3 Steps to Detox Your Emotions
Emotional detox is not to rid your body of what you may consider negative emotions, but rather to clear out the ones that have stagnated.
Emotions are one of life’s gifts; they offer us a way to experience the full spectrum of what it means to be alive. When we have a healthy relationship to our emotional experience, we can appreciate what each has to offer, from sadness to joy. If you find yourself overreacting to situations or withdrawing, you may want to consider an emotional cleanse.
You don’t have to look far to find directions for a cleanse. Generally these are based on cleansing the body: eating clean, taking herbs for digestion, sweating, and drinking lots of water. An emotional cleanse includes many of the same principles, with some important additional steps. Sherianna Boyle, a psychology professor and author, offers a detailed path in her new book Emotional Detox.
The idea behind an emotional detox, according to Boyle, is not to rid your body of what you may consider negative emotions, but rather to clear out the ones that have stagnated and gotten stuck, leaving you free to be able to process and experience all of your emotions in a healthy way. Just as a physical cleanse can help you digest food better, an emotional cleanse can help you digest your emotional experiences. Emotions can get stuck due to trauma, unhealthy attachments, or resistance to certain emotions—usually because we don’t have the tools to handle them. Boyle writes, “Interestingly, as a we digest our whole emotions, our ability to empathize with others without moving into reactivity improves.”
Boyle suggests preparing for an emotional cleanse by supporting your physical body. Things like daily movement, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, eating clean, and limiting alcohol and caffeine are offered as important steps. Once you have done the preparation, Boyle offers a multi-step process that includes these three components:
- Clear. This is about making space so that we can more clearly work with our emotions. An important part of this step is to notice what triggers you, and where you become especially reactive in your life. Once you notice what sets off your sympathetic nervous system, (that fight or flight sensation), you can begin to find ways to calm yourself down. Boyle suggests stimulating your vagus nerve through exercise, yoga, prayer, hugging, or laughter.
- Look Inward. Boyle describes the difference between self-reflection and self-awareness in this step, with self-reflection being a mental process, and self-awareness being a sensory process. She describes a space between the two as an important place to be aware of. “The looking inward process,” she writes, “is about bridging the gap, standing up to your inner bully (ego), and letting yourself feel the quiver while allowing yourself to receive the blessing of your raw emotions.” The way to create a bridge between the two is to create a healthy dialogue with your body, noticing the sensations of your body as feedback to respectful self-inquiry.
- Emit. This step is about creating a relationship with the present moment, releasing fear, and creating internal boundaries. Boyle writes, “The emission process is not about getting rid of reactivity but instead transforming it into something new.” She offers the sound “hum” released in a long, slow sound as a way to let go of reactive sensations and create “a sense of safety, stability, and strength.”
Boyle writes that “emotional detoxes are enhanced by increasing access to emotions.” The key here is to be open to them. She insists that when you lower your levels of reactivity to emotions and experiences, you will be more willing to experience the depths of your emotions, which will allow you to have an authentic experience of your life, and a deeper connection with the people in it.