Breaking news!! I am writing a short book that will encompass much of what I’ve learned on my journey thus far. It will contain a number of simple exercises designed to rewire the brain away from stress and towards joy, all backed a little bit by science. I am hoping that it will help others to live a bit more simply and mindfully. Here is a short excerpt from it:
In this day and age, with so much information, technology and events happening at lightning speed, it is easy to “be in our heads” most of the time; to mistake busyness and distraction with being in control of our lives. By using our mental faculties, we can tell ourselves how we are feeling (even if it isn’t actually true), push away feelings that we don’t want to be there or simply attempt to rationalise our emotions, thus putting them temporarily to one side or shoving them down into our bodies without ever properly dealing with them. The problems that arise from these familiar strategies are many, both on a physical and psychological level. It takes an awful lot of energy to keep emotions buried or at bay.
On a physical level, it is believed that suppressed and repressed feelings can lead to illnesses, ranging from chronic pain to cancer. Suppression comes from pushing a feeling down or away while repression is a denial that there is a problem at all. Dr. George Solomon, professor emeritus of psychiatry and bio-behavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, was one of the first researchers to find that individuals who tended to repress emotions suffered from greater illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, various infections, and even cancers. Similarly, a 2013 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that breast cancer patients who suppressed negative emotions had poorer health than those who were mindful of their feelings; with the latter group experiencing fewer stress-related symptoms and less mood disturbances. This study backed up an earlier study in Cancer Nursing that showed that repressing anger magnified exposure to physiological stress (which increased cortisol levels in the body), thereby increasing the risk of cancer altogether. Another study conducted at the University of Colorado found that people who repressed their emotions after a traumatic event had lowered immune systems compared to those who shared their feelings.
On a psychological level, feelings that aren’t addressed can lead to a wide range of issues. If you carry around a lot of anger, for example, you might feel a tightness in your stomach or chest. Anger that is left unresolved can lead to heightened emotions such as rage or hostility. It could also cause you to explode like an angry volcano at inopportune times, leading you to say things that you really don’t mean, thus needlessly upsetting those around you or causing a breakdown in your relationships. If sadness is there, but not dealt with, it can lead to depression without an apparent cause which can also cause lethargy, lack of motivation and a “who cares?” attitude that not only affects you but everyone around you, again potentially damaging important relationships in your life. If there is repressed or constant fear that is not examined properly, it can lead to general anxiety, social anxiety, panic or even agoraphobia – a fear of leaving the house or going out in public. Anxiety can also breed negative “what if?” types of thoughts that cause you to live in fear of the future, which doesn’t even exist yet, taking you away from living your life in the present moment. And finally, the feeling of guilt, which everyone feels from time to time, can escalate into a more unhealthy feeling of shame if you do not own up to your actions or begin to accept your own faults and mistakes.
The good news is that these types of patterns and beliefs can be unlearned. Later on we will discuss how to work with positive feelings and how to begin to train your brain to be aware of them more often. But for now – the advice is to just feel. Notice what is happening inside of your body. Be curious and let go of the fear of what you might find there. All of your feelings are valid and are part of who you are. When you allow yourself to open up to and accept all of your feelings, whatever they may be, something quite revolutionary and radical begins to happen. You begin to accept yourself fully too. You start to recognise the old patterns and beliefs you have been carrying around with you. You may also begin to see how these patterns weren’t yours to begin with; how they came from other people. You weren’t born to repress or suppress your emotions – as a baby you cried freely, got angry and experienced real fear in the moment. I invite you to let go of old, outdated conventions and unhealthy strategies. I invite you to feel.