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Why we need negative emotions

Our emotions may well be on a roller-coaster these days. Fear, worry, grief and anger may be surfacing more than ever. However, we don’t need a pandemic to experience these emotions. It’s part of our human experience. We also have the privilege of experiencing joy.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) - the ancient medical system upon which both acupuncture and shiatsu are based – we experience 5 emotions. These are anger, fear, joy, sadness and worry. Notice that there is only one “positive” emotion here – joy. This system believes that there is no such thing as a negative emotion – they are simply emotions, without labelling them positive or negative. I love this perspective, which is just one of the reasons why I chose to study Shiatsu many years ago. With this view, we can learn to accept our full range of emotions with more ease and grace. We can also learn to see these emotions are guides, that help navigate us to a place where we feel happier and healthier, on every level.

Get me outta here!

It’s natural to want to flee from feeling any emotion that is less than pleasant. Our body literally goes into “fight or flight” when we feel fear for example. When we feel heavy with grief or sadness, it can be a coping mechanism to mask these feelings through unhealthy habits. Some common ones are eating, drinking, overworking, withdrawing or isolating, or any other behaviour which is not balanced.

Anger is an emotion that we are often programmed to believe is best kept inside. According to this ancient medical system, anger is also a vital emotion. The problems occur - as with any of the emotions - when it is excessively out of balance, or expressed in an unhealthy, harmful way. In fact, anger, when repressed, is considered most unhealthy as it’s believed it leads to frustration, bitterness and even depression.

So, how can our emotions help us to live a healthier, happier and more balanced life?

It’s important to mention that when we consider the emotions, the key is balance. For example, with the emotion of “worry”, this is a healthy and necessary emotion, when in balance. The same is true for each of the emotions, even joy. When joy is excessive, then there will also be excessive lows.

When joy is in balance, it is a constant, inner contentment, no matter what challenges come and go.

Each emotion is a signal. When we feel our emotion fully, and question the need behind it, it can lead us to make changes to move to a more positive place in our life.

Behind each challenging emotion, is a need. Or it may be considered as an unmet need. For example, the need behind feelings of sadness and grief may be loneliness. It may be simply enough to allow ourselves to recognise this emotion for what it is. Or, it may be a signal to take action. This could be connecting with others in a way that suits you, or getting support to work through the sadness, or making some kind of healthy change to meet this need.

The emotion of anger, as I mentioned already, is a perfectly healthy, natural and necessary emotion. Out of balance however, it can be aggressive, inappropriate, or even harmful. On the flip side, when it’s out of balance in the other direction, it gets stuck inside, leading to bitterness, oppression, frustration and depression.

So how can we express our anger in a healthy way? According to TCM, our creativity needs to be expressed to help us live in a healthy and balanced way. When we are not expressing our natural creative energy, this can lead to stagnation. Stagnation can be felt in ways such as lethargy, lacking in vitality and even purpose. Anger may arise either excessively and inappropriately, or it may be stuck and repressed, turning inwards which can lead to headaches, rigidity of body and mind, resentment and depression. We all are creative in different ways. We don’t have to be a musician or an artist! Creating a work or personal project, learning a new language or a skill, playing with your kids or dancing in your kitchen are all ways of expressing your creativity! Being in nature is a great way to connect with this too.

Next time you’re feeling stressed, remember that it’s just the normal emotion of fear. This is designed to keep us safe, and flee from danger. When stress is in balance, it can be a great thing. It keeps us on our toes, motivated and helps us perform under pressure to get a job done. When the balance is tipped and stress becomes out of hand, it can be harmful on our health and wellbeing in many ways. Most of us have known periods like this. Or perhaps you’re experiencing this now for the first time. It’s now that the signal is telling us to manage our stress levels, and there are many ways to do this.

Thinking about your own emotions, what’s the one that you find the most challenging? Is it the emptiness of grief or sadness, or perhaps it’s paralyzing fear? Perhaps you’re living with the feeling of something being stuck in your body, that is bubbling away – could this be a need to express your anger? Or maybe you’re living with a sense of constant worry that weighs you down?

What are your emotions trying to tell you? They each have a message to bring. If we can learn to accept them, even to welcome them, they can be our most valuable teachers, helping us to realign ourselves from the inside, to live our best life possible, no matter what.

To close this article, I'm sharing a poem by the Sufi poet Rumi, which I hope inspires you as it does me.

This World Mental Health Day 2020, I wish you peace, kindness and hope.

The Guest House - Rumi

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Written by Kerry White

Kerry specialises in workplace sessions to help people feel as well as possible, physically & mentally. Through practical and collaborative sessions, Kerry equips people with effective tools and insights to help them deal positively with everyday stress, challenges and common health and well-being complaints (including backache, headaches, fatigue and anxiety). Her coaching work supports clients to identify, and achieve, meaningful, yet realistic goals.

Kerry has brought her unique practical sessions and talks to numerous top corporates and organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, where she worked for many years. She has also held other international corporate roles in sales, MedTech and training. Because she has spent many years working in pressured office-based roles, Kerry understands the challenges many people experience.

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