May is Mental Health Month.  Did you know that one in five people will experience mental illness during their lifetime?  Mental Illness and mental health look different for everyone.  Achieving mental health is a process, as we are frequently challenged with difficult experiences and stressors.  This week, I thought it would be appropriate to repost an old Wellness Wednesday newsletter from last year, May 2019.

Do you show your emotions or do you hide them? Or maybe you try to stop them. Let’s face it, our feelings don’t always feel good. Of course, we want to feel happy, joyful, excited, in love, but we probably do not want to feel sad, hurt, angry, scared…you name it.

I encounter so many executives, professionals, and on-the-go graduate students, always striving to get more and more done. I first discussed this in a March issue of Wellness Wednesday, in which we explored the importance of sleep. There, the notion of hustle over sleep was broken down, in addition to the profound impact that sleep can have on our overall wellness.  

Similar to the belief that we can push aside sleep to accomplish more, we see a parallel with pushing aside feelings. Picture this, you are working on an incredibly important project and the deadline is fast approaching. This project is a make or break project, which comes with the unfortunate caveat of stress! While stress itself is not an emotion, it is often manifested as emotion and creates feelings of worry, doubt, and sometimes even fear. Now who wants to deal with those emotions while you are on a time crunch to finish the project. So instead, you tell yourself to power through. You got this!  While that may work for some, it doesn’t always work for others. Watch any episode of Project Runway and you will see designers begin to panic as time keeps ticking away. Soon that panic becomes riddled with doubt and the final design…well, it’s not so pretty.  

So what should you do? Should you avoid your emotions? I say no. I liken this to the idea of controlling your thoughts. Anyone who has studied mindfulness knows that we cannot control our thoughts. But what we can do is learn how to bring awareness to our thoughts and respond, rather than react. We can do this with our emotions too.  

The idea of avoiding our emotions is akin to making ourselves suppress our emotions. When we suppress emotions, eventually they leak out, either psychologically or physically, or even both. Let’s use this metaphor. If our emotions are carbonated water, we can only fill a bottle so much before it bursts. You will burst if you do it with your feelings. What this looks like can vary across individuals, but common consequences include heightened negative emotions, exhaustion, headaches, and gastrointestinal distress. Over time, continued suppression can even lead to poor health and inability to experience positive moments, as you train yourself to avoid all emotions.

At this point, you might be asking what you should do? How do you allow yourself to be vulnerable and let in your emotions? Could you even wear your heart on your sleeve? One option is to consider counseling. So many people develop a mindset that emotions are bad and that we need to power through, ignoring them as they creep up in our minds. It’s hard to break free from this mindset. A counselor can help you work through the development of this mindset, by exploring ways to begin to allow yourself to feel your emotions while in a safe environment. Additionally, a counselor can help you challenge old habits to create new healthy lifestyle changes that will not only help you thrive and create holistic harmony but also help you achieve sustainable success.