– for tackling the big problems and making the big changes.  

The mandatory time out and social distancing of the past few months have given us an opportunity to look deep and evaluate what’s working and what’s not. Unresolved emotions are floating to the surface. Unresolved issues are demanding attention and calling for change. As a result, the need for both personal and communal healing has become loud and clear. But, before we’re able to address the issues, we need to process the emotions. 

With one thing piling on another and no end in sight, most of us are dealing with low-grade emotional overload. The side effects are easy to spot. Your chest is tight. Your hands are sweaty. You wake up tired and carry a bit of angst in your belly all day long. The slightest thing gets you irritated. Your vision is fuzzy and your mind is buzzy. Regardless of intentions, fielding a bunch of fear, grief, and anger affects your ability to handle a challenging situation. As, neuroscientist Candace Pert explains in her book, Molecules of Emotion, triggered emotions block neural pathways, undermining clarity and compassion. Perhaps the first step in healing our community is healing ourselves.

We’re all in the same fix. With questions about social unrest, climate change, political morality, financial security, and what the future holds, the stakes are high. Just tune in to your body right now and, chances are, you’ll find an undercurrent of doubt, despair, and uncertainty.  In this state, you really can’t think clearly, listen compassionately or make good decisions. Although it feels imperative to sort things out, your perspective is impaired.  In order to bring an open mind and open heart to the table, you’ll need to address what’s happening in your emotional body.  

Although the emotions surfacing right now may feel calibrated to this novel situation, they probably have a taproot deep in your psyche.  This isn’t the first time in your life that you’ve felt unhappy about what’s happening and uncertain about what’s happening next. Chances are, then and now, you’ve ended up trying to manage your negative feelings with negative behaviors. In the long run, this doesn’t work. As somatic healers know: when feelings come up and don’t move on, they get tucked away and become the body’s tension patterns. Based on this understanding, anywhere there’s habitual tension, numbness, or agitation (forehead, jaw, stomach, chest, neck, and so forth), there’ll be an emotional component. 

Stored emotions play it forward. As you go through life, a random comment, piece of music, or certain smell can stir up old feelings. A movie, news item, or unexpected sound can bring up old traumas. Confronted with a worldwide pandemic and isolating protocols, it makes sense that your body would anchor down and go on high alert. Instead of trying to ignore what you’re feeling, this is an opportunity to pay attention and do some emotional healing. If you feel comfortable, just ask the following questions with an open mind and listen to the answers with an open heart. 

“Where do I feel it?” 

“What does it feel like?” 

“What does it sound like?” and 

“What does it look like?”

Staying focused on the physicality helps you identify the emotion without judgment or interpretation.  Adding expression helps the emotional energy move out of your body, releasing in pure form. As Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. says “the only bad emotion is a stuck emotion.” Like weather coming and going, the natural state of all emotional energy is fluid and moving. Emotion= E+motion. 

Dealing with E-motional Tension

  1. Find a private time and place to sit quietly. Tune in to your body and get honest with what’s going on. Where do you feel tension? Is your jaw clamped shut or tongue pushing against your teeth? Are your stomach, shoulder or calf muscles tight? If so, there’s probably an emotional connection.    
  2. Without trying to construct a story or analyze the situation, notice how the tension pulls your body into a certain expression. What feeling does its shape imply? Your response will be very personal. For instance, a tight stomach might be linked to anxiety, anger, fear, or …? Just go with your first impression, don’t try to over-think this. 
  3. On the next three exhales make a sound that represents the tension. If the tone seems sad, mad, scared, maybe it is. Don’t hold on or try to interpret it. Just let it go. 
  • Now, use your hands to brush away the energetic residue; wiggle a bit to disengage any leftover tension. Don’t worry about sending negative energy out into the world. Once released, there’s no toxicity, it’s just energy. 
  • Pause. Take a moment to feel the peaceful opening where there was turmoil. Align your body-mind-spirit to be in this moment with clarity and compassion.  

Following the outline above is one way to get your emotions moving and moving on out. Some other ways to deal with E-motional tension are going out for a brisk walk/ run, exercising strenuously, dancing with abandon, working in the garden building up a sweat. And, as your body moves, breathe out the negative emotions and breathe in the positives. 

Taking the time to heal your emotional body unblocks your neural circuitry. The results are tangible.  Even if you’re not triggered by something specific right now, just be aware of what’s happening in your body when you listen to the morning news. If you end up feeling agitated, tense, or on hold, take some time to do some body-based emotional healing and evaluate the results. Once the E-motion got moving, were you more relaxed? Could you breathe more freely? Was it easier to stay in present time and be positive? Did clearing the energy lead to perspective, compassion, insight? Breaking up the blockage can be the break through that helps you see the forest and the trees. 

Maintaining emotional clarity in these turbulent times is an ongoing process. If your feelings get triggered along the way, get them moving and moving on out.  Then, you can show up for what’s happening with an open mind and open heart.  Hearing what’s being said, responding with compassion, and having spiritual perspective is especially important in times of upheaval and change. So, whenever you read something, watch something or hear something that makes your body uncomfortable, it’s asking you to do some emotional healing. And, when you walk away from a tough conversation, feeling anything other than interest or empathy, it’s an opportunity to do some more. 

Take the first step. Your commitment to healing makes it possible to show up and stand up for necessary changes.  Whether about racial equality or environmental justice or reordering the dynamic of a personal relationship, the covid-19 time-out has put us at a crossroad. As messy and uncomfortable as it may feel, remember: when feelings surface, a wound is ready to heal. Seen as a therapeutic process, clearing the fear, impatience, anger, despair, sadness, shame, and helplessness is a powerful way to embrace change.  If we all take responsibility for our own healing, we can show up to tackle the big problems and make the big changes.   

Please note: If you don’t feel comfortable doing this alone, ask someone competent to help. If it’s not the right time, put it off. Perhaps, diving in to the emotional stew is not for you. Adding the intention of clearing emotional energy to your regular practice of meditation, biofeedback, yoga, tai chi, or simple breathing exercises can achieve the same goal. 

Originally published as featured article in The Llewellyn Journal