What Your Emotions Are Trying to Tell You

Life Balance

Maud Purcell, Coach & Corporate Consultant

By Maud Purcell

Were you taught as a child to hold back your tears or suppress your emotions? Far too many of us were, when in fact, these “emotional symptoms” are there to get our attention. They let us know that there’s an issue or problem to which we should attend. According to M. Scott Peck, author of the best-selling The Road Less Traveled, most of life’s big problems are the result of a series of unresolved smaller issues that we fail to acknowledge and address.

I recently had the pleasure of lunch with my favorite New Yorker, our 28-year-old daughter.  She shared with me that she was “off kilter,” that she was feeling irritable, overwhelmed and down.  Because she generally rolls pretty well with the ups and downs of life, I was caught off guard. I finally got a grip on my disastrous thinking (including that she would become a hoarder with 10 cats), and reminded myself that emotional “symptoms” usually don’t indicate anything serious or unfixable. They just require some attention.

Next time you feel blue, down-in-the dumps, unusually anxious, the desire to isolate or seek comfort in food, shopping, etc., here are four steps you can take to recognize and remedy what’s “eating you” emotionally:

1. Identify the cause of your emotions by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What has recently occurred that might be upsetting me -- e.g., problems in any of my key relationships, financial difficulties, the illness or death of a loved one or a pet, or work issues?
  • Is this the anniversary of the loss of someone or something important to me?
  • Am I unusually disorganized at home or at the office?
  • Have I changed my exercise, sleep or eating habits?
  • Is there something I’m actually angry about but haven’t yet addressed?

2. Once you’ve identified the cause, ask yourself if there’s a step you can take
now to minimize or alleviate the problem.  If so, take the time to make that step -- or schedule the time.

3. If you determine that your upset is due to a loss, allow yourself time to acknowledge and grieve the loss, knowing that grieving is a normal healing process.

4. Be proactive about your emotions.  Instead of waiting for the next time you feel “symptoms,” begin taking your daily “emotional temperature.”  At about the same time each day, ask yourself how you feel on a scale of 1-10, 1 being lousy and 10 being terrific.  Then think about what has occurred in the last 24 hours to bring you to where you are now.  If you do this daily, it will be easier to determine what is triggering your moods (and to do something about it).

Back to my daughter:  After talking it through, she realized that she had stopped writing on a regular basis. She is an aspiring writer, and she had given up her passion for some weeks because she thought she couldn’t fit it into her schedule!  Immediately she vowed to set aside ½ an hour each day for this purpose.  Her realization and subsequent decision immediately brightened her mood.  Although not all problems have such straightforward solutions, if caught early, most dilemmas do!

Maud Purcell, MSW, LCSW, CEAP, is a skilled and seasoned psychotherapist, as well as a trained Coach and Corporate Consultant. She is the owner of Maud Purcell & Associates Inc., and she writes a regular column for The Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, The Danbury Times and CT Post Newspapers.

More by Maud Purcell:

The 6 Hidden Blessings of Being Single

A Family Survival Guide for the Holidays

When Your Family Doesn't Cut It, Create a New One

Overwhelmed? Dump, Delegate & Deal

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  • All I can say is its easier said than done, but I'll try.I often find myself
    giving advice to friends, family and of course the younger generation. Since I'm often sought out for old school wisdom,I will assume that my opinion is respected. Fair? But I find myself in a
    real struggle when it comes to my own personal problems. I think its much easier looking in from the outside and being able to clearly see what needs to be done and how to approach the issue. But maybe an old dog can learn new tricks,all I can do is try. Thank You

    Posted by Wanda Switzer, 24 March 2010.