As a naturopathic doctor, I often help people improve their digestive health. Many people have digestive-related issues where the gut needs attention and some help to heal. Acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating – these are common symptoms of unhealthy digestion. Negative self-talk, resentment, anger, low self-confidence, helplessness – these are symptoms of another type of indigestion which often goes overlooked: Emotional Digestion.
What is Emotional Digestion?
Emotional digestion is what you do with your daily experiences: how you break them down, how you assimilate them into current beliefs and the impact they have on you. It describes the way we move through everyday life and how it contributes to or detracts from our progress. Here is an example: Yesterday at the office, a co-worker said something to you that was upsetting. You went on with your day but it stuck with you. The next day, the comment is still bothering you. That is a simple example of incomplete emotional digestion. You haven’t given yourself the time or space to break it down, understand the situation with compassion, find a resolution and move on. If you don’t work through the upsetting thoughts, weeks later you may hold a resentment towards that co-worker and have forgotten the original reason.
Fostering healthy emotional digestion involves some maintenance work as many of us have fallen into patterns that do no lend to emotional well being. When we are emotionally healthy, we are mindful, we don’t take things personally, we can cope with situations as they arise and we don’t get stuck.
How can I improve my Emotional Digestion?
There are a number of exercises that can sort out an episode of emotional indigestion. I will list 4 techniques to try which can be used individually, but are best used as a sequence in the order they are presented. To avoid developing unhealthy beliefs and feelings, try these exercises to improve your emotional digestion:
1. Retrospection: this is an excellent practice to incorporate into a bedtime routine. Review your day beginning with the current time. Move backwards through your day, slowly. Check in with your breath, your thoughts, feelings and sensations in your body. Is there anything from your day that stands out? Perhaps something is bothering you. Keep note of the experiences that need attention. Move onto the following exercises.
2. Journaling: Some people enjoy writing, others, not so much. This may be useful in some cases even if you don’t love writing. At times when we try to break down an event mentally, we continue to spin our wheels. To break free of circular thought patterns, get out a notebook and jot it down. You don’t have to write full sentences, sometimes a few words are all you need. Once you have it down, you can move past blockages and make progress.
3. Deep breathing: Once you have finished writing, deep breathing can help you to relax and disengage from the emotions that may have been stirred up. By relaxing your muscles and breathing in fresh air, the anxiety and negative feelings will begin to dissolve. Deep breathing is a perfect precursor to meditation as it eases you into a reflective state.
4. Meditation: Meditation is a very useful tool. Unlike journaling, meditation does not involve the intellect. In meditation, we see our experiences with our consciousness. It is a very different angle to observe from and gain perspective on a situation. We may leave meditation with a clearer understanding of next steps to take and a sense of peace. For more detail, see my previous posts on the benefits of meditation and how to meditate.