Emotional Hygiene and Resiliency

Last week, I had a mix of emotions–anger in how so much seems to be out of my control, fear about the number of people who have died recently at my mother’s assisted living facility, and sadness with the death of a distant relative who had researched my family tree and was on my list to interview. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a conversation on Friday.  I got upset and angry with my 93-year old mom. Her offense? Endorsing a check (I have Power of Attorney, so I can sign for her) and not being able to find the recharger for her iPad. Uh, yeah. I overreacted. I apologized to Mom the next day.

I am imagining that I’m not the only one who has snapped recently—-and maybe not just with loved ones, but with colleagues, teammates and clients.

Help! I want to get off the roller coaster of emotions!  Okay, I’m joking.  Emotions emerge with regular frequency, as a natural course of living one’s life. Emotions are part of what makes us human.

Instead, the question to ask is this one:

“How can I be my best self, in the face of intense emotions?” 

Two words. Emotional Hygiene.










Photo by Burst.

We’ve been told to wash our hands frequently, because germs build up and can make us sick. But that’s not the only thing that can build up.

Emotions can build up as well. The build up can occur when we stuff down emotions, dismiss or deny them, or numb out.

Why is this important to know? Because over the long term, stress that is not addressed can result in illness. In the short term, unrecognized emotions can make us feel foggy and disconnected, barriers to being creative and productive. Or worse, as I experienced last week, emotions can come out “sideways” by lashing out at a loved one (or your boss or team), when you least expect it.

Practice good emotional hygiene and you’ll not only become more resilient. You will be a better leader.

Here’s what good emotional hygiene looks like…

  1. Notice what you are feeling, and name a specific emotion. Keep a log throughout the day.  If you aren’t able to identify your emotions beyond mad, sad, and glad, try using this resource on the atlas of emotions.  Or download my free Emotional Fitness Toolkit here where you’ll find a map of emotions. If I had taken the time last week to notice my anger, fear and sadness, I would have implemented this next step.
  2. Carve out time to feel your feelings. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but it does require letting go of the story that often comes with emotions (yes, this means not taking part in gripe sessions with colleagues or family). More importantly, it requires courage to focus on the bodily experience of emotions, in a safe way that doesn’t harm others. For example, if I know I’m angry, I will go to my home office, close the door, and beat on my meditation cushion, with a healthy dose of yelling, until the feeling dissolves. This usually happens within a few minutes. When I’m sad, I’ll get quiet (often in meditation) and allow the feeling to become more prominent in my chest, again, until it fades.
  3. Rinse and repeat. Check in with yourself at the beginning of the day, at lunch time, and at the end of the day. What emotions are you feeling and have they been fully expressed, for yourself only? Make this a habit, just like brushing your teeth.

These three steps will return you to a place of well-being and feeling grounded, even when the world seems to be spinning. That’s the beauty of good emotional hygiene. It makes you resilient, even after a bad day.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

BTW–Just doing the first step will yield benefits. People who can identify their emotions specifically are able to manage the ups and downs of life more easily than those who can’t. According to Susan David, on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and author of the book, Emotional Agility, “Trouble labeling emotions is associated with poor mental health [and] dissatisfaction in jobs and relationships…People with this condition are more likely to report physical symptoms like headaches and backaches. It’s as if their feelings are being expressed physically rather than verbally.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 on Emotional Hygiene.

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