Many of my clients experience that stress and negative emotions can often get in the way of eating well.
I realized that I regularly practice “ruling” my emotions and I think this practice helps me avoid stress eating or emotional eating.
I call this activity the “mental cleanse” and I’ve been doing it for years.
I wanted to share this practice with you so that perhaps it can help you get better control in those difficult moments.
The Mental Cleanse follows the following steps
1. Be Aware
From early childhood we are trained to suppress or alter many of our strongest emotions. Therefore emotions such as anger, impatience, fear, sadness, and disappointment are generally viewed as negative. This can be very problematic because not only do we have to deal with the emotion, we also tend to feel that the emotion is somehow bad or should be avoided.
Then we might get into self-criticism or blame, which only compounds the negative feelings.
I believe that there is no such thing as a "bad" emotion.
All emotions are part of who we are. They are an expression of our inner self (soul, mind, spirit, etc) and all emotions contain tremendous power.
If we suppress them or ignore them then we are not only suppressing part of ourselves, we are also not appreciating that power.
If you doubt that emotions have power, think of how difficult it is to actually control our emotions. Often "negative" emotions evoke physical manifestations of discomfort and when we try to suppress those feelings, that discomfort can get worse or, in some cases, morph into something more serious over time.
So, what is a person to do?
That is where the art of the mental cleanse comes in. And please note that the mental cleanse should be done regularly, even several times each day.
When this is done regularly with mild, "everyday" feelings, the practice becomes second nature. And then when stronger emotions surge, the mental cleanse will be much more easily implemented.
Also, please note that even though it appears relatively dogmatic to have specific steps for this process, these steps can be very helpful. When one is in the throes of strong emotion, one can easily say, "okay, what is the first step?"
The following are the 4 steps of the Mental Cleanse
Step 1. BE AWARE
This is a very grounding activity. It involves stopping and noting where your emotions and thoughts are at in the current moment.
So, it can go something like this with mild emotions. Let's say a teacher made a comment about your daughter's academic abilities, such as, “your daughter is struggling with math".
After hearing this you might nonchalantly continue the conversation and then go about your business for the day. But the comment might be nagging at you without your being completely aware of it. It might affect your mood or outlook for the day.
If you were to become AWARE of this nagging negative thought/emotion then you could work through it.
So, if you find yourself feeling less than fabulous at any given time in the day you might want to check in and become AWARE.
Being AWARE means starting a mental dialogue about how you feel. It can be as simple as, "How do I feel right now? I am not feeling great. Why? What is bothering me? Oh right, that comment made me feel bad. And I'm kind of insulted and even maybe angry at the teacher for saying that. How dare she?!"
I recommend checking in with yourself (honestly) throughout the day by asking yourself how you feel.
Step 2. EXPLORE
This activity can be very expanding and is a great exercise in getting to know oneself. It involves continuing the mental dialogue you started when you were becoming AWARE or checking in with yourself by delving into possible underlying factors for your feelings.
Let's continue with the situation above.
Following up your AWARENESS with EXPLORATION is done by asking yourself WHY something evoked the negative emotion.
Often exploring underlying triggers can be very illuminating. It is important not to judge throughout this process!
EXPLORING might look something like this:
"What is it about that comment that made me feel bad? Well, I love my daughter and I want her to be happy and successful. And I take it personally that the teacher thinks my daughter is not good at something. That reflects poorly on me. Maybe she thinks I'm a bad mother or have neglected my daughter's education somehow. And that bothers me because I am a good mother. And I want people to see me as a good mother because I seek approval from people on that. I seek approval because I sometimes feel "less than" as a mother. Sometimes I even doubt my own ability to parent my daughter. Why do I do that?" and so on.
Step 3. ACCEPT
This activity takes a lot of pressure off you right away. It should feel like a "release". It involves simply ACCEPTING that you have those feelings. All of them. Without judgement.
Once you've ACCEPTED, you can even PUSH those feelings a bit.
That is because this part includes the basic understanding that having strong emotions is part of being human. It is what we do! NOT having emotions would be weird.
So, of course you feel upset.
Of course you feel insulted.
Of course you feel worried about your beautiful daughter who is trying so hard in her own way!
And of course you want to be a good mother!
Why shouldn't you feel that?
Let those emotions flow and be with that, knowing that you have accepted those emotions as valid and part of life.
At this point it might be helpful to use an image, borrowed from Anita Morjani in her book, “Dying To Be Me”.
Imagine that all of your emotions are colors in a kaleidoscope. As you look through the kaleidoscope and turn it the colors change. But in real life when you see multiple colors in a kaleidoscope you don't "judge" those colors. Red is not bad while blue is good. Think of your emotions as colors.
Anger, sadness, jealousy, resentment, fear, irritability, etc are like the colors of the rainbow, so they are neither good nor bad.
ACCEPTING might look something like this, "I am feeling upset, insulted, and worried right now and that is part of who I am. It is natural for me to react this way and those feelings are valid."
Step 4. ALLOW
This activity is so wonderfully freeing. This is where you get to free yourself of those feelings, let them flow through and out of you, and truly “CONTROL” them.
“ALLOWING” involves letting your feelings be, but ironically, and almost magically, with this should come a noticeable dissipation of the emotions.
In a way, this part is the most difficult to describe. It cannot come without ACCEPTING but it also takes it one step further.
You are giving yourself full permission to have the emotion but you are also "letting it go".
Once you let the emotion go it loses its power considerably and you become the one in charge.
This is what I really mean when I say “rule your emotions.”
I have used this technique thousands of times in my daily life, in mundane situations and more intense ones like when my daughter was ill with Lyme for 10 months.
But remember, the more you do it, the more second-nature it will become.
It is like working a muscle until it is strong, making movement more easy and relaxed.
You can do the same with your mind, and find incredible power AND tranquility in your life.