How Do I Use Emotional Expression to Overcome Stress?
Emotional expression is key to a healthy life. It gets bad feelings out of our system. It prevents the fight-or-flight state that leads to so many health problems. And if we express our emotions, we can take back control of our minds from the stress that can often overwhelm it.
Here is a way to move uncomfortable emotions quickly:
- Identify the emotion you are feeling. Is it anger, sadness, fear, disgust?
- Focus on the emotion without the reason you are feeling that way. This is going to be difficult because we usually think about the reason we are feeling a certain way or we try to stuff it.
- Focus on where you feel this emotion in your body and what it feels like. It might help to give it a shape or color and focus on that. If you start thinking about why you are feeling it, stop yourself and go back to just focusing on the basic emotion.
- Take deep breaths and as you exhale, imagine the emotion melting away.
- Continue to do this until you feel relief. If you leave the story out of it, the relief should come quickly – five minutes or less.
When we take control from stress, we can put our minds at ease and focus on more important things that bring us joy and happiness. Here are some more emotional expression exercises and activities to help overcome stress.
When you're having trouble getting past an emotion, find 20-30 minutes to quiet your body and mind. Relaxation training can help you become more intuitive to what's going on inside and around your body, and produce endorphins to create a sense of euphoria. To relax, you can follow our Wave of Relaxation instructions, or find a quiet place and listen to our audio walkthrough of a Loving Kindness meditation session.
Waves of relaxation
- Take a deep breath and exhale while mentally saying "peace" or "relax." Do this several times.
- Imagine a wave of relaxation passing from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Picture the wave of relaxation as it progresses.
- Check for bodily tension and tell tense body parts to relax as you exhale.
An easy way to work through your emotions is to simply put pen to paper and write about them. Journaling is something you can do not only in times of stress but throughout your life. It reinforces the habit of truly feeling your emotions and letting them go. Grab a pen and paper, find a safe, quiet environment and start writing. To help you get started, download our journaling tips and writing prompt.
Situation. Options. Consequences.
This is a problem solving technique that helps you understand what emotions you're feeling and encourages you to think things through before you act. When you find yourself having to deal with a strong emotion or a stressful situation, remember this technique and take a few seconds to consider each step.
- Assess the situation – What exactly is happening and what emotion is it making you feel? Is it anger, fear or something else?
- List your options – Think about the choices you have to problem solve. If you're angry, you could yell and stomp around, you could suppress it or you could acknowledge it, feel it and move on.
- Think about the consequences – If you've chosen to yell and stomp, there's a good chance you're not going to solve the problem. You could, however, ruin relationships with the people around you or cause someone harm.
Try working through an example situation using this technique with our sample worksheet.
"Self-talk" or "inner-speech" is the conversation we have with ourselves. It can influence emotions, moods and our actions. When it comes to emotional well-being, having a positive conversation with ourselves is a must. Even people who are facing extremely stressful events can use positive self-talk to get through the situation.
To make sure your self-talk is helping express emotions properly, try to get rid of negative and defeatist thoughts that creep in:
- "What's the use?"
- "Why bother?"
- "Nothing ever works out anyway."
- "I always mess things up."
- "I never get it right."
Use this exercise to make your conversation with yourself more positive and productive.
Write down some pessimistic thoughts you think sometimes and how they make you feel. Assume they are not actually true and repeat thoughts in your head that challenge them. Record how they make you feel and if they don't improve your mood, keep trying different ones until you feel better. To remind yourself of positive self-talk, jot down the phrases that help you and find a way to remind yourself to focus on these phrases. You can use stickers and put them places you'll see often, like your office desk, a bathroom mirror or your car dashboard so you'll remember to use them.
If you're finding this difficult, the Notice and Ease Tool from HeartMath can help you identify and shake off negative feelings, then replace them with more renewing emotions.
Soft Heart tool
The institute of HeartMath developed this effective and popular tool to help recuperate and re-energize from the emotional stresses of everyday life. Your "soft heart" is an easygoing, warm place of compassion. Think of it like a comforting blanket or a warm bath. Utilize this technique when you're disturbed, overwhelmed, depressed or feeling some type of negative emotion. Download the instructions, print them out and put them on your office desk or your bedroom mirror to remember the steps.
Facial expressions exercise
It's usually pretty easy to tell how a loved one is feeling based on the words and language they use. But it's important to be able to understand emotions they might be expressing even when they aren't talking. Do you think you can identify how someone is feeling even though they are trying to hide it? Watch this short video to learn how to recognize the seven basic emotions by reading facial expressions.