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The Art of Emotional Processing

Emotions can have a ripple effect, not only on us as individuals but also on the people we surround ourselves with. In the worst of times, emotions have the power to bring about intense feelings of worry, anger, or sadness that wash through our minds and flood our bodies with discomfort. They can leave us feeling lonely, out of control, or unable to enjoy the beautiful world outside of our minds.

Having the ability to regulate our emotions without feeling the need to suppress or control them can benefit our mood, how we relate to others, what decisions we make in life, and how we treat ourselves.

Read on as we explore the art of emotional processing and why it’s such an essential tool for improving our mental and physical health, relationships, and overall well-being.

What is Emotional Processing?

Emotional processing is a cognitive and psychological practice that is used to help us understand and regulate our emotions.

Unlike emotional expression, which is the behaviour we use to communicate our emotional state, emotional processing is all about learning to understand, make sense of, and effectively deal with emotions as they come. Though these skills take time to develop, intentional practice can transform the way we understand ourselves.

Emotional Processing for Beginners

Processing emotions can be a daunting task for anyone. Considering there is no class in school that guides us through emotional processing techniques, it can be difficult to navigate on our own.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn! It all starts with the “three A’s”: acknowledge, approach, and address. 

1. Acknowledge Emotions using Mindfulness

Before we can begin processing our emotions, we must be able to identify them.

According to experts, the point between perceiving and interpreting our emotions evokes the valuable skill of mindfulness. Rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, mindfulness helps us focus our attention on the current moment.

Though it may bring about some discomfort, sitting with these emotions, being mindful of how they’re affecting us, and acknowledging them without judgment can bring about greater emotional balance.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Tune into your body: mindfulness involves paying close attention to physical sensations. Take a moment to notice how your body feels in this moment. Are your shoulders tense? Is your chest tight? These can all be tied to your emotions.
  • Label the emotion: After becoming aware of your physical sensations, try to label the emotions you’re feeling in this moment (“I am feeling sad”, or “I am feeling anxious”).
  • Observe the emotion: Without judgment, try and observe your emotions with curiosity. Notice how your emotions feel, where your thoughts take you upon recognizing the emotion, and any bodily sensations that are tied to this emotion.

2. Approach Emotions with Compassion

Self-compassion is another key aspect of emotional processing. This 2019 study notes that the compassionate self has wisdom, kindness, courage, and confidence which are all influential in aligning us with our values. In other words, treating our own emotions with kindness and compassion rather than distance, suppression, or frustration can promote healthy recovery from maladaptive emotions.

Practicing self-compassion involves being kind and understanding towards ourselves, even when faced with difficult or unsettling emotions. Consider yourself like you would a friend. We would never criticize a friend for their emotions, but instead allow them to feel what they’re feeling, without judgment.

Another helpful strategy for approaching emotions with compassion is by using positive self-talk. Rather than telling yourself “I shouldn’t feel this way”, try saying “It’s okay to feel this way, and I am here to listen to myself”.

3. Address Emotions with Intention

Addressing our emotions intentionally involves both a deliberate and conscious effort to manage our emotional experiences in a healthy and productive way.

Start by asking yourself “why am I feeling this way?” or “what triggers caused this emotion to come up?”. The act of self-reflection can help bring emotional awareness into the present, allowing you to identify and work through these feelings more productively.

From here, it may be helpful to find healthy outlets that allow you release yourself from emotions and discover self-acceptance. Examples of this include talking to a friend, joining a support group, or seeking guidance through therapy.

Therapy for Emotional Processing and Regulation

Therapy is a valuable resource that benefits individuals who struggle to cope with or resolve their emotions, particularly when they have experienced a traumatic or stressful life event such as losing a loved one.

Emotional processing is an important factor that leads to successful psychotherapy. Oftentimes, individuals who suffer from unstable emotions tend to experience confusion, rumination, and stagnation.

Here are three beneficial techniques used in psychotherapy to promote healthy emotional processing.

1.    Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT for short, is a popular psychotherapy method that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviours. CBT allows us to identify negative or irrational thought patterns that may contribute to emotional dysregulation.

In a CBT session, the therapist may introduce relaxation techniques or problem-solving activities that are meant to help clients challenge and replace negative emotions with more positive and realistic ones.

Who Benefits from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

CBT is particularly useful for people with unresolved feelings, as it can provide tools and strategies to help identify and challenge unhealthy thought patterns. Ultimately, this practice can lead to symptom reduction, anxiety relief, and more abundant positive emotions.

2.    Emotion-Focused Therapy

Emotion-focused therapy (EFT) is a common therapeutic technique that focuses on helping individuals identify, understand, and regulate emotions.

During an EFT session, the therapist will help the client identify and explore emotions without judgment using guided imagery, role-playing, and emotion-focused interventions. These techniques often incorporate elements of experiential therapy such as Gestalt and person-centered approaches, systemic therapy, attachment theory, and so on.

Who Benefits from Emotion-Focused Therapy

EFT techniques can be useful for anyone struggling with both emotions and other mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, as it can lead to acceptance and improved mood.

EFT is also useful in relationships, giving individuals the opportunity to gain insight into how their emotions are influenced by their interactions with others. Ultimately, EFT can boost empathy and understanding, which can improve the overall emotional well-being within a relationship.

3.    Art Therapy

Art therapy is a creative process of visual art-making used to promote healing and self-exploration. This technique uses imagery, colour, and shapes as a part of the therapy to describe thoughts and emotions that are otherwise challenging to articulate with words alone.

Oftentimes, this technique is used for emotional processing, allowing individuals to explore and express their emotions, feelings, and experiences in a safe, judgment-free space. Sessions take place with a licensed art therapist and may be supported in a group setting or one-on-one environment.

Who Benefits from Art Therapy

Art therapy can be especially helpful for individuals struggling to cope with emotions, including young children who can't verbalize their feelings.

This study exploring the role of emotional processing in art therapy (REPAT) for breast cancer patients found that this therapeutic approach helped significantly improve emotional awareness and acceptance of the diagnosis while also minimizing depressive symptoms.

Key Takeaways

The way we process emotions can play a significant role in our mental and physical health, relationships, and overall well-being. This cognitive and psychological practice involves learning to understand, make sense of, and effectively deal with emotions as they come.

Processing emotions can be achieved in many different ways, as emotional difficulties can manifest as both psychological and physical symptoms. There are several therapeutic methods that can help promote emotional balance and promote healthy recovery from maladaptive emotions.

When you’re ready, we are here to chat. Click here to book a free 30-minute consultation with one of our licensed therapists at On Your Mind Counselling.

Written by the OYMC Team

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