Emotional Recovery Time: how to leave negative emotions behind as quickly as possible
This article was first published at Healthy Living London which contains many great articles on all health related matters even for people who live outside London. Much gratitude to Eliza Flynn for being the greatest editor!
It’s normal for us to have negative reactions to things which happen to us, but how can we move on from them as quickly as possible and lighten our emotional baggage?
‘Why do I still feel this way?’
Have you ever found yourself asking this question during your down moments? After you have actively released many stored emotions from past upsets and having been working on mastering your emotions, it shouldn’t happen, right? But it does. At least this is true for me.
I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me, until I asked this question during a meditation. The following incident at the gym years ago came to mind.
I was persuaded by a personal trainer to have a free fitness check. I knew he wanted to sell me his services but I was curious so I agreed. It was free!
The personal trainer shook his head from time to time during the checks and when we finished, he informed me that my heart rate was not normal because it became very fast very quickly. He also took out a huge blob of plastic fat to show me how much fat I had in my body and I was instantly grossed out by myself. He concluded that I was in urgent need of his help and he switched swiftly from a horror story teller to my saviour with a price tag. I told him I would think about it because of the expensive cost even though he already reduced it just for me, seeing that I almost needed medical help.
I was very worried when I told a friend about this. She laughed.
‘Isn’t it normal for the heart to beat faster when you are running?’
‘Yes, but he said it was too much!’
‘How do you feel when you run?’
‘I feel alright.’ At that period my gym routine included jogging on the treadmill for 40 minutes and usually I managed to cover about 7 km. Nothing glorious about it but I never felt sick even on odd occasions when I decided to sprint the last minute.
‘Anyway, if you have a heart problem, you go to a doctor, not a personal trainer.’
Nor a scarecrow salesman.
Emotional Recovery time
My friend then introduced me to the concept of Recovery Time. She said the purpose of fitness training was not to never have a raised heart rate or never became tired again, but to shorten our Recovery Time. Amongst many other good things of course.
Similarly, it’s quite unrealistic for most of us to think that we can be without any undesirable emotions. However, whatever we have done to help ourselves regarding our wellness have probably shorten our Emotional Recovery Time. Amongst many other good things of course.
One big question is, how much do we want to recover?
The Will to Recover
I met an Olympic gold medallist in gymnastics by chance. There was no hope of persuading him to do some Super Gym Things as we were at a hilly place. So I asked for the next best thing – some tips.
I asked him how he managed all those strenuous trainings. I half expected him to say ‘Oh, you know, I’m a Super Human.’ But his answer was something like this.
‘Oh, you know, the usual.’
‘Yeah, like, rest, stretching, good diet, and I have help like massage, acupuncture. Just, you know, look after myself.’
But I know all these things!
For a little while, I thought he didn’t want to tell me his secret. He looked genuine and I realized that he probably didn’t know his secret. What makes a Super Human are their strong will and self-discipline. By the time he did all ‘the usual’ and has gone to bed, I probably am still doing my ‘usual’, watching YouTube and scratching my toes.
Have you ever said to yourself, ‘I will never forgive them!’ ‘I will never be happy again!’ ‘I will never be without stress from financial worries!’ I hope by now you have a different viewpoint. If not, I appreciate that you have very good reasons to feel whatever you are feeling right now. Let’s pause and consider this: do these kinds of thoughts enhance your life?
You could even be feeling flat or depressed or angry for no apparent reason (I’ve been there!). Do you believe that you can come out of these feelings? Would you like to? How would you like to feel? Calm? Peaceful? Content? Joyous? Whatever it is, make it your goal. Sometimes these emotions pop up and we might well recover without our wishing for it. But setting a clear goal will make it happen quicker especially if you have a game plan in place.
And so, whenever we feel any sort of undesirable emotions, remember to pause and consider, is this where you want to stay?
Don’t be Embarrassed for Feeling Good!
One day at school, my friend made an observation.
I was upset about something which I can’t remember what. My friends were cheering me up and quite quickly, it didn’t seem so important anymore.
‘She’s okay now but she’s embarrassed to smile!’ My friend informed the other friends.
How did she know? The ‘silly me’ thought I was supposed to stay upset for a bit longer for whatever had happened, or I would have looked stupid being upset in the first place.
Have you been in this kind of situation, where you think you need to stay feeling a certain way, or it would mean that you are wrong? For example, when a friend did something that makes you angry, will you stay angry till the apology comes? It might never come and yet you’re habouring all sorts of toxic feelings. It would be a better option to choose how you feel according to what is beneficial to you.
Sometimes there are some social pressure about what is appropriate. For example, at my dear mother-in-law’s funeral, a friend arrived looking lovely in her black dress. I openly admired her, like a little girl giggling in front of her favourite cartoon princess. My friend looked embarrassed at the attention we got from my giggles and on cue, I arranged my face quickly back to misery and I told myself off for being inappropriate.
I am sure my mother-in-law would love to see me giggle every day and especially at times like this, we need all the time-out we can get from grief.
What does your ‘usual’ reactions comprise of? What did you do last time that you were stressed, angry or going through emotional turmoil? Did you actively pick yourself up? What are your ‘usual’ reactions? Sleep? Eat? Drinks? Pills? Exercise? Go on holiday? What about when you are in the middle of an argument or during a presentation or exam? How did you help yourself get over the emotional stress quickly to be able to think clearly?
I will not tell anyone to stop whatever they do even if what they are doing is potentially harmful, because that might be the only thing that keeps this person going. Taking it away may make matter worse. However, let’s explore ways that provide long lasting feel good factor.
Now, I would like to share with you some of my personal ‘usual’ ways to deal with emotional stress. These are all simple and effective techniques that anyone can do. And free!
Three simple techniques to help you recover from emotional stress
When I was a flight attendant, we had to go through first aid training. I remember the procedures for all scenarios started with ‘Do not panic. Reassure the patient’.
Helping ourselves to recover from emotional stress is like applying first aid for ourselves. Breathe! Pause for a moment to consider what to do next. Reassure ourselves that all is well and we will be able to feel good again soon. Apply the appropriate ‘Usual’.
Breathing is really one of the most fundamental necessities for all of us. We do this all the time and yet when we are nervous, angry or in shock, we often hold our breath or forget to breathe smoothly. Simply by focusing on our breathing, we can bring ourselves back towards balance.
An easy way to train ourselves to breathe well in all situations is to practise it. Allow yourself a few minutes a day to focus on just your breathing. Feel the air coming in and out of your body and where it touches. Notice how different parts of your body rise and fall as you breathe. You may also vary the length and depth of your breath. Enjoy the calming feeling your breaths give you.
2. Summon up an Image of Calmness
Are there any images that represent calmness to you? Perhaps a relaxing beach, an idyllic garden, an enchanting forest, or even an image of a person who has a calming presence. Take a moment now to think of one.
Help yourself to be comfortable, either lying or sitting down, and have this image in your mind. Allow yourself to be completely immersed in this image to absorb the calmness. If it is an image of a person, you can imagine loving light enveloping you from this person. Enjoy this loving calming feeling for as long as you need. Give thanks to this experience and yourself for fulfilling it.
When you find yourself wishing to regain calmness, e.g. in the middle of an argument, draw up this image in your mind and let that associated calming feeling wash over you. The more you do this above exercise, the better this image works for you.
3. Enter your Personal Sanctuary
Similarly, we can rest in our Personal Sanctuary.
Rest is vital when we are recovering from emotional stress. In today’s busy world, sleeping an extra hour could be a luxury that few can afford. To counter this, let’s focus of the quality of our rest time.
It is natural for unpleasant events to go around and around in our heads, for example, why did that happen, what could we have done or said, etc. How can we rest well when our minds are so busy ruminating? Rather than forcing our minds to stop which we all know is not easy, we can give the mind something pleasant to do.
Help yourself to be comfortable, either lying or sitting down. Create your Personal Sanctuary in your mind’s eye. Imagine a place that is peaceful, safe and comforting to you. It can be somewhere which you have visited before or which exists only in your imagination. It could be somewhere in nature, the most luxurious hotel room, or even in someone’s arms. Allow yourself rest in this place for a little while, whatever amount of time you can afford.
Don’t worry if you can’t hold the scene in your mind the whole time. It’s like when you close your eyes on the beach, you can’t see the it but it is still there. This exercise is about resting while feeling safe and peaceful rather than how good we are with holding a scene in our minds.
If you find your thoughts straying to undesirable ones, bring yourself back to your Personal Sanctuary. You may also keep your mind busy by making this place more elaborate or focus on details like the shape and colour of flowers, white flowy curtains swaying in the breeze, etc.
You can also do this when you are settling down to sleep. It is wonderful to be feeling peaceful and safe as we fall asleep.
Examples of personal sanctuaries – what does yours look like?
Look after Yourself and Your Emotions!
I can go on talking about many other ways that we can help ourselves with but none of these would be useful unless you use them and you choose to recover. Practise often and build up the tools for your emotional recovery.
The shorter our Emotional Recovery Time is, the more time we can enjoy whatever our beautiful Earth can offer us. May your Emotional Recovery Time become so short very soon that every day is pure bliss for you. You can do it!
*All photos by my darling PhotoMan Konstantinos Anastasakis
Want to learn more Simple Wellness Techniques? Here you go!