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What is an emotional detox and why is it important to our overall health?
The word ‘Detox‘ often refers to “a process or period of time in which one abstains from or rids the body of toxic or unhealthy substances.” Upon hearing the word we tend to jump to the usual suspects of drugs, alcohol, caffeine or nicotine. We may even assume it relates to the latest ‘dieting’ fad but rarely do we think of our emotions and mental health in need of detoxification.
An emotional detox refers to a mindful practice wherein we take the time to process unresolved emotions, thoughts, and trauma that have been left to go stale.
Much like food which has been left to rot, our long overdue traumas and emotions can make us very ill. But instead of chucking it all in the bin and starting over, emotional detoxing encourages us to properly and fully work with that which is causing us harm. We’re aiming to work through our troubles rather than shoving them to the side and labeling them as ‘do not open. Ever.’
How do I know if I need an emotional detox?
Are you afraid to say the word ‘no’? Maybe you’re constantly trying to fix other people’s problems? Do you often put the needs of others before your own? And, finally, are you a chronic overthinker who loses sleep over the smallest of things?
If you answered yes to any or all of the above then you’ll benefit greatly from an emotional detox. There are various mental and physical symptoms to consider when thinking about emotional detox. You don’t have to wait until you experience any of these to start your detox, instead, you should act quickly and often in order to avoid a build-up of negative emotions and trauma.
Watch out for the following:
Often considered a sign of heightened stress levels (or the need for an eye appointment), frequent and uncomfortable headaches are a sure sign that you may need to emotionally detox. It goes hand in hand with reducing the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the blood which can trigger a variety of adverse reactions in the body.
If the headaches escalate to migraine level things can become debilitating, and you might find yourself on the couch or in a dark room for a number of days.
Do you often get colds and flus? Or maybe you suffer from constant stomach aches and cramps? Illness of any kind can be an indication that you need to slow down, listen to yourself and possibly detox from your emotional traumas. The odd niggle or stuffy nose here and there is normal, but if you’re getting sick every time you take a break from work or more often than the average person, then it might be time to dig deeper.
Of course, it’s important to remember that illness can be a sign of many other issues. Our bodies react adversely to any major trauma and changes, so always get checked out if you’re concerned. Otherwise, an emotional detox won’t do you any harm!
Unexplained and frequent pain
As discussed please be aware that unexplained and frequent pain could be a sign of something much more sinister. If in doubt, get checked out! This could include anything from joint pain to the aforementioned headache.
Poor gut health
The gut is notoriously known as the second brain. We tend to hold a lot of our stress, trauma and tension within this area, and it’s extremely sensitive to change. Some people are more sensitive than others, and you could find that your stomach tightens with the slightest hint of anxiety.
Even when experiencing no other symptoms I would deem ‘gut health’ worthy of treatment all by itself. At the first signs of gut changes, I ask myself to slow down and re-evaluate things lest I repeat the last ten years of a painfully unhealthy GI tract.
If you begin to experience unexplained cramps, changes in bowel habits, sensitivity to foods you were otherwise fine with or anything else untoward, I strongly advise speaking to your GP. If nothing else is out of the ordinary then an emotional detox should be the first thing on your list (along with hot water bottles and various herbal teas).
Trouble getting to and staying asleep
Being unable to get adequate sleep is not only a sign of night-time anxiety but negatively impacts our mental and physical health. So, the less sleep we get the more troubled we feel, and the more troubled we feel, the less sleep we get. It’s a vicious cycle resulting in chronic sleep deprivation which in itself can be a very dangerous thing.
Sleep is essential. Without it, you’ll not only suffer from a variety of mental and physical impacts, but you may even die.
While we sleep our body recovers from physical and mental strain. We go into a hyper relaxed state where our tendons, neurons, brain cells (etc) can all repair themselves in peace. So, it’s easy to see why it’s so important to our overall well being.
Persistent trouble getting to sleep, like many things, indicates a problem either mentally or physically. It could be a case of making your bedroom sleep-friendly or simply shutting off from electronics a few hours before sleeping. Even bedtime meditation or yoga could do the trick! If you’re a frequent worrier, try keeping a journal where you can write down all your nagging thoughts before bed? Work through the worry, ask yourself why you’re feeling like that, is it justified, is it rational and leave it in the book for another day.
It’s important to acknowledge that there may come a time when you need pills, in which case ONLY to use them under the guidance of your medical professional. Never use illegally sourced sleeping medication as this could have fatal consequences. **
Fluctuation in weight over a short period of time can be an indication of a problem either physically or mentally. You could have a suppressed appetite due to overwhelm, likewise you could also be eating more, both of which lead to weight changes. While many people admit to overeating due to anxiety and stress, there are others who find themselves unable to eat due to discomfort or lack of appetite. It’s important to spot the signs and take action to combat them.
If you’re stressed or dealing with unresolved emotional issues, take action to recognize and process accordingly. Don’t allow it to continue to fester and, most importantly, take back control over your eating habits. Your weight may never be 100% controllable, and rightfully so, but it goes without saying that a healthy body makes it easier to maintain our mental health.
If you’ve suffered from an eating disorder in the past or if you’re in recovery, it’s important to speak to your GP as soon as possible to avoid complete relapse. I would argue and say this is more pressing than attempting an emotional detox. Instead, get professional help first and work on detoxing later.
There are also a variety of mental and behavioural signs that you’re in need of an emotional detox, including:
- Easily distracted and unable to maintain focus.
- Unable to retain information, accompanied by a poor short term memory.
- Deep feelings of anxiety. Constantly worrying about everything no matter how small.
- Frequently ignoring your gut feelings, or any difficult feelings in general.
- Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope on a daily basis.
- Substance abuse and addiction.
- Self-doubt, so much so that it hinders you from moving forward.
- Feeling stuck and out of balance.
- Chronic self-comparison which often leaves you feeling disheartened.
- Unable to trust your own instincts and easily swayed by others
- Breakdown of or poor personal relationships.
How to Emotionally Detox
There are so many ways we can go about an emotional detox and, like many things, there is no one size fits all approach. It’s about finding what works, and I mean really works, for you. Google ‘How to do an emotional detox’ and you’ll come up with a variety of ways to get started. I’m going to discuss some techniques that have worked for me in the past and I strongly encourage you to find what works and create your own tailored approach.
- Do Yoga (and maybe try some meditation).
- Write or outwardly express your feelings in some way.
- Practice affirmations and gratitude.
- Step away from the screen!
- Stop running from your feelings! Welcome them like guests, chat with them for a bit and then send them gently on their way.
- Mind your gut.
- Be aware of your stress levels and work on daily self-care to help reduce these.
There are many other ways you can take part in an emotional detox and, really, it’s a personal preference. What works for me may not work for you. Take time to get to know yourself and what makes you feel better in times of high stress.
And if something doesn’t work for you the first time around, remember that a lot of self-care skills require continued use in order to reap the full benefits.
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