Being an emotional person can be both a blessing and a curse. I know this from first-hand experience. So does my family!
On the one hand, I’m comfortable with my emotions and emotions in general. I don’t close up the way some people do when someone is discussing their feelings. People can be at their most interesting when they’re willing to be open about their feelings, and it's impossible to really connect with people who won't do this. Expressing our emotions is so much healthier than stuffing them down.
But what about the other side of the coin? Flying off the handle emotionally at times. Flipping out. Reacting out of proportion to the situation. Having a story in your head with your interpretation of the situation that may not be in tune with reality.
For emotional people like me, finding the right balance is important if you want to be a productive member of society and not scream or throw things at the people you love. AND if you want to end emotional eating and lose weight!
Here are four things I do that help manage my emotions, from the easiest to the hardest and more time consuming. The more time-consuming ones are also, as you probably guessed, the most effective.
1. Practice Qigong
Qigong (pronounced chi-gung), is an ancient Chinese system of energy management consisting of exercises and meditation that regulate the flow of our energy. It involves a series of movements that are easy enough for almost anyone to do. These primarily meditative movements improve strength, stamina, flexibility and coordination, and bring a sense of calm. I think of them as a kind of moving meditation.
It may seem pretty woo-woo, but practicing qigong makes me feel happier, calmer and in the winter, warmer! I can't explain it, but it's almost magical.
2. Practice Yoga
I started practicing yoga in 1972, long before most people knew what it was. It has not only kept me pain-free, but I am almost as flexible as I was as a 20-something ballet dancer. Although I'm over 60, I can still do splits and backbends, although you don't have to be able to do those things to practice yoga. Another benefit that I noticed when I began practicing at age 16 was that it made me feel calmer. It can also make you stronger, and you can continue to get better at it as you age.
I recommend taking classes with a highly qualified teacher, like an Iyengar-certified one, although there are others who are good, too. Good yoga teachers knows how to modify anything to fit any physical limitations you may have. She or he will walk around the studio and make corrections if students need them, and not just demonstrate in the front of the class. If you’re new to yoga, there are lots of resources to get you started, including movementformodernlife.com and sixtyandme.com, as well as many others.
As a very high energy person, it took me a while to establish a meditation practice, but it was well worth the perseverance. Although there is a lot of research that just a few days of meditation improves concentration and attention, the effects are really very subtle and for many people, take a while to notice, so you have to be patient and believe the gobs of research on the subject telling you how good it is for you.
Studies at Yale University have found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the part of the brain responsible for mind wandering and worrying. When a meditator’s mind starts wandering, they’re better at snapping out of it, too. A study at Johns Hopkins found meditation as effective as antidepressants in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain.
Here are some of meditation's benefits that will help you with emotional regulation. Meditation causes an increase in the part of the brain that governs learning and memory, and decreases the brain cell volume of the part that governs fear, anxiety and stress. My ability to handle stress without losing it has increased incredibly. People who meditate actually increase their grey matter!
If you’re new to meditation, check out the resources here or here. The insight meditation timer app is a wonderful meditation timer, and also has lots of guided meditations. You can find that in the iTunes store.
Life was so different before I learned how to coach myself! Oh, the stories I used to create about situations in my life! Those stories could make me so mad or miserable.
Self-coaching is a way of looking at our thoughts that aren’t serving us and changing them so that we feel better. It is about being the observer of our thinking, and not believing everything we think. When we self-coach, we question our thoughts or beliefs that are causing us negative emotions to see whether they’re even true, and noticing what feelings the thoughts cause. Through this process, we can begin to understand that our thoughts are just a story we made up based upon our biased perspective about something. Most of our thoughts aren’t facts. Even if these thoughts are true, we can change them to ones that don’t produce negative emotions. With practice, you can learn how to select your thoughts in any situation, and you can choose ones that produce better feelings. You can choose the perspective you have on your own life. That is one of the real keys to happiness.
For me, self-coaching was also the key for learning how to end emotional eating. In my free 8 Secrets for Permanent Weight Loss Guide, I provide instruction on how you can coach yourself. You can sign up here.
Some great reads about learning how to question your thinking are Loving What Is by Byron Katie or The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.
If you incorporate some or all of these practices into your life, you will notice how much easier it is to pause and think, rather than react and let your emotions run wild. And to control the urge to eat when you aren't hungry, too!