What Do You Do With Difficult Emotions?

Breaking free from anger, grief, and fear

by Mike Veny Patient Advocate

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with emotions? It might be that you feel so angry you can't see straight. Or that your grief is so overwhelming that you don't feel like you can go on. Or maybe it's that you feel so afraid that you can't seem to decide what to do next. I have been there, and I can’t stand it when people act as if I should just ignore my emotions. Like we should all have the ability to just shut off our feelings and live like robots. It just doesn't work like that. Or, at least it never has for me.

When you try to ignore your emotions or just shut them off, they continue to fester and build deep within you. If there's one thing that I've learned over the years, it's that problems ignored don't just go away.

The Phone Call That Directed Me on a New Path

There have been many points in my life where my emotions were getting the better of me even though I might not have acknowledged it to myself. In the Spring of 2018, I received a call from my friend Carmela, a gifted intuitive who knew that I was having a mental breakdown. She called to check on me and, out of love, confront me. Carmela could see where I was headed and knew that I was in pain.

Attending Jon’s retreat was one of the most life-changing experiences that I've ever had, especially regarding my mental health.

During the call with Carmela, I defended my case. I told her I was going to therapy, sometimes twice a week. I was journaling and meditating and exercising. In my head, I definitely felt like I was doing my part, but I knew deep down inside that the pain I was experiencing needed more intense treatment. She didn't just accept my defense and leave it at that. Instead, she insisted that I find some kind of retreat to attend that would help me process these emotions. She could see that I couldn't do it alone. I needed the help of a group over several days to begin healing.

It was the concern that I could hear in her voice that made me take action. We had been friends for 20 years and she was worried about me. I needed something to help me manage difficult emotions and fast. So, I did what we all do when we need information … I turned to Google. I started searching for anger management retreats, depression retreats, and so on.

Eventually I came upon Jon Terrell's retreats for difficult emotions. With a sense of urgency, I reluctantly sent in my deposit and went to the retreat. My hesitation came from a fear thinking about my life without these difficult emotions. It’s all that I’ve ever known.

Jon’s Retreat: What I Learned About Handling Emotions

Attending Jon’s retreat was one of the most life-changing experiences that I've ever had, especially regarding my mental health. I left his retreat feeling forgiveness for the first time in my life and with a new hope towards happiness. The resentment that I had prior to attending the retreat disappeared and I felt physically lighter.

This retreat made such an impact on my life that I want to share with you what I learned. If you are struggling with difficult emotions, I want you to experience the life-changing impact that I experienced. I want you to be free from the negative effects of anger, grief, and fear. While it's impossible for me to share the entire experience that I had with you I want to talk about what I learned.

Jon taught me that our society just doesn't know how to deal with difficult emotions. That's one of the reasons that they take over our lives when we experience them intensely. He also reminded me that emotions manifest in the physical body. If this is an idea that is new to you, it's one that's important to learn. Here are a few examples:

  • Grief often manifests in the throat and belly

  • Anger manifests in the neck, shoulder, and back

  • Fear manifests in the nervous system

He informed me that this starts at a very young age. It's something that happens when we aren't conscious of it, which led me to ask him, "What's one tip you can give someone who is struggling with difficult emotions?" I loved his response. He said, "People will be people in life. They say things and do things that we will interpret as hurtful. We just have to take ownership of our own feelings. Once we do, the path toward healing begins."

On Taking Responsibility for My Feelings

Here's what that looks like:

I have experienced trauma in my life. Like most people, I've had several traumatic experiences. In my mind, I'm blaming some person for that trauma, which I regularly do. Let's face it, people will be people. If I'm taking responsibility for my emotions there will be a point that I get to where I say to myself, "They did what they did and it sucked. But, everything else is on me at this point."

Because the truth is, it's not about them. It's about me. So, it's really important that I learn how to improve my awareness of my feelings. The consistent effort that I make will empower me to recognize and take control of my emotions, so much so that it becomes an automated process. Like anything else in life, if you work on it, then it can become a good habit. This leads to "emotional sobriety" - the ability to show up for your feelings regardless of how intense they are.

The Results: Expressing Painful Emotions

Since attending that retreat I have been able to start engaging in activities that allow me to express painful emotions. For instance, I use a tennis racket on my mattress when I am upset. I end up whacking the mattress intensely and it doesn't make much of a sound. It allows me to express my anger without taking it out on or interrupting anyone else's day.

I have also started practicing yoga. I'll be honest, it wasn't my favorite thing to do when I started. But it has allowed me to be more flexible and feel the tension that has manifested in the different parts of my body. The type of yoga I do is called "restorative yoga," and it has truly begun to restore me.

These are just a few of the things to think about as small steps you can take for processing life's difficult emotions. I wish that I could tell you
that life was just going to be a piece of cake and everything would be easy, but it's just not true. As Jon reminded me, "People will be people." While situations might not always go like you want them to, it doesn't mean that your emotions have to get the best of you. Learn to recognize them, acknowledge them, and then find appropriate ways to process them.

Mike Veny
Meet Our Writer
Mike Veny

Mental health speaker and best-selling author Mike Veny delivers engaging presentations with raw energy and a fresh perspective on diversity and inclusion. He shares how he went from struggling with mental health challenges to being a thought leader that travels the globe telling his story to help transform stigma. He is a highly sought-after keynote speaker, corporate drumming event facilitator, author, and luggage enthusiast. Seriously, you’d completely get it if you did all the traveling he did! Mike is the author of the book Transforming Stigma: How to Become a Mental Wellness Superhero. As a 2017 PM360 ELITE Award Winner, he is recognized as one of the 100 most influential people in the healthcare industry for his work as a patient advocate.