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February 19, 2024

How To Reach Emotional Release?

A man standing in the middle of forest letting go of emtotions
Aya Rechenburg
Therapist & Personal Trainer
Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.

– Buddha

In this article you find out:

  • how the thought and emotions are interconnected
  • how emotions embed within our physical bodies
  • 10 self-help strategies to release trapped emotions
  • suggestions for everyday emotional maintenance

Emotions play a critical role in human experience. They help us respond to our environment, drive our decisions, shape our social interactions, and play a foundational role in our well-being and mental health.

Yet, in the pursuit of societal norms or personal expectations, many of us end up suppressing these natural expressions, particularly the ones perceived as negative or unsettling. However, just as the earth finds ways to release its pressures through volcanoes and earthquakes, our bodies too signal emotional build-up through physical and mental symptoms.

Let s uncover a bit the world of emotion together.

What are emotions and how they manifest?

Capturing the Spectrum: Twelve Faces, Twelve Emotions

Emotions can be thought of as multifaceted experiences that combine sensations, feelings, cognitive processes, and behavioral reactions. Here's a more detailed breakdown:

1. Physiological Response

When an emotion is triggered, there is often an immediate physiological response. For example, when you're frightened, your heart rate may increase, your palms might sweat, and you might feel a rush of adrenaline. This is due to the activation of the body's "fight or flight" response.

2. Behavioural Response

Emotions often lead to specific behaviours. If someone is angry, they might yell or become confrontational. If they're happy, they might smile or laugh. These behavioral responses are often automatic, though they can be controlled or modified with effort and awareness.

3. Cognitive Processes

Emotions are closely tied to our thoughts and perceptions. The way we interpret or make sense of a situation can directly influence how we feel about it. For example, if you perceive a comment from someone as a joke, you might feel amused. If you perceive it as an insult, you might feel angry or hurt.

4. Expressive Reactions

Emotions manifest in facial expressions, postures, and gestures. For instance, happiness might be expressed with a smile, while sadness might be shown through downturned eyes and a frowning mouth.

5. Subjective Experience

This is the personal and internal feeling state associated with an emotion. It's the "feeling" part of emotion that is highly individualized and may be difficult to describe fully to others. For example, while many people can recognize they are feeling "sad," the depth, nuance, and specific quality of that sadness can vary widely from person to person.

6. Valence and Intensity

Emotions can be categorized based on their valence (positive or negative) and their intensity (mild to severe). For example, contentment is a positive emotion with typically mild intensity, while ecstasy is a positive emotion with a much higher intensity.

Did You Know? Every Emotion Links to a Thought (And Vice Versa!)

Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.

– Elizabeth Gilbert

Where there is thought, there is emotion: Cognitive processes can lead to emotional reactions. For example, ruminating on a past mistake might lead to feelings of regret or shame. Similarly, anticipating a future event can generate emotions like excitement or anxiety.

Where there is emotion, there is thought: Emotional experiences often come with cognitive appraisals or interpretations. When someone feels an emotion, they typically also engage in some form of thinking to interpret or make sense of that emotion. For instance, feeling fear in a situation will likely lead to thoughts about the potential threat.

However, there are a few nuances to consider:

  • Not Always Conscious: While thoughts and emotions often co-occur, not every emotion is paired with a conscious thought, and vice versa. Some emotional reactions might be so rapid that the person isn't consciously aware of the thought that triggered it.
  • Intensity and Awareness: There can be very subtle emotions and thoughts that might not be immediately noticeable. For example, background anxiety or a fleeting thought.
  • Different Neural Mechanisms: Thoughts (cognitive processes) and emotions can sometimes be distinguished based on their neural mechanisms. They can occur independently, but they often influence each other.

As mentioned previously, emotions vary in intensity. While a mild emotion can act as a gentle nudge or a soft whisper, urging us towards a particular action or thought, highly intensive emotions can roar like a tempest, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and disoriented. The usual way most of us cope with these tumultuous emotions is by suppressing or ignoring them, hoping they'll fade away with time. However, what many don't realize is that instead of disappearing, these emotions often find a quiet corner within our bodies, nestling and embedding themselves deep within our physical selves.

How are Emotions Stored in the Body?

When emotions arise, whether acknowledged or not, they don't only impact our psychological state; they evoke tangible physiological reactions.

Man Trapped in Emotional Turmoil

Immediate Physical Responses

When we experience strong emotions, our body often has a physical response. For instance, stress can manifest as a tightness in the chest or shoulders. Over time, if these emotions aren't fully processed or released, they can continue to reside in our body as physical tension or discomfort.

  • Heart Rate & Breathing: Emotions can cause a spike or drop in heart rate and affect our breathing pattern.
  • Muscular Reactions: Feeling tense or having a pit in the stomach can occur almost instantly with certain emotions.
  • Preparation for Action: Our body may prepare to face a threat, embrace a loved one, or retreat from danger.

Prolonged Physical Manifestations of Unaddressed Emotions

Yet, not all emotions get the attention they deserve. Sometimes they are overlooked, suppressed, or inadequately processed. Such emotions don't just fade away. Instead, they may settle within our body, leading to variety of symptoms:

Symptoms: Physical Echoes of our Emotional State

Unresolved emotions, over time, don't merely rest quietly but manifest as discernible physical symptoms. These are the body's way of communicating that something needs attention. Some common symptoms include:

  • Chronic Pain: Persistent pain in areas such as the neck, back, and shoulders can indicate unresolved stress or emotional tension.
  • Digestive Issues: Problems like constipation, diarrhea, or general digestive discomfort can be linked to emotions like control, fear, or unresolved anger.
  • Headaches: Regular headaches can reflect emotional stress, possibly arising from suppressed anger or the weight of unexpressed feelings.
  • Breathing Difficulties: Feelings like grief, anxiety, or heartbreak might manifest as shortness of breath or tightness in the chest.
  • Fatigue: A perpetual state of tiredness, irrespective of rest, can point towards emotional exhaustion or long-term suppressed feelings.
  • Skin Reactions: Issues like rashes, acne, or other eruptions can be a response to emotional disturbances causing stress, anxiety, or hormonal imbalances.
  • Sleep Irregularities: Insomnia or other sleep disturbances can be a result of the mind grappling with unresolved trauma or underlying fears.
  • Muscular Tensions from Suppressed Emotions: Emotions like unresolved anger might specifically show up as clenched jaws or habitual teeth grinding.

It's essential to understand that while these symptoms can be indicators of trapped emotions, they can also have other medical causes. Hence, it's always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional. However, recognizing the emotional underpinning allows for a more holistic healing approach, merging both medical and emotional treatments.

Emotional Memory & The Brain

Studies from the field of neurobiology highlight that our brain's limbic system, particularly the amygdala, plays a significant role in storing emotions. Traumatic or highly emotional events can create "emotional memories" in the brain. These "emotional memories" in the brain can be triggered by similar situations or stimuli, leading to physical reactions even if we're not consciously thinking about the past event, as supported by findings in Nature Neuroscience.

  • Limbic System & Amygdala: These parts of the brain play a significant role in storing and recalling emotional memories.
  • Emotional Triggers: Past traumatic events can be reactivated by current situations, causing physical reactions without conscious recollection of the original event.

Cellular Memory (A Debated Concept)

The concept of cellular memory posits that not only the brain but our very cells might have the capability to "store" memories or emotions, especially from traumatic events.

  • The Origins: The term "cellular memory" initially emerged from organ transplant recipients reporting unexpected changes in tastes, habits, or emotions, sometimes aligning with the preferences of the donor. This phenomenon led to the speculative idea that cells, especially those in vital organs, might retain some memory or information about experiences.
  • Traumatic Emotions: The primary theory regarding cellular memory and trauma suggests that our cells, when exposed to severe stress or trauma, can embed this experience. Later on, certain triggers or stimuli might "activate" this embedded memory, causing physical or emotional reactions.
  • Scientific Divide: It's important to note that while some anecdotal evidence supports the idea of cellular memory, robust scientific data is lacking. Most neuroscientists and biologists believe that memories, including those from traumas, are stored in the brain, particularly in structures like the amygdala and hippocampus. However, the field of psychoneuroimmunology is exploring the complex interactions between emotions, the nervous system, and immune response at the cellular level.

How to Release Emotions Trapped in The Body?

Don't hold to anger, hurt, or pain. They steal your energy and keep you from love.

– Leo Buscaglia

Releasing emotions isn't always straightforward. The complex ones, especially those associated with trauma or guilt, might be challenging to express and process. There are body-based therapeutic approaches that aim to address the emotional release from the body, like holistic therapy and yoga therapy. Holistic therapy integrates various techniques to heal the mind, body, and spirit, ensuring that emotions are addressed on all levels. On the other hand, yoga therapy uses specific postures, breathwork, and meditation practices to help individuals connect with and release deep-seated emotions, fostering both physical and emotional well-being.

However, how can you help yourself without seeking professional support?

10 Self-Help Strategies to Release Trapped Emotions

Embracing Self-Help: Woman Radiates Positivity as She Releases Emotional Blockages.

Recognizing and releasing emotions, particularly those deeply embedded, is essential for overall well-being. While professional support is invaluable, here are 10 techniques you can practice on your own to facilitate emotional release. This release can result in decreased emotional distress, a heightened sense of well-being, and even physical relief from symptoms that might have been manifestations of the trapped emotions.

1. Mindfulness and Meditation:

These practices help you become more attuned to your body's sensations, making it easier to recognize areas of tension or discomfort. By focusing on your breath and being in the present moment, you create a space where you are able to be aware or what is happening inside of you, where you can identify and release pent-up emotions.

2. Deep Breathing:

Engaging in deep, rhythmic breathing can activate the body's relaxation response. By consciously breathing into areas of tension, you can help dissipate emotional blockages from the body.

3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

This technique involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body. It can help you identify and release areas where you might be holding emotional tension in order to release it.

4. Physical Activity:

Movement, whether it's structured exercise, dancing, or even just a brisk walk in the nature, can help to release emotional energy. Physical activity stimulates the production of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.

5. Journaling:

Writing down about your inner emotional landscape can provide an outlet for suppressed emotions. It offers a safe space to express and process what you're experiencing.

6. Grounding and Expressive Techniques:

Techniques like the "5-4-3-2-1" method, where you identify five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste, can help to anchor you in the present moment and facilitate emotional release.

Additionally, unconventional yet effective techniques such as shouting from the heart (when nobody can hear us, fe. while in the car), stamping your feet, jumping energetically, emitting sounds, or singing, can serve as grounding practices, channeling and releasing emotions in the process.

7. Creative Expression:

Engaging in artistic activities like painting, music, or crafting can be therapeutic. They offer an avenue for expressing and processing emotions in a non-verbal way.

8. Bodywork:

Even without a therapist, practices like self-massage or using foam rollers can help in releasing tension from the muscles and fascia, potentially aiding in the release of trapped emotions.

9. Yoga and Tai Chi:

These ancient practices combine movement, breath, and mindfulness. Specific poses or sequences are designed to open up and release tension from different parts of the body.

10. Affirmations and Visualization:

Positive affirmations, combined with visualizing the release of emotional blockages, can be powerful. Visualize tension melting away or light entering areas of discomfort.

While these techniques are surely beneficial, they are not a replacement for professional therapy, especially if you're dealing with deep-seated traumas or chronic emotional issues. Always consider seeking professional help if you feel overwhelmed or if symptoms persist.

Everyday Emotional Maintenance: The RAIN Method

A crucial part of maintaining emotional health is not only addressing past burdens but also ensuring that today's feelings don't become tomorrow's baggage.

The RAIN method, a straightforward yet potent mindfulness approach, is invaluable in this endeavour. As you go through your day, it helps you pause, reflect, and respond to your emotions in the moment, preventing unnecessary accumulation.

Raindrops heralding the clarity brought by the RAIN Method in emotional maintenance.

Understanding the RAIN Steps:

1. STEP R - Recognize: It all starts with acknowledgment. When you're faced with an overwhelming rush of emotions, pause. Consciously bring awareness to what is happening inside of you. Name it. If your day is spiraling into a series of unfortunate events, take a moment to think, "Ah, this is frustration."

2. STEP A - Allow (Accept): Embrace your emotions. Instead of shoving them to the side or letting them submerge you, give them room to breathe. Like steam escaping a kettle, it's essential to let emotions simmer openly, thinking, "It's alright to feel this."

3. STEP I - Investigate: Probe into the root. Why does a spilled coffee or an unexpected bill make you react so strongly? This step is about discerning triggers and bodily reactions, such as a pounding heart or tight shoulders.

4. STEP N - Non-Identification: This is the transformative moment. Understand that your emotions, however intense, are fleeting. They don't define your core being. They're mere temporary clouds passing through the expansive sky of your experience.

Why to Practice RAIN Daily?

The only way to ease our pain is to experience it fully. Learn from it.

Shirley MacLaine

Imagine you're at work, and you receive a mildly critical email from your boss. Your initial reaction might be defensiveness or sadness. By applying RAIN, you can recognize your emotional response, allow it to be, investigate its roots (maybe it reminded you of a past event or fear of inadequacy), and then not let this singular event dictate your self-worth or mood for the rest of the day.

Wrapping Up

Emotions are a natural part of our human experience. While they can sometimes feel overwhelming, tools and techniques like the ones mentioned in this article, including the daily practice of RAIN, can help us navigate our feelings more effectively. By adopting such practices and focusing on holistic health and personal growth, we can lead a life where emotions enhance our experiences rather than detract from them.

Every rainstorm, no matter how intense, eventually leads to clearer skies.❤️

Aya Rechenburg guides people to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual growth. Welcome to a space dedicated to your self-discovery and transformation.

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