Every so often I witness or experience something so profound, that it leaves me standing there - blinking and processing for a moment - before urging me to share it you, for the teachable moment it was. This is one of those occasions.
Let me introduce you to Jeremy, who came to me for help dealing with workplace stress. Jeremy presented as highly stressed and anxious straight off the bat, and it was only 9am; but I guess we've all had days like that? Jeremy's issue centred on a work colleague, Marcus, who he believed was actively spreading misinformation about his job performance, and plans to leave the company for a competitor. Jeremy suspected Marcus was deliberately sabotaging his reputation out of professional jealousy and personal malice. Jeremy had not, at this point, confronted Marcus about his suspicions, and wanted my advice on how best to proceed.
WORDS LEFT UNSPOKEN
It's fair to say we've all encountered circumstances in which we've wrestled with unspoken angst. Whilst not identical, I think we can all relate to Jeremy's dilemma, which is why I'm sharing this case study. The problem with Jeremy's unspoken angst here, is that the drama and negative energy of situations like this, is always compounded and more intense when kept in, down and unsaid. Negative emotions always rot away in the dark places we keep them, which is why we must get them up, out and into the light, because sunlight is the best antiseptic of all.
Many of us don't like confrontation, and that's fine; this just proves we're compassionate and caring human beings. However, in times like these, digging down and finding the courage to confront what's happening is essential. Please note the operative word here is confront, not combat, there's a difference. It's not what you do but the way that you do it. that gets results.
So how did Jeremy confront Marcus about his suspicions?
When dealing with a potentially explosive situation like this, it's wise to neutralise as many variables as possible, so think about where, when and how you're going to bring about your confrontation. If you HAD to install some kind of open flame facility in a room packed with dynamite, you'd remove the dynamite first. So Jeremy took Marcus out to lunch, to ensure privacy in the first instance. This was also a friendly and disarming offer to make Marcus, ensuring Jeremy's sensitive suspicions would not in any way humiliate Marcus in front of his work colleagues. Thoughtful and considerate, good.
Jeremy had now given himself the best opportunity to discuss his concerns, which he did factually. Jeremy sedated the toxic emotions he had been bottling, and calmly expressed what he thought had been going on, and how this had made him feel. To his credit, Marcus listened. Once Jeremy had stated his case, Marcus expressed his mortified surprise and categorically denied all of Jeremy's suspicions. For reasons Marcus was able to shed light on, Jeremy had been operating under a gross misunderstanding, and all became well between the two of them again.
By exposing your anxieties and revealing them to the light, you're able to see what you're actually dealing with. Rather than harbouring a festering, false and invented belief, Jeremy was able to cleanse away his angst using the antiseptic properties of light, and close the matter down for good, This released the anxiety demons in his mind in the process. Oh, the relief!
Even if Marcus had confirmed Jeremy's worst suspicions to be true, discussing the issues would still have been a positive, healthy, adult and proactive option to take. Even in these less than ideal circumstances, it was better to shed light on, and address Marcus' thoughts and behaviours, than leave them breeding and infecting everything around and within him. Bottled emotions are toxic. There is no single upside to bottling your emotions.
THE PHYSICAL EFFECTS
The physical effects of bottling your emotions are grotesque, and only get worse from there. Don't bottle your emotions in the first place, but certainly don't let them build to levels which precipitate hostile actions. This is how wars start! Don't allow any kind of escalation to occur before engaging in an open dialogue because, like Jeremy, you may be operating under the guise of a misunderstanding, or an invented belief. Facts matter, so find them.
At the end of the day, your emotions control your thinking, behaviour and actions. Your emotions also control your physical body, as much as your body effects your thinking and feelings. If you ignore, dismiss or repress your emotions, they fester, they become offensive to live with and mutate into physical illness, including cancer, arthritis and other chronic ailments.
Negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, frustration and depression cause chemical reactions in your body, that are a world away from the chemicals released when you feel positive emotions like happiness, contentment, love and acceptance. Obviously you would choose one set over another, so the secret here is to achieve mastery of your emotions, in a mindful attempt to dictate which chemicals are released into your system, for your greater good.
HOW TO ACHIEVE MASTERY OVER YOUR EMOTIONS
This is what Tony Robbins calls The Emotional Triad.
At the root of why any of us do anything, is to change the way we feel. Think about it: You made yourself a cup of coffee, to make yourself feel energised. You visit the gym, to make yourself feel fitter. You bought those jeans because they made you feel confident about your body. You spend time with your loved ones, because they make you feel happy and accepted.
PHYSIOLOGY: Emotion is created by motion
As discussed a moment ago, every emotion you feel is experienced in your body (i.e.: nervous > butterflies, depressed > heavy, happy > light), which means (thanks to Newton's Third Law) you can change your emotions by changing your body: For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction.
In the good ole' fashioned concept of fake 'til you make it, why not experiment and prove this theory to yourself? Feed your emotions some physical clues and watch what happens to your mood. If you're currently happy and contented but want to see if you can make yourself feel depressed, just slump your body over. Droop your shoulders, take shallow breaths, avoid eye contact, let your arms hang listlessly and look at the ground when you walk.
Now, if you're currently in a low mood and would like to pick yourself up and out, affect Amy Cuddy's Power Pose, stand tall, chin up, make eye contact, breathe deeply and speak clearly (no mumbling), and Bob's your mother's brother.
FOCUS: Whatever you focus on, you feel
In a similar process to changing our emotions by changing our body posture etc, we can change how we feel by changing what we focus our minds on. Focus on the uplifting lyrics of your favourite song, and you will feel better. Focus on your children's squealing laughter during a water fight, rather than your broken boiler, and you will feel happier. Watch your favourite comedy, and you'll feel lighter. Conversely, if you're determined to seek the bleak, the dark and doom everywhere, you'll find it.
You get to choose your thoughts. If you're suffering with depression, granted it's going to take a Herculean effort to find joy in anything, but you must put yourself into situations that are going to give you the best chance of succeeding. Focus your mind on the positive things in your life, count your blessings. How do you count your blessings, when all is dark around you? Blessings are the aspects in your life that money can't buy.
Depending on the scale of your depression, you may have to go all the way back to basics to be able to count your blessings, so here are a few suggestions to start you of:
Did you have a comfortable bed to sleep in last night? If yes, then you are blessed, compared to those who sleep rough.
Are you hungry or thirsty? If no, then you are blessed, compared to those starving and without (clean) water.
Do you have friends and family who love and care for you? If yes, then you are blessed, compared to those who are alone in the world.
Are you free to go outside for a walk in the sunshine? If yes, then you are blessed, compared to those confined indoors, or may not have the use of their legs.
Do you have children? If yes, then you are blessed, compared to those unable to have children, or have lost a child. Press your ear against their chest to hear their heart beating, and remind yourself how you (helped to) created this miracle. All is not lost, where there's life, there's hope.
It may be the fight of your life to find joy in your world somewhere, but isn't it worth the fight? Fight on and stop yourself thinking about the past, because your future needs you now. Please hold on and fight. Focus your mind on those things that make the fight worth it, and do it in their name, if not your own. What's wrong is always available, but so too is the light!
LANGUAGE: You always have a choice
Negative self-talk can cut you off at the knees before you even get going. Just as you can change your mood by changing your posture and what you choose to focus on, think about the words you're using at any given moment. If you tell yourself, you're a hopeless loser often enough you will start to believe you're hopeless. But you know what? Tell yourself you're a winner on the brink of great success often enough, and you'll start to feel successful. So which sounds like the happier, healthier option?
Too many disempowered people don't understand just how powerful they truly are, and so wither by the roadside, rather than marching forwards on their path. Be careful how you talk to yourself, because you are listening!
If you're struggling with bottled and pent up emotions, please feel free to reach out to me, as I'm here to help. In the meantime, please try some of the tips I've offered you here today at least a couple of times to tap into your power. You do have power. You may feel powerless now, but you can change that, nothing is forever.
I'm here to help
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