So far, much of what I’ve written about has been about engaging in life in a positive way. Tuning in, engaging, seeing the positive, sharing our experiences, and contributing to the world in a meaningful way. But let’s face it: Life is not all Rainbows and Sunshine. We aren’t always #livingourbestlife #blessed (read: sarcasm). Every single person you know has been through something hard, stressful, and probably, traumatic. They’re probably going through something right now. Life is stressful. Sometimes that stress is “good stress” (a promotion or new job for example) and sometimes life throws us really shitty shit! I’ve been there, you’ve been there too.
We’ve all heard the phrase, that goes something like: Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react. While I totally agree with that statement, “reacting” in a positive way does not mean ignoring, numbing it, stuffing it down, “bright siding” it, or exhibiting toxic positivity. Ok, you say, but isn’t that easier? Yep. Sure is. But ONLY temporarily.
First, I’ll share my opinion and personal experience on the topic, and then, I’ll nerd out with a bit of research.
In terms of sharing emotions, we are shut down. Its always been really ironic to me that we greet each other with “How are you”? and we most often respond “Good! How are you?!” or “I’m great!”. I think that social norm is odd and disingenuous. Call me an over-sharer, oh well. But do you really mean “I’m good!”? Most of the time, I bet you’d rather say something like… “Well, I’m stressed, I’ve got a lot going on but I’m doing my best. I could really use a friend and an ear… “. I realize 1. That’s the unfortunate American “busyness” norm. and 2. It’s not always practical to have deep conversations. 3. There is a time and a place. Not everyone wants to hear it, and not everyone is close enough to be “safe” to share with. My feeling, though, is that if we were all a little more real with each other, we would feel a greater sense of community, love, and support. We could move mountains.
Here’s my honest truth. I’ve dealt with stress and trauma in ALL the ways: ignore, numb, shove it down, scream, get angry, cry, sad, mad, anxious, depressed, exercise, meditate, turn to a friend or family member, counseling, coaching, journal, exercise, meditate, read, dance and sing. And cussing. Lots and lots of cussing which I highly recommend :). Ok maybe I haven’t resorted to physical violence (except, sorry pillow) but other than that, I’ve tried them all on for size, and one size does not fit all. What I’ve learned is that no matter how you cope, you’ve gotta feel all the feels and ALSO choose some healthy strategies or your body will let you know you’re off course. Back pain without injury? Headaches? Palpitations? Weight gain? Hmmm… maybe I should pay attention.
A strategy I’m actively working on (subject to revision, I’m sure):
- Acknowledge it! Whatever IT is.. admit, acknowledge, accept its existence. Acceptance does not mean you LIKE it, it just means you know it’s happening.
- Feel it in whatever way works for you. Breathe, cry, laugh, journal, run, talk, but FEEL it! Not always fun, but always necessary.
- Breathe some more. Use the breath to choose a path of non-reactivity.
- Let it go. No, I didn’t say forget, numb, or stuff it down. Just let it go.
- Identify healthy coping mechanisms, whatever works for you. “Self-care” is a popularized and over-used term. But really, take care of you.
- Life throws another stressor, repeat.
Here’s a bit of nerdy research. Enjoy.
- Book: The Mindbody Prescription, John Sarno. Fascinating read! Non-traumatic painful conditions are rooted in repressed emotions.
- Book: The Body Keeps The Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. Trauma reshapes the body and brain, and treatments for trauma. Powerful.
- Youtube: The Positivity Ratio. Being positive all the time isn’t healthy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hFzxfQpLjM Barbara Fredrickson researcher: The “be positive motto is toxic”.
- Youtube: Feelings: Handling them before they handle you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD4O7ama3o8
- Youtube: How Toxic Positivity leads to more suffering. PLEASE WATCH THIS. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EOj2Z7hw5w
- Research study, Association between low back pain and unprocessed emotions: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1356689X13000866
- Research study, Psychosomatic disorders and emotional processing: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/jclp.20247
- Research study, The psychological benefits of accepting negative emotions https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28703602/
- Research study, The consequences of repression of emotion https://openaccesspub.org/ijpr/article/999
- Blog on Toxic Positivity. A good read! Lots of good research in here: https://www.intelligentchange.com/blogs/read/toxic-positivity?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=16633212375&utm_content=&utm_term=&gadid=&gclid=CjwKCAjwmJeYBhAwEiwAXlg0AcJslm-W4powzGYzsw1bsz6af_nC0uHVF-BBWZpYfYYGF9g-wm2q0RoCmC8QAvD_BwE