I was recently at a buddy’s cottage and had the pleasure of meeting some of his friends, one of which was a first responder. As we all sat together, I listened to him explain the ongoing struggles he’d been experiencing, as a result of the emotional and physical demands of his job.
He spoke of his inability to get a good night’s sleep, and of the excessive drinking that often followed. What blew me away was when he said, “I just gotta make it through another six years so I can retire on a beach and forget about all my problems”.
Have you ever had that same belief, that if you were simply on a beach that all your problems would go away?
It was at this point that we got a little deeper into the conversation and discussed how regardless of where you are physically, many times you will still struggle with the same thoughts mentally and emotionally. Your problems will follow you, unless you refrain from burying them and, instead, manage them in a healthy way.
Managing Your Emotions in a Healthy Way
The more we spoke, the easier it became to recognize his belief system. Like I’m sure we’ve all experienced at some point or another, turning a blind eye to our issues can often be much easier than having to address the root of the matter head-on. Processing emotions isn’t something that comes easily to everyone, and regardless of how well we do so today, improving how we manage our emotions (in a healthy way) will be a lifelong, valuable exercise.
In the instance of the first responder I was chatting with, managing his emotions is no doubt even more challenging, as the nature of his job includes repeated exposure to trauma and tragedy. Although this is not something most of us are exposed to every day, an ongoing cycle of compromised mental stability can and does trigger mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It also increases the likelihood of symptoms like sleep deprivation, and substance abuse, as mentioned earlier.
One of the first healthy ways I learned to process my emotions was through journaling. After being paralyzed in a motocross accident and learning how to walk again, I’m forever grateful to my friend who first purchased me blank notebooks, because as I began writing, I started to experience the deep healing power of getting my thoughts and emotions down on paper. I was able to mentally release what had been building up inside of me. It’s a safe space for you to do so since no one else needs to read your journal but you, and it was genuinely a case of, the more I wrote, the better I felt.
(To learn more about this, read my article on 3 Quick Tips To Journal Effectively)
Meditation, I later realized, was another amazing coping strategy that I incorporated into my life to help me manage and accept my emotions, especially following my post-Olympic crash, in 2014. One of the biggest lessons I often share with people who are new to meditation is that, although many believe that the goal is to have no thoughts, the true goal is to simply be okay with your thoughts. Apps like Headspace were especially helpful for me as I explored this journey; click here for a FREE 30-day trial on me!
(You may also like 5 Tips to be Mindful Over The Holidays)
Understanding and Processing Your Emotions
A third powerful way I learned to understand and process my emotions was by learning to accept that negative thoughts exist. Sounds simple enough, right? But, it took time and effort for me to finally release the need to “grab hold of them.” My coach, David Neagle, was instrumental in helping me understand my conscious and subconscious mind a lot better.
Through his Elite Entrepreneurial Mind program, I learnt so much about how our subconscious mind is often ruled by how we feel emotionally, and once I truly understood how our brain worked, I was able to get a much better hold on how I think and feel, which ultimately helped me process my emotions constructively, and face my truth.
As I mentioned earlier, accepting your emotions, in an attempt to better understand and process them, is something that requires a lot of introspection, but more importantly, patience. To help get you started, I’d like to share 5 Key Strategies I’ve incorporated over time that have given me the courage to bring my emotions to light, and be consistent in my efforts to work through them.
5 Key Strategies
- Practice The 3 A’s
- Admit that you are struggling, and understand that it’s okay! Often we will be our biggest obstacle to overcome first. If we can admit to ourselves that we may be struggling, we are removing the first roadblock to getting help.
- Ask for help. No one knows you are struggling unless you say something. It’s important to reach out and ask for help. We are more alike than we are different, and once you speak up, you will find that others will say, “me too”.
- Accept the help. Once it’s in front of you, you need to put it into practice. Give something an honest effort before you dismiss it. Keep trying new solutions until you find what works for you. Take action today.
- Seek Professional Help
- Simone Biles’ and Michael Phelps’ did a lot to help move the needle forward for Olympians and Paralympian’s to seek mental health support. Prior to their stories coming out, I remember reaching out for help using Game Plan, Canada’s Total Athlete Wellness Program, in 2015, following the Paralympics (read about my experience here), and having my recovery process rapidly improve with weekly consultations with a psychiatrist. But for you, maybe it’s reaching out to HR for EAP or EFAP support. It could be your family doctor. Whatever that is for you, if professional help is within reach, take it.
- Try Multiple Solutions
- I’ve tried several paid professional programs, from my introductory experience at Landmark to Tony Robbins’ high-energy, transformational events, but no other solution has impacted me as much as The Hoffman Process. Bob Hoffman coined the term “Negative Love Syndrome,” and his program helped me identify the negative patterns and behaviors that were sabotaging so many areas in my life. As a result, I can genuinely say that I love myself for the first time in my life. While carelessly throwing money at professional programs isn’t advisable, researching and investing in one could change your life.
- Learn To Let Go
- Letting go is closely linked to acceptance, and when we accept and surrender to the truth of the matter at hand, we’re able to “let go” of what we can’t control, and instead make room for help, healing, and what’s actually within our control. Ask yourself today, “What do I need to let go of”?
(If you can relate to this, read this article on How To Let Go While Managing Change)
- Face Your Truth
- LeLand Val Van De Wall once said that “The degree to which a person can grow is directly proportional to the amount of truth he can accept about himself without running away”. Have you ever asked yourself how many times you run away from your truth? It may be scary to face it, but you are often the person standing between yourself and what you want. If you stand in your truth without running away, you may experience short-term pain, but put yourself in a position to find the answer(s) you are looking for.
Even though we know it will slowly chip away at us from the inside out, repressing our emotions is literally comparable to allowing a poison to wreak havoc in our bodies.
Whether you’re a first responder, a leader, a top performer, or simply someone who has developed a habit of burying your emotions, I challenge you to intentionally test out at least one of the key strategies above and begin to free yourself. As with any developmental procedure, the process of managing emotions will not be linear, but consistency will reap the most positive results.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.
Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-833-456-4566)
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (1 800 463-2338)
Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)
Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)
If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.
If you like this article, here are three more to help you succeed:
Download your FREE copy of my autobiography, Still Standing: When You Have Every Reason to Give Up, Keep Going here.