is complex. There’s a lot to it but it’s really worthwhile. Because when you begin to develop these skills, you not just– I think feel more at peace with things. Not that you won’t have feelings anymore, but when you do, you’ll know how to handle them. And when you practice all of these skills, you will find that it settles down. That even though you have feelings that come and go, it’s almost more like riding the wave as opposed to getting totally flooded or needing to escape them. It’s just all– You can take it in stride, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. 

So with these ideas in mind, I want to answer a few specific listener questions that have come in recently. So one that came in, I can’t remember if this one came in through Instagram, or was a question that was submitted through Anyway. But this person says, “Hello, Dr. Lisa, I recently discovered your podcast. And I was wondering if you could touch on the topics of self-control: so how to gain it, how to use it effectively, and specifically how to calm down your reactions. So I usually react quickly. And I take certain situations to the next level because my emotions take over.” Also, related to this, “How to control your emotions in general?” And she closes by saying, “Maybe by learning to do that, I won’t react so hard,” she says and, “So quickly.” And so, that’s one question that came in. And, similarly, here’s another one along the same line. This other listener asks, “What are some things I can do when I’m feeling extremely anxious, specifically, about a relationship problem?” She says, “I tend to jump into action. And then I often regret the outcome of where my emotions lead me.” 

So both of these people are struggling with the same thing; they’re having big feelings that come up in the moment that are influencing their behavior. And then they are regretting it. The first question or she doesn’t say this explicitly but she does mention, “I take situations to the next level by emotions take over.” And so reading through the lines, you get the sense that when that happens, it’s making things worse, right? So, again, this is not a band-aid thing, right? So for both of these people, what the path of growth and personal development will probably look like, is, first of all, coming in and talking about, or even doing some journaling. You don’t necessarily have to talk to a therapist or coach about this but doing some journaling around, “Okay, so let’s look at the situations when these feelings are coming up. Are there any patterns? Are there things in particular that are triggering these feelings inside of you?” And so, beginning to just get some more information around, “What’s going on?” And from that, seeing if we can identify, are there any patterns? 

And if there are patterns, say that reactivities tend to come up when people are feeling lonely, or hurt by their partners, for example. Doing some more investigating around why that might be a tender spot for you? Are there life events that you lived through that are linked to it? Or are there things going on in this relationship that are actually hurtful for you? Again, we want to be very cautious that we’re not dismissing these emotions as bad or judging them. When both of these people might be having reactions in their relationships that are based on things that they should be listening to. Maybe they’re not actually being treated by their partner the way that they would like to be. That’s always a consideration. 

So the first step is really just a very, very compassionate exploration where we’re not judging feelings but really seeking to understand them. So what are they coming up? What is this attached to? How does this make sense? And then from that, you get a lot more information around: what are the thoughts that are connected to this? What are the core beliefs? Is this helpful information? Should we be listening to this? Or are these remnants and artifacts of maybe things that have happened in the past? Or are you becoming elevated in a way that is not quite —what’s the word that I’m looking for— you’re having a reaction that’s out of proportion to what is going on. So really doing all of that assessment. 

Also, honestly, when I work with people around stuff like this, I’m also doing lifestyle assessments. And this, bear with me. This will sound ridiculously simple. I don’t want to be overly simplistic but I have noticed over the years that when people are not getting enough sleep when people are chronically stressed, either because of their lifestyle or their work, or– Believe it or not, when people are our high consumers of like, caffeine, or– Believe it or not, there are some other, this will sound like pseudoscience; it’s not. There’s research; you can look it up. But dietary supplements or food additives, for example, aspartame, NutraSweet, believe it or not, it is a nervous system stimulant. 

I have personally worked with people who are flying off the handle, and feeling very agitated, and people are constantly annoying them, and they’re having these big emotional reactions. And now we’re going through this stuff and nothing is really coming up but they’re drinking 17 diet cokes a day. And looking at that and being like, “Huh. I wonder what would happen if you switched to, let’s try some LaCroix. Just see what happens.” And people can actually feel very different emotionally when they are less agitated on a physiological level. It’s not just things that they’re consuming, but really not getting enough sleep, or being under chronic stress can elevate you on a fight-flight type level so that when normal issues or things do come up, people can have very big physiological reactions to what’s happening that then turn into emotions. 

And it’s also, I think, very interesting and important for people who are having big reactions to think about their emotions in a different way. This is actually true for people who tend to avoid feelings, too. But emotions are feelings. In the most literal sense, they are physical sensations in your body, like someone is touching your arm, that’s a physical sensation. When you are having an emotion, it is an internal physical sensation. Some people feel almost sick to their stomach. Some people feel a tightness in their chest, or in their throat, or in their face. Personally, when I’m starting to feel stressed or anxious, I will feel like a hot ball in my solar plexus region. That’s my feeling sensation. 

I think sometimes simply recognizing their physical sensations and this is important: the fact that these physical sensations are simply occurring, they are not harming you, they’re not hurting you. They’re not destructive in any way. They’re simply present in your body. Many times, people with these big huge reactions, emotional reactions are enormously calmed when they are taught through mindfulness and present-moment awareness skills: how to simply literally feel the feelings in their body, without needing to change it, or escape it, or do anything with it, or control anyone else to make it go away. Because what’s always true is that, usually in fairly short order, 15, 20 minutes. If you do nothing except sit there and notice them in brief, they just fade away on their own. So really no action is required. 

Many times, people who are very reactive just simply need to be retrained to notice what I’m feeling. And how do I just sit with it? See if there’s anything that I need to listen to. Where’s this coming from? Some exploration. But at the end of the day, no action is required. I’m going to be okay either way. I once had a very, very wise supervisor who was the, my goodness, she was the head psychologist at the community mental health center where I did my psychology internship. And she said something that I thought was so profound one day. She said, “Almost all of the human suffering is caused by people’s inability to simply sit and feel their feelings.” It goes in so many different directions: either aggression towards others, or self-harm, self-sabotage, addictive behaviors, ruined relationships, to just be okay with not being okay is really– It sounds simple but it’s very profound when you learn how to do it. 

So those are some of the activities that I would encourage these two people to consider going into in a personal growth sense. But in terms of also just small things they could do: learning how to do some self-soothing exercises, even the square-breathing technique that I posted in one of my beach videos on IGTV is really just learning how to trick your body into de-escalating. But this very specific breathing technique can be so helpful. 

And there are all kinds of other self-soothing behaviors. And these are some of the things that came up when I was asking people to share some of their favorite activities but we had some suggestions. Some as you know, reaching out to friends or family and sharing your feelings. Other people said that they find a lot of comfort in spending time with animals when they’re feeling super escalated which is great. Another person said –I thought it was so funny– she was like, “Well, usually I just indulge in emotional eating. But lately, I’ve been turning more and more towards exercise which is really helpful for me. Because when I feel the burn of exercise, I’m able to come back down emotionally.” And all of those are really great strategies. I know for myself, sometimes going on a walk, or taking a shower, or doing something that’s physical can really help me step away from the feeling long enough so that I’m able to think about it, and process it, and do something more useful with it. 

So I had another couple of questions that came up that speak to the other side of this need for balance when it comes to emotional health. I had one person ask, “How can I let go of emotional baggage that I’m totally aware of and I know is not serving me? How–?” And they go on to say, “How do I keep it from interfering with my life?” And another person said, “Dr. Lisa, I want to know how to feel alive and excited about life again but I’m so used to isolating myself, and hiding, and numbing out. How do I find happiness? Nothing bad is happening but nothing great is happening. It’s all just kind of blob.” 

And these two questions, they might sound like they’re different, but I see them as being on two sides of the same coin. This person who’s asking, “How do I keep my emotional baggage from interfering with my life?” It makes me think–something about the way that it’s phrased–leads me to believe that they may be subscribing to one of those myths about emotional health that we talked about at the beginning. That if I could let go of my emotional baggage speaks to almost this fantasy that is almost in that avoidant camp which is saying, “I don’t want to feel these feelings, and I don’t really know how to deal with them and live the life that I want to in the presence of these emotions. So I’d like you to help me figure out how to stop feeling this way,” is what I hear in that question. 

And my advice, I think, in this case, is similar to anyone who tends to be on that avoidant side of the spectrum which is to make friends without emotional baggage, right? Let’s unpack those bags and see what’s inside. I almost get the sense of stacked up suitcases that are like bricks in a wall. And like, “Okay, so let’s see what’s in those suitcases. What do you mean by emotional baggage? And, and so what do we need to listen to in there? What should we take guidance from? Are there things that are unfinished emotional business with the past?” Until you explore it and talk about it and maybe do some grieving and learning and growing, that you can’t move forward until you say goodbye to some of that stuff. But the process is really learning who you are because of your life experiences and how they impacted you, and what of those life experiences were good and helpful and that made you the person that you are. And what are some things that maybe you’ve lived through that now you do have certain triggers or things that you need to be sensitive to? Right. 

But I think the biggest question is, what do you want to do with all this? It’s one thing to acknowledge what happened in the past but I think it can be a much more empowering conversation to think about, how do you want to show up in the future or in the present? Who do you want to be, now? What kind of person do you want to be in your relationships? What kind of impact do you want to have on the world around you? And how is that wall of suitcases may be preventing you from doing that? So doing a lot of, I think, personal growth and exploration around: what do you need to listen to, and what feelings might you have that you probably need to do a manual override? 

So like, “Yes, I feel anxious in these situations, and this is actually a self-limiting feeling that I’m not going to indulge. So what do I need to do instead, so that I can be the person that I want to be anyway, and not have this hope that I could be free of these feelings necessarily? But when they do come up, how do I acknowledge them, and manage them in such a way that they don’t get in the way of me being who I want to be?” That’s what really releasing emotional baggage looks like in practice. 

And then the other person, I think, similarly, talking about wanting to feel alive and excited about life again but really tending to isolate or numb themselves out. I think also is in that place where they are perhaps protecting themselves from bad feelings, or hard feelings, or dark feelings. But in doing so, they have constricted their life in such a way that they’re not feeling many, many positive things either. They’re in that gray space where they’re not feeling much at all. And to me when I hear this question, and we had someone from Instagram saying that they could relate to that, with that– The one about feeling like you had baggage, or was that the one about feeling disconnected, and sort of blah, about everything? I’ll give her a minute to respond. But if it’s the latter, I think that oftentimes people who are in that numb space are protecting themselves in a lot of ways because they are trying to minimize their exposure to dark feelings, oftentimes–  Not, not feeling connected. Yeah.

Well, I think, and certainly, I don’t know your experience. I don’t have the benefit of asking you all the kinds of questions that I would a therapy or coaching client. But in my experience, many times, it’s really worth taking a look at the feelings that would come up if you were putting yourself in situations where you weren’t isolating or numbing because many times, and I think I’ve done this in my own life, too. When I tend to withdraw, it’s because I would feel anxious if I was going out there, or meeting new people or feeling vulnerable, or– Oh, thank you. This person, again, shares. “I feel like I’m becoming more emotionally aware but becoming more disconnected.” So, yeah. Yeah.

Well, I think, too. Again, many times, and again, I’m speaking globally, and I don’t know the nuances of your situation. But, many times, it is an attempt to limit your exposure to pain, and discomfort, and anxiety so that we withdraw from life experiences that would make us feel anxious and vulnerable, perhaps. Because the alternative is that, many times, creating connection, and listening to our feelings, and taking influence from them, can open up all of these doors into things that feel very anxiety-provoking for many different reasons. So for example, many times, people who have withdrawn from their lives realize that they are very unhappy with different aspects of their life. But that to make changes and all of those different areas feel so overwhelming. And they don’t even know where to start, that it almost feels easier to do nothing. 

Or sometimes, that disconnected feeling, many times, when people lean into that, they become aware that they have a lot of anxiety that comes up in relationships, or that it’s very hard for them to be vulnerable, or to put themselves out there. And so, they don’t. And again, it’s all very self-protective. But the path to healing is, again, learning how to be okay with not being okay. And figuring out how to feel anxious or to feel tensed or to feel uncomfortable, and doing it anyway because you know that it’s the right thing to do. And that while it might make you feel anxious to take positive action, it will ultimately lead to a change in circumstances that would be beneficial. 

So Instagram is going to cut me off in about 30 seconds. This is probably a good place to stop. Thank you so much to everybody who’s joined me today. This is a lot of fun. I’ll be here next Monday. Thanks to you for listening at home. And I’ll be back in touch soon with another episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. In the meantime, you can listen to some more Castanets.

[Outro Song]

Episode Highlights

  • Understanding Your Emotions
    • Some people have this misconception that dark emotions should be avoided.
    • We should use these emotions to teach us to understand ourselves better.
    • People who don’t show their emotions might actually have more bubbling under the surface.
  • Engaging With Your Emotions
    • Men are least likely to engage with their emotions because society has imposed on them to be less expressive.
    • In relationships, you need to be expressive with your emotions because otherwise, you might have some problems.
  • Stopping Being Reactive
    • Sometimes your emotions manifest physically, and these physical manifestations might make you more sensitive to what’s going on around you.
    • Another thing that might be causing your reactivity is what you eat. Nervous system stimulants like sugar or caffeine might contribute to your crankiness.
  • Anxiety Getting In The Way
    • Negative experiences may have caused you anxiety, and this might have led to you withdrawing from socializing.
    • While you might feel bad at first, acting on this and making a change to your outlook will certainly be for the better.

Let’s Talk.
Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

Therapy Questions, Answered.

Our expert therapists have generously created an entire library of articles, activities, and podcasts to support you on your journey of growth. Please visit our “Happiness Collections” to browse our content collections, and take advantage of all the free resources we have for you. Or, if you’d like to educate yourself about the process and logistics of therapy, please help yourself to our “therapy questions” knowledge base below. It’s all for you!

Wondering if your issues going to work themselves out, or is it time to talk to a professional? Here’s how to tell when it’s time for therapy.

Great therapy can feel like magic, but it’s actually not. Learn how meaningful and effective therapy works.

What is therapy like? Learn what happens in therapy in order to feel empowered and confident.

There are many different kinds of therapists and many different types of therapy. What kind of therapist do you need? Find out!

Not sure what to talk about in therapy? Here are some tips to ensure you get the most out of your therapy sessions.

How to prepare for your first therapy appointment, and learn what to expect in therapy sessions.

What’s the difference between coaching and therapy? Find out which approach is right for you.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the “gold-standard” of effective, evidence-based therapy. Learn about CBT.

How does talking about something help you make changes? Or… does it? Learn the pros and cons of traditional talk therapy.

Effective therapy is life-changing, but some therapy is a waste of time and money. Evidence-based therapy makes the difference.

Not all therapists are the same. Learn how to find a good therapist (and spot the warning signs of a bad one).

Therapy For Healthy Relationships

Working with a true relationship expert helps you learn, grow, love, and be loved.
Learn about our approach to helping you build healthy relationships.

Online therapy is just as effective but even easier than in person therapy. Here’s what to expect from good online therapy.

Explore your options for a Denver therapist who specializes in personal growth and healthy relationships.

Ready to try therapy? Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to get a therapist who is competent to help you.

Curious to know more about what working with us is really like? Browse Growing Self reviews / “best online therapy reviews” from our clients.

Good therapy is priceless, but not all therapy is valuable. Learn the cost of therapy that’s affordable and effective.

Yes, insurance covers therapy… but only sometimes. Learn when (and how) health insurance covers therapy, and when it doesn’t.

If you have a loved one who is struggling in their relationship, you can help them get help by “gifting” therapy. Here’s how…

Losing a relationship is uniquely painful and challenging. With the right support, you can heal, grow, and move forward. Learn about our divorce and breakup recovery services.

We’re available by phone, email and chat, and happy to answer any of your questions personally. Get in touch, anytime.

Start your journey of growth today. Get personalized recommendations, and have a free consultation meeting with the therapist of your choice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *