Simple Methods for Emotional Release
I had a client years ago who had been though so much in his life, but still had the strength to find humor in everything. During one session, he was reflecting on all the doctors and therapists who had pathologized his healing process, who had told him he was ‘too emotional’ as well as all the family and friends who refused to discuss how they felt with him. He turned and said to me “Man, why is everyone so emotionally constipated?” I broke into laughter and it instantly became my new favorite term.
We live in a society where it’s rarely ok to be expressive and to get real about our pain, anger, deep sadness, or extreme states. Meanwhile, as Thoreau says, most of us “lead lives of quiet desperation” and we’re not very good at hiding it. The emotions we stuff down leaks out in the ways we talk to each other, treat ourselves, and the way we run our society.
Those of us who do express our deepest emotions or can’t lock them up any longer are pathologized and told there’s something wrong with us. Many of us are deemed ‘broken’ or ‘ill’ if we can’t at least pretend to be normal. Yet, our Western version of the normal range of human emotion is excruciatingly narrow and hasn’t changed much over the decades, carrying with it many paternalistic and oppressive ideologies.
We are slowly learning to accept the deep well of emotion that lives inside us all. The thing is, we have so much practice keeping it all in, no one has taught us how to emotionally release. There is incredible freedom on the other side of pain. Emotions only lessen their grip when we process and release them.
I’ve spent most of my life learning new and ancient tools for releasing big emotions. If you feel stuck on how to do this, it happens to be one of my specialties.
Here are my top 5 simple methods for emotional release:
1) Breathe Where It Hurts
Emotional pain is often embodied. Have you ever noticed that anxiety so often feels like a tightness in the chest, guilt a heaviness in the heart or stomach? Once you notice a painful emotion, use your focused awareness to notice where it lives in your body. Use your attention or breath to intentionally open up that space inside you. At first it may feel like it’s getting bigger, but that’s part of the process of release. Actually visualize the breath or energy moving into that space in your body, expanding it and then taking that pain with it out of your body as you exhale. Let yourself ride that wave until it dissipates.
Additionally: if you already have a practice of working with chakras or energy centers, you can imagine each of these opening up and unfurling. Even saying quietly to yourself “open, open, open”. In many ways, emotional tension and pain can be understood as the process of closing down around the pain and trapping it there. Therefore, we must open to release.
Another powerful tool is writing (even if you’re not ‘a writer’). It gets thoughts out of your head so you can see more clearly. Through writing we often come to realize what we weren’t able to by just thinking.
Use these prompts:
What part of me hurts?
What part of me is trying to heal?
What does this part of me want or need right now?
3) Scream (Or Sound) Opportunistically
Never underestimate the power of screaming. I’m a super quiet and shy person, but when I make myself scream to release (even when it feels silly, stupid, embarrassing, or I don’t want to), it’s pure magic. We can come up with so many excuses not to let it loose (what will my neighbors/roommates think? I don’t have a car to scream in, I take public transport. I’m not feeling it.) but ultimately we’re costing ourselves a major opportunity to feel lighter.
When I lived in NYC, I used to go to the end of the subway platform and wait for an express train to go by then scream at the top of my lungs and slowly come to a stop as the train sound faded away. It was the best part of my day. If more of us screamed at least once a day, I think the world would be a much calmer place to be.
sing random syllables,
scream in a pillow,
while on your bike,
or in the car with loud music playing
4) Move With It
If you’re already screaming or sounding, may as well throw a tantrum and move your body with it. I’m not kidding. It can feel weird to get into but once you allow it, holy moley, some of my best revelations have come through tantruming and moving*.
Pound the sides of your fists into the ground
Drop your heels to the ground, feeling the reverberation up your legs and spine
Stomp your feet
Dance to a strong beat
*You know what’s best for your body, so challenge yourself to move in ways you normally wouldn’t, but also pay attention to any physical or chronic pain - only do what feels right.
In addition to it’s effectiveness in releasing painful emotions, these techniques can really wake up your body and create a surge of energy, release stuck tension in your muscles and tissues, and get your blood flowing so you can think more clearly and feel better. This kind of movement is used in ancient practices - Qigong and dancing to drum beats, none of this is new! So use this technique of pounding and moving to release emotional tension in the body and mind.
5) Talk to The Voices In Your Head (The Soapbox Method)
The voices in our heads are hard to listen to and often a big source of emotional pain. We often want nothing more than to shut them out. However, I’ve found that the most effective way to release is to actually give these voices, these characters inside your head, a soapbox and let them rant like crazy. This does several things:
First it gives you distance from them. You realize they are not you and they are just parts of you. Second, it can add some humor as you build a character around them. (e.g. Maybe the part of you want feels you’re not smart enough is Dr. Sally Smartpants who just loves to walk around in a pantsuit and tell you your spelling mistakes.) Third, it allows you to talk to them face to face, to get to know them, what they want and need and desire.
Here’s the thing about the critical voices in your head - all of them are just trying to protect you and get what they need, whether that’s safety, recognition, to be understood, or to feel loved. They should not run the show or control your actions. They don’t get to sit in the drivers seat while telling you all these criticisms about yourself. BUT they do deserve a voice because they all have good intentions for you, they just don’t know how to show it sometimes. That’s your work here - to not fully give in nor deny them, at all costs don’t fight with them, your job is just to listen. The trick is to simply ask what they want for you, and what they need. And then….give it to them.
For example: Dr Sally Smartypants probably just wants to be recognized for her achievements or to have her wisdom shared and acknowledged. Perhaps she thinks she is saving you from embarrassment by being so hard on you about your intellect, she knows you can do better than those silly spelling mistakes. You can let her know her approach isn’t helpful but thank her for supporting your learning and education. THEN give her the acknowledgement she wants. Tell her she’s fucking brilliant or better yet, look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself how brilliant you are. Her job will be done as soon as you are able to fill her (your) need.
Now pick one of these methods and practice it consistently. It takes dedication and commitment. Maybe the first time you give yourself space to feel, nothing comes up. That’s totally normal! If we have years of emotional turmoil trapped inside it will take time to uncover -but this is the most worthwhile process we can begin to explore. When we pay attention to our emotions, the rest gets easier.
If this feels daunting to do on your own, that’s ok! We all need some extra support from time to time. I’d be honored to be with you through this process, so if it feels like what you need right now, book an intro call with me to get started.