I’m at my kitchen table (cluttered beyond my stress levels) drinking a strong ginger tea while trying to get rid of the lingering nausea of the second migraine attack of the week, so this post couldn’t be more timely: I have all of the emotions that we consider “bad”. I put “bad” in inverted commas because one of the principles of emotional health is that emotions are neutral, and we are allowed to feel them and bring them to God (we’ve seen this when talking about stress and the Psalms of Lament). Last week I talked about how mental health is closely affected by emotional health, so it seemed logical to approach it next. Emotional health is about being in touch with our emotions and managing them in a healthy way.
In CCC 1764 we are told that “the passions are natural components of the human psyche; they form the passageway and ensure the connection between the life of the senses and the life of the mind. Our Lord called man’s heart the source from which the passions spring” This article by Dr Jeffrey McLeod goes into more details of what that means drawing from both the tradition of the Church and contemporary psychology, but for the purpose of this post you just need to accept the basics. The website of the American Academy of Family Physicians (www.familydoctor.org) gives this list of advice for maintaining emotional health:
Be aware of your emotions and reactions.
There is more to this than what the little blurb in their article says. According to the Healthline, there are 3 steps to this: noticing upsetting emotions when they arise, catching your own self-judgments, and curiosity. I would add, from my experience in therapy that you also shouldn’t take the first emotion you feel at face value. Like an iceberg, there is a lot that we don’t see that also needs to be felt and addressed. One method I use other what I will talk about next is Ignatian Imaginative Prayer.
Express your feelings in appropriate ways.
I grew up with someone who never expressed feelings and kept building resentment until she burst out, so I’m not exactly someone who came into marriage with healthy communication skills. During marriage preparation I really focused on this using the work of Dr Gottman, but the same applies to all human relationships. You don’t have to take the feelings to the people involved either, you can take them to God, your therapist, your journal. The key is working through them rather than bottling up.
Think before you act.
Different people will mention different prayers that they would pray if something comes up, mine is always “Come Holy Spirit”. If I don’t stop and pray, things go wild and wars get started (and, even knowing that, it happens more than I’d like to admit). Slowing down and not allowing our knee-jerk reactions to govern us is a great thing. And if you, like me, get properly hangry, it’s a good thing to stop and count how many hours since you last ate (most of my big fights happen in the morning…). It goes back to being aware of our emotions and where they are coming from. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the situation at hand, even if it also has nothing to do with your hypos.
I did write a whole post about it so I guess it always seemed key to me, but I’d like to add that sometimes we don’t realise just how many of our snap reactions are due to long-term stress rather than a timely stressor.
Strive for balance.
I was listening to an episode of the Upside Down podcast just this morning, in which they talked about slowing down and rejecting grind culture. I will never get tired to shout about how God rested on the 7th day. He is God, He doesn’t need rest, He led by example to show us it is OK. And something they said that somehow never clicked before, God said we were very good before we did anything other than just existing. Embrace slow living and get that work-life balance in place. Honour the dignity of your body that God has made.
Take care of your physical health.
Following from the honouring of your body, there are some ways in which physical health affects emotional health back (I think we are more familiar with how emotional health affects our physical one). A number of vitamin deficiencies have impacts on our emotions, especially vitamin D (I would know, I collapsed down to 0 more than once) and vitamin B-complex. Hormones also have an impact, with endorphins being the one you want to increase and cortisol and adrenaline the ones you want to decrease (at least long-term, short-term they drive eustress).
Connect with others.
It’s hard to do in the time of Covid, even as countries are relaxing the lockdown, but for me this time of quarantine has been an eye-opener about just how quarantined I was anyway. I need to be more intentional about making friends who are local to me.
Find purpose and meaning.
This is a big one for me, as I’ve been through a really bad spell in this regard. Our purpose is to be God’s hands and feet where we are, and the situations to which we are called are different for each person. I am often dissatisfied that my calling doesn’t feel meaningful, but I also forget that I could turn the lack of things to do into time to intercede for others simply because I don’t fit my mental image of the kind of person whose prayers look outwardly. God has truly worked on me when I admitted these feelings and one of the fruits of that is this very series. I’m studying things for myself, but also sharing them in the hope it helps someone else makes me feel less like I am self-centered in my quest for better living.
I famously have an issue with forced positivity, but I love this line in their article: “Forgive yourself for making mistakes, and forgive others.” Lately, I had my eyes opened to how we can’t love our neighbours as ourselves if we don’t love ourselves first (I mean, if Jesus wanted to tell us we need to love our neighbours full stop He’d have stopped there…), and the same thing applies to the fact we pray for God to forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Be honest now, how many times that person is yourself? Forgiving ourselves was the subject of a recent Teachable Tuesday, which I wasn’t sure if it should go in my favourites but who cares, it’s an arbitrary division, so here we go.
I mentioned Ignatian Imaginative Prayer earlier. One of my favourite tools from the tradition is the app Reimagining the Examen.
A book that has been really impactful on my quest against perfectionism was Colleen Carroll Campbell’s The Heart of Perfection.
Spiritual Journaling. If you are not familiar with it or you are not sure what it is and how to go about it, there is a great free workshop on the Blessed is She website.
Still on the BiS website, the 3 workshops on human formation(but honestly, if you have the time do them all…) and another Teachable Tuesday video on Choosing your Attitude.
Lastly, I mentioned loving yourself. Monsignor John Armitage gave a homily on the subject at the Shrine in Walsingham full of his humour and humility.
Rooted in the Word
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (…) Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of thei
r minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. (…) You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (…) Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.
Ephesians 4: 1-3; 17-18; 22-24; 26-27
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition (NRSVACE)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.