Diet / Emotional / Health / Honesty / Introversion / Mental / Physical / Psychology / Spiritual

Emotional diet

I have no idea if this is even a thing, but I have decided to do it anyway: go on an emotional diet. I’ll try to explain what I mean by it, and why I think I need it.

I have a tendency to be very open to the outside world, letting everything in, and, of course, getting hurt easily by the emotional crossfire that is called life. When I empathise with other people, I gain this extra emotional load that I’m carrying around afterwards, without really wanting to. Even if people are not unloading their emotions on me, I still pick them up unconsciously, wondering why I’m upset, angry, or sad without a reason later.

Rainy days

I’m not sure if I’m even making sense here. I don’t consciously choose to hold onto other people’s emotions. I just don’t realise that they aren’t mine, and I start worrying what’s wrong with me, looking for causes and solutions.

I have decided that it’s time to do something about it. I may not be able to stop the constant influx of whatever is flying around, but I don’t have to eat it up and store it in my body. I’m going to look for ways to let it in and let it out again instead of holding onto it. And my own emotions as well. In other words, an emotional diet.

Until now, I’ve seen emotions as something you have to do something about. They function as red flags that something is wrong with me, my life, my choices, and that I need to investigate what it is and solve it as soon as possible. But that’s not the entire truth. Emotions don’t always call for immediate action.

Of course, emotions can function that way. When you do something that goes against your values, you will feel bad about it, and you will do differently next time if you realise what the problem is. But emotions come and go all the time, and very often they are just not that important. Or they even belong to somebody else.

I used to divide emotions into two categories:

  • Emotions that need solutions as soon as possible.
  • Emotions that shouldn’t exist because they’re not worth feeling or because they’re petty.

Yep, I see the red flags too. Apparently I see emotions as things that you need to get rid of. Depending on an emotion’s importance (perceived by me), I would either worry and force a solution, or deny the emotion and push it away. Done and dusted. Both of these solutions can be quite bad for you in the long run, however.

Emotions bloom and wither

You see, if you want to force a solution when you feel uncomfortable because of an emotion, you tend to go for shortcuts and short-term gratification, because getting rid of the emotion is more important than fixing the underlying issue. That makes you decide to eat that bar of chocolate, drink some wine, work late, anything to distract you and make you feel better. It’s not a long-term solution, however.

And if you want to push an emotion away because you decide that you don’t want to feel it, it gets stuck inside your body and mind. It doesn’t really go away, it just blocks you, without you even noticing it. For example, you push away a flash of jealousy because your lover enjoyed having lunch with someone else. You think that the jealousy is not justified, so you deny having that emotion. However, pushing it away will only make it stronger when it inevitably comes back, and your conversation with your partner becomes a bit forced because you are pretending to be cheery when you’re not. In the end, you may blow up over something relatively small, because it has been bottling up for a while.

The challenge with emotions is that you need to accept them, and not make them more or less important than they are. You need to let them be, maybe even embrace them, and then they will go away. But don’t accept them to make them go away, you can’t fool your body. Emotions are just that, emotions, passing by, either from you or from somebody else. They only get big and bad when you try to fight them. 

Emotions are like the Borg

I’ve always been clumsy with emotions. I didn’t really have a good example for how to deal with them when I was a kid, and I still often choose that familiar route of bottling up, exploding, getting very upset, and drowning in the chaos that ensues. I fight emotions with all I can, so they kick my butt hard. But I want to make an active change and not be so hard on myself anymore for being human. I want to stop fighting.

So, I’m going to change how I deal with life and my emotions. Just like when you go on a food diet, it’s a life style change. You don’t do something temporarily to reach a certain goal, then revert back to your old habits. No, you change things one by one, and the “goal” is actually a side effect of the journey you are taking. I want to deal with emotions in a healthier way, so I have to change how I approach them. I also need to approach my life in such a way that it supports this change in my attitude. 

I guess that I will need to be okay with taking baby steps to reach my ultimate goals, because I have been circling around this issue for years, improving a bit, falling back again, overdoing it, always searching for the better way. Moving slowly is okay, I just want to do it in the right direction. I have identified the following supporting habits that I want to embrace:

  • Be much more intentional about what I do and don’t do. I tend to be rather reactive, instead of being the driver of my own life.
  • Respect my boundaries. This will be tricky, because I don’t always feel them in time, but I want to remove myself from draining situations when I notice them. I also want to untangle myself from enmeshed relationships where necessary.
  • Improve my self-compassion. I have a very strict inner critic and little self-love, and I want to change that. The book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion has been very helpful already. I still have a long way to go, though. I want to practice this often, not only in highly emotional situations, so that it becomes normal.
  • Stop taking thinking too seriously. I think all the time, my mind doesn’t shut off. That doesn’t mean that I need to invest myself in that thinking, ruminating, worrying torrent. I want to create some distance and start noticing that something is “just thinking” instead of urgent.
  • Not beat myself up if I fail at one or more of these focus points. I will fall into those holes again because I’m learning. The most important thing is that I get up again and continue.
  • Find humour in the moment. This may prove to be too hard for now, but I would like to be able to do this when I’m a bit further along the way. 
  • Acknowledge it when I’m doing something well, especially if it’s something I’m particularly scared about, like being vulnerable. I often don’t even notice those things, but I notice every little negative detail.  
  • Practice self-care. I need to take care of myself before I can give to others. I tend to be greedy with my energy now because it’s leaking away. I want to take care of my energy and then choose to give what I can afford freely, without worry.
    • Improve my physical fitness. I cycle and walk regularly, but I would like to do more to challenge and maintain my body. I’m investigating yoga studios in the neighbourhood and will start going soon.
    • Meditate daily. I’ve been practicing mindful meditation, but I have become a bit sloppy. I want to meditate at least daily, and preferably every morning and every evening.
    • Take time to do offline things. As I work with a computer daily, and the phone is quite distracting as well, I need to consciously choose to unplug and unwind. That means reading books, doing fun things with my husband, going out to take photographs, spinning and knitting, drawing, calligraphy, and making music. For my own pleasure and relaxation, not for approval, or with pressure. And it doesn’t have to be good.
    • Sleep enough. I need a lot of sleep, but I don’t always listen to my tired mind telling me that it’s time for some shut-eye. I press on, because the series I’m watching is too interesting, or the article that I’m reading makes my mind race. 
    • Keep up my diet. Last year I lost over 20 kilograms. I’m now maintaining my new weight, but I need to stick with the low-carb diet and the vitamin/mineral supplements. Not just for my weight; if I eat sugar I tend to get a big bout of sadness within half an hour. If I eat carbs, I feel bloated and my head becomes foggy. What I eat influences how I feel, so I should be conscious about my choice of what I eat.

I may have forgotten something, if so, I will add it in later. This is quite a big list, and a lot to achieve. But that’s not the point of my list at all. I want to give myself tools to make my life more my life every day. It’s intended as a toolbox and a roadmap and a set of values, but not as another weapon for my inner critic.

The one thing that I want to change when I’m in emotional turmoil, is to not expect anything from myself (for example, calming down, fixing the problem, react), but to just comfort myself while I experience the tidal waves of the emotion. I hope I can do it and trust myself, and forgive myself if I can’t do it (yet).

I don’t expect everything to fall into place right away (or, perhaps, ever). But I wanted to note what my focus points are, to remind myself of my path whenever I feel like I’m losing it. It has happened before so often, and I find it hard to wrap my head around all of this at the same time. Writing it down helps. There is always something in that list that will help me when I’m feeling lost.

I will leave you with this beautiful poem by Portia Nelson that illustrates the journey we are all taking through life:

Autobiography in Five Chapters

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost…
I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in…it’s a habit
My eyes are open; I know where I am;
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

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