Mind & Body

The Great Emotional Escape

When the tough stuff comes up, most of us run. Here’s how embrace your internal chaos.
The Great Emotional Escape
Pin it courtesy of Shutterstock

EAT MINDFULLY One of the problems of being emotionally out of touch is that we often stuff our faces instead of facing our emotions, starting a cycle of feeling even worse than when we started and eating even more as a result. Food is a classic way to literally block feelings from surfacing in the body—and usually when we’re eating from emotional hunger rather than physical hunger, the go-to foods are simple carbs and sugary treats. Though these may momentarily stem the tide, we all know how that story ends. So when you feel like hell and have the urge to pound Ho Hos, take a moment to express gratitude for what you’re about to eat. This seemingly small act of being conscious and appreciative “affects our nutritional balance and our sense of well-being,” Wood says. She even suggests placing a food you might be ashamed to be eating in a nice dish. Honor the experience. Then you’ll be able to slow down the urgent, unconscious thing you’re doing.

KNEAD YOURSELF Massage therapists who see clients burst into tears when they press on a sore spot know this well: Our issues are in our tissues. Thoughts trigger emotions, and emotions trigger the body to either contract or expand, says Denise La Barre, L.M.T., a massage therapist in Maui, Hawaii, and author of Issues in Your Tissues (Healing Catalyst Press). When we repeatedly contract our muscles without releasing them, they accumulate unexpressed emotional energy. This muscular solidity can become an unconscious barrier between you and the world. One way to explore your body’s pent-up feelings is by massaging anywhere you can reach until you come across a sore spot. Then take a breath and bring your attention inward. Gently press into the discomfort and ask, “What are you trying to tell me? What’s going on?” If you continue to press, rub and breathe, you might cry, sigh, twitch or giggle. That’s just the body releasing, says La Barre. Though every body is different, some areas are common storage for certain feelings. For example, a spot for releasing resentment is the little bony knob where your arm bone meets your clavicle (aka the trochanter of the humerus, for anatomy geeks). Press around it and just below it into the soft muscle of the chest. Breathe and switch sides.

WALK ON Though research galore is revealing that meditation works wonders for emotional regulation and personal peace, many people find plopping on a cushion for any amount of time about as possible as flying. If that’s you, walking meditation might be the answer. Arnie Kozak, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness (Wisdom Publications), offers two ways to do it. One is simply syncing your steps to your breath: Inhale and take a step, then exhale and take another step. “You can do this in public without attracting very much attention to yourself,” says Kozak. Or, you can slow it down for a truly meditative walk—on the beach, in the woods—breathing and allowing your mind to slow way down. Walking can also be your daily cue to be mindful. Every time you have a little jaunt—from the car to the market, for example—take that time to breathe and observe how you feel and what’s around you. “When you notice that your mind is all of a sudden telling stories about the future or the past, just focus on the present,” Kozak says. “Bring the focus back into your body and what’s happening now.”

BEND OVER BACKWARD (AND FORWARD) “If we’re paying attention to our breathing and to sensation in the body as we practice, yoga becomes a portal into what we are truly feeling,” says Amy Weintraub, founding director of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute and author of Yoga for Depression (Broadway). “The practice allows us to witness what’s arising in the body-mind, so we’re able to respond to life’s challenges without reacting to them.” Though any pose done with awareness will allow emotions to bubble up, Weintraub suggests forward bends to calm and backbends to perk up the nervous system. Try Uttanasana (or Forward Fold): Stand with your feet hip-width apart, extend your spine by reaching your head toward the sky, hinge at your hips and reach toward the floor. Take slow deep breaths as you hang there, keeping your knees slightly bent (this is particularly important if you have back pain issues). For backbends, try poses like Bridge or Cobra. Or, you can even simply lie down and place a bolster (or rolled-up Mexican blanket) under your back, behind your chest. Breathe into your belly and let yourself sink into whatever emotions come up.