Our emotions, especially deeply stored ones that haven’t been dealt with, can manifest in physical symptoms. When you don’t release emotions regularly, they can get stuck and eventually cause illness.
Healing requires a combination of emotional, physical, and spiritual work. True transformation involves not just saying “I’m angry” or “I’m sad,” but getting at the core of those emotions and then changing the thoughts and behavior patterns that keep you connected to these emotions.
We all have a right to our feelings. Just because we're entitled to feel anger, hurt, and grief, doesn’t mean that carrying it around works for us.
Ten years ago, I had a horrible bout with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I lost 10 pounds off my already tiny frame, had chronic migraines, and was so fatigued I could barely walk from one end of the room to the other. This lasted for months.
I was determined to have it diagnosed and "fixed" as soon as possible. The tests and blood work came back negative. There was no medical reason for my symptoms and no answers as to why I was feeling so fatigued. But my body was telling me something was seriously wrong.
What I later realized, was that after my divorce, I carried around feelings of deep grief, anger, shame, and sadness that later manifested in physically detrimental ways. I started acting out these feelings in my relationships with other people—my parents who were just trying to help, my friends, and even the men I dated—because I hadn’t healed all of the pain in my heart.
5 Steps to Releasing Unhealthy Emotions
There are many things I did right in my process of healing—work that continues to this day to ensure I don't regress. There were also some things I did wrong that kept me “stuck.”
Follow these simple steps to help you process your emotions and empower you to start owning your feelings and letting go of the ones that don’t serve you.
1. Talk, talk, and talk some more.
Get your feelings out. Acknowledge every one your feelings even if they seem unjustified, wrong, or unproductive. We feel what we feel. Talking about your feelings to a therapist, friend, or family member helps lessen their intensity. I talked to my closest friends and sought out people who had gone through similar struggles.
Processing my emotions with people I trusted allowed me to let my feelings out and then let the negative ones go.
2. Don’t stay the victim.
Talking about a trauma or painful experience in your life can help you process your emotions. There is a point, though, when you need to let go of your victim story and move forward.
There's no timeline on when you need to be “over” something. However, you can ask your friends to tell you when they feel you're still stuck rehashing your experience, which can give you an indication of when it's time to move on.
My parents were the ones who told me “Don’t let this experience define you. Don’t let a person take away all that you are. Pick yourself up like a fighter in the ring and move on.” Their words pushed me out of victim mode.
3) Don’t blame others for your feelings.
Feelings are yours and nobody else’s. I found myself saying, “He makes me feel like …” or “They make me feel like …” The truth was, “he” and “they” only had the power to make me feel anything if I allowed it. Own your feelings. When those difficult feelings come up, tell yourself: "I can accept that I feel upset about this today, but tomorrow I can choose to feel differently about this situation if I want to.” You have more power over how you feel than you might realize. Owning your feelings is the key to healing them.
4) Write, meditate, or pray.
What helps you stay centered and connected amid the chaos? I write and get all of my emotions out on paper; I burn the ones I can’t share with others. I imagine all of that anger, resentment, and negativity being burned up and released so I can let it go. Journaling is an excellent tool for expressing emotions you might not be able to say out loud to people.
I also have a deep and regular meditation practice. I ask for guidance and any information that will help me make decisions for my highest self. I listen for the quiet voice that answers. One of my favorite mantras to stay grounded is “Breathe in the good sh*t, breathe out the bullsh*t.” I know, not very “spiritual” but I swear it works and helps me not take things so seriously.
5) Forgive and let go.
Forgiving isn’t about condoning another’s behavior; it's about shifting your own perspective. If you can replace anger and resentment with compassion, you can release the toxic emotions and move on with your own life.
When my marriage ended, I was filled with anger and rage over the circumstances. I said I would never forgive my ex. I was surrounded by people who patiently taught me the power of compassion—for him and his choices. When I was able to let go of my judgments and see him as a human being who did the best he could in the moment, I was able to let it go.
I no longer carry that burden with me and am now able to move on—and enjoy—my own life.
Inner peace, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness come from a commitment to take personal responsibility for the quality of your life. This includes the willingness to release any unresolved emotions you're holding onto.