Emotionally healing yourself isn’t easy. We all find ourselves having to heal sometimes. Maybe because of:
- a break-up,
- a divorce,
- a death,
- the loss of a career,
- the loss of identity after having children, or
In fact, there is nothing quite like the long arduous task of healing after something like psychological or physical abuse. It’s layers upon layers of healing, of dealing with so many losses including the loss of who you were due to the severe neurological change that takes place when someone has tampered with so much of your brain.
Indeed, healing can be deeply painful and difficult.
And is it me or are so many people trying to heal right now? It seems there is a lot of pain in the world and given emotions are contagious online and offline  it is clear that some of this is due to the use of social media.
People spouting angry comments at people, criticising people, and barking orders at people on how to live their lives. Who knows what’s going on for people in their private lives – you really don’t know – and so who knows how that is affecting their mental health, either as they watch the negativity or are the victims of such negativity. And then of course there’s the negative news being pounded out like an air raid siren which isn’t helping anyone other than those making money from it. This is something for you to consider on your own healing journey and as we discuss the below.
Emotional Healing Takes A Lot Of Work But You Are Up To The Challenge
Whilst emotional healing requires an entire book, right now, let’s look at one aspect of it that makes a huge difference to how you feel minute to minute, i.e. how bearable the torturous moments of healing are, and how well and quickly you heal. And let’s define ‘healing well’.
Healing well is when you heal in a way that takes you back to who you were with a good dose of the new improved version of you. Getting back to your ‘old self’ is really important as is feeling like a ‘new you’ that you’re just so proud of and comfortable with.
Two Types Of Thinking That Disrupt How You Emotionally Heal
Now, it can be easy to get obsessive with your thoughts when you’re thinking about the thing that you are healing from. In research this is referred to as rumination but in everyday life we say, ‘I can’t stop obsessing over ___’ Rumination is when you think deeply about your distress and its possible causes and consequences rather than its solutions. And worry is another trap we can fall into. We can worry a lot.
The problem is, both are linked to anxiety and depression. Rumination is more strongly linked with depression, and worry with anxiety, but rumination is also linked with anxiety and worry is also linked with depression . And we know that depression and anxiety are highly comorbid meaning that they frequently occur together . And highly connected with this is, indeed, the link to how we use our thoughts.
So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about how you use your thoughts to help you emotionally heal with some greater degree of internal comfort in your mind and body, heal quicker, and heal well in the end.
The Emotional Healing Workload
You have to allow yourself to feel it in order to heal it. That’s a fact. Your brain needs you to do the necessary work it requires to get you back to happy and healthy. And it cannot do that unless you engage with the thoughts and emotions you have, all of which are there to help you, ultimately. But how you use your thoughts will determine the journey you take: how long it will take and your destination. Remember, we want to be headed towards destination Healing Well.
Also remember, rumination and worry are both linked with depression and anxiety. So we don’t want to do too much of either.
When you keep ruminating instead of reflecting and introspecting, you are not searching for the lessons and you are not searching for solutions to move you away from the heart ache and heart break towards happiness, health, success, wealth, and anything else that you would love in your life. Instead you are usually re-running what has happened, over and over in your conscious mind, usually torturing yourself over and over and it just hurts you and keeps you stuck.
Similarly, when you just keep worrying, you are not thinking about how you would resolve the issue you are worrying about. Again, it’s not reflective learning and solution finding, it’s just another form of self-torture.
The Benefits Of Focused Distraction For Emotional Healing
So although you need to allow yourself to feel it in order to heal it, you can’t spend the whole time feeling it. It would put too much strain on your mental and physical health. And that’s where distraction comes in. And what you need is a fine balance between distraction and feeling it in order to heal it, or we might say a balance between distraction and processing.
A distraction allows the brain to relax, not worry, not be sad; just be entirely caught up in something else instead, something that stops you thinking about the thing that you’re sad, heart-broken, worried or traumatised about.
Constantly being in fight-or-flight mode is very corrosive to your health. It will worsen your already poor mental health and it contributes to many illnesses such as heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and much more.
What having a healthy distraction does is it gives your brain the opportunity to engage the parasympathetic nervous system – the one that puts the brakes on your fight-or-flight system so that you can instead ‘rest and digest’.
How To Use Focused Distraction To Emotionally Heal
So, you want the distraction exercise itself to require enough focus so that you are not distracted from your chosen form of distraction! And according to researchers, the way to do that is to have the distraction require enough focus for you to be so deeply immersed in it that your mind does not wander towards something else going on in the background .
That distraction (exercise) might be working on an aspect of your career that requires a lot of focus, playing an intense computer game, reading a book that requires concentration, or playing a sport, for example.
Of course, it can also be difficult, when you are so worried about something or suffering from anxiety or depression or both, to focus deeply on something to stop yourself thinking about your woes in order to give your brain and body that respite from all the mental work you’re doing to ‘feel so that you can heal’. But you need to. You need to find something to rest your mind and thus calm your body to maintain your health and then when you’ve recharged, you can come back to consciously reflecting and problem-solving some more, ultimately working hard towards your happiness again.
Distractions May Help You Find Solutions
The thing you have to remember is that your brain often problem-solves subconsciously so even if you think you’re not making progress, as long as you are problem-solving consciously on and off, your brain will continue seeking solutions subconsciously too. It’s like having an assistant to do some of your work for you whilst you have some time off.
And therein lies another major benefit to a distraction exercise because it may actually enhance your brain’s problem-solving ability.
Researchers found that when we’re focusing on a routine task and we start daydreaming, for example, you’re gardening and then your mind starts daydreaming, the brain’s ‘executive network’ which handles complex problem-solving, is still very much active .
It appears that when we are daydreaming, we may be subconsciously problem-solving the bigger puzzles in our life, even though we may not be paying full attention to the task in hand. So even if you are focusing on a distraction exercise but your mind wanders from it, it might be working out how to get you back to health and happiness.
Think about those times when you’ve been doing something routine and voomf, seemingly out of nowhere, an epiphany pops into your head. Something that significantly moves you forward towards your goals. That’s your subconscious brain delivering completed work for you like a dutiful assistant.
So take time out from torturing yourself with help from a distraction exercise, either:
- one that you can immerse yourself in with a deep focus, to stop your brain overly ruminating and worrying, and/or
- a routine task that you can execute somewhat on autopilot, one that allows you to focus enough but also wander and potentially find solutions for your life.
How To Tell If You Are Using Too Much Distraction
Importantly, if you stop making any progress at all then you are likely distracting yourself too much or almost all the time. There needs to be a balance between doing the healing work and distracting yourself from the work for rest and recharge. It’s a journey. You need to make stops along the way but ultimately keep making progress towards Healing Well.
Plus, if you don’t do the work now, you’ll have to do it at some point. Your brain will keep reminding you at intervals that it still needs you to do the necessary work for emotionally healing yourself. Either that or you spend your life in a miserable malaise. And you definitely don’t want to do that nor need to do that.
We all go through ups and downs in our life. Use your brain well and you will heal sooner, with more comfort along the way.
Focus your mind not on worry or obsessively rerunning the pain, but on the goals you want to reach.
Your healing goals should fall under retaining the good parts of your old self that you’re happy with that have served you well and the new self that you will be proud of that will have made great use of the pain you’ve endured and that will serve your future self amazingly well.
You can do it, that’s why you’re going through it.
If you want my help on your emotional healing journey, you can get coaching via Skype or Zoom from the comfort of your own home, office, park, or wherever suits you. Read testimonials from my coaching clients and here you’ll find information on the key areas I can help you with:
1. Coviello, L., Sohn, Y., Kramer, A. D. I., Marlow, C., Franceschetti, M., Christakis, N. A., et al. (2014). Detecting emotional contagion in massive social networks. PLoS ONE, 9(3):e90315. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0090315.
2. Spinhoven, P., Drost, J., van Hemert, B., & Penninx, B. W. (2015). Common rather than unique aspects of repetitive negative thinking are related to depressive and anxiety disorders and symptoms. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 33, 45–52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2015.05.001
3. Kalin N. H. (2020). The Critical Relationship Between Anxiety and Depression. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 177(5), 365–367. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2020.20030305
4. Sörqvist, P., & Marsh, J. E. (2015). How Concentration Shields Against Distraction. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(4), 267–272. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721415577356
5. Christoff, K., Gordon, A. M., Smallwood, J., Smith, R. and Schooler, J. W. (2009). Experience Sampling During fMRI Reveals Default Network and Executive System Contributions to Mind Wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(21): 8719–24.
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