Emotions flow through our bodies and minds—how we manage them affects our health and well-being. We are better off feeling them than denying them because our emotions can protect or harm us. They are a language we can learn in order to become friends with our bodies, rather than in conflict. Our emotions are also expressed in our faces, affecting how we relate to people. How we make people feel is part of emotional intelligence.
Emotions and the Human Condition
Anger, frustration, irritation, and hate lead to tension headaches, indigestion, heart disease, stiffening of the joints and posture. They lead to sleep problems, weight loss or gain, teeth grinding, skin rashes. Massage therapists tell how tension accrues mostly in people’s necks and shoulders from computer work or cell phone use. These emotions tend to make people smoke or drink alcohol to excess. Often anger is unexpressed or wildly out of control, doing most damage to those around us as well as our own bodies.
Fear of falling, getting lost in the dark, facing an intruder, losing one’s job, running out of money, giving a speech—such fear settles in our gut—we feel nauseous, our stomach has “butterflies.” We feel nervous, unfocused, unable to recognize humor or hope.
Fear affects the heart, causing rapid heart rate, high blood pressure shortness of breath, dizziness. A panic attack needs to be distinguished from a heart attack by a medical expert. Learn the difference between fearful fantasies and the quiet intuitions coming from the still small voice within. True intuition will correct our attitude and offer clarity on our situations.
Loneliness, sadness, and grief—for example, from the emotional shocks of divorce, loss of a loved one, or serious medical diagnosis—any of which take a toll on our organs. Sadness and grief can last a long time, making us lethargic and prone to illness. Sometimes we express these feelings as “anxiety” or “depression” but those are amorphous words that cover up deeper feelings.
Joy or happiness, exhilaration, pleasure, and contentment give our bodies respite and peace. The initial feelings of being in love lower blood pressure, radiate healthy skin, increase confidence and excitement. In hugs and kisses we express our feelings toward others, releasing positive hormones. If you have ever had a friend who always smiles when s/he sees you, then you know how good that makes you feel. A smile or a hug is a gift to your body and mind.
During a workout, notice where your body feels tight or sore. Physical therapists agree that if you feel pain, stop and rest. The phrase “no pain, no gain” is out of date. Notice tension in the neck, spine, and muscles.
Try this muscle relaxation technique: Lie down or sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes, let your breathing become slow and regular. First, tighten your toes for a minute, then relax them. Taking it slow, tighten your ankles. Then your calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, each arm, and finally scrunching the muscles of your face. After relaxing them, send golden light through the top of your head down to your toes and back up again. Do it as long as it feels good. This exercise can lead into a longer meditation in which you calm your over-active brain.
Occasionally spend time in a steam bath or sauna. The warmth relaxes your muscles. Have a massage to get rid of tension. Massages are a preferred health treatment for your body.
When you are afflicted with chronic loneliness, anger, or grief, find someone, preferably a therapist, to talk to. Talk about what you are really feeling. Speaking aloud leads you to fresh awarenesses. Friends are invaluable. You can also write out your feelings…or color them. Doing so removes the sting and helps you to see them objectively. Try not to act on unprocessed emotions but forgive yourself if you slip up.
Look for beauty. You may find it in landscapes, wildlife, snowy terrain, art magazines, poetry, music. Beauty is a great healer.
Get out in nature, best of all in wilderness. Stretch your muscles until they tire. Rest your eyes on trees and birds. Fill your lungs with the (now frosty) air. Outdoor exercise releases serotonin (a neurotransmitter in your brain and digestive system) that makes you feel energetic. Our nerves get settled, worries banished. Return home physically refreshed and ready for a warm bath.
Pay Attention to Others
A large part of emotional intelligence relates to other people, friends, and family. Listening to another with complete attention and interest is a must. Break the habit of distraction. When you disagree, notice where in your body your feelings are activated—your gut, your chest, mind? Tip: Picture anger or annoyance as a paper tiger. Let it pass across your mind’s eye until you feel calm. Then you are ready to respond. For serenity decide what is important enough to pursue and what to let go. You will be rewarded with more kindness and love—i.e. more well-being.
Wish yourself and others well. Put yourself in another’s shoes. Understand their life from their point of view, not yours. Empathy helps prevent temperamental reactions.