By Sherianna Boyle
Emotional toxicity can show up in places where fear, insecurity and helplessness are running high. I myself have encountered it at staff trainings, family gatherings and even at an occasional school PTA meeting. I have also experienced it in grocery store parking lots and while driving around town. Think of emotional toxicity as similar to stepping in mud, only rather than dirt you pick up the energy of negative emotions. Before you know it you start to feel a bit stuck in the mud of emotional contagion which to you and I feels like you are carrying the weight of others.
Shaking off these experiences can be a bit of a hassle. The key is awareness. First you have to be aware that you have actually picked up negative energy. To do this, pay attention to what is happening both inside and outside of you. For example, notice if you are having difficulty concentrating. Do you find yourself replaying the negative thoughts or experiences you encountered that day? Also, notice if you are a bit more reactive to normal daily stressors such as standing in line or handling issues with your children.
The idea is to develop the skill of observing yourself early on. This will be in your favor when you choose to shake it off later. The reality is, no matter who or what you were exposed to, if you are experiencing it, it is yours. Blaming and venting about others will only disempower the process. The tips below will empower you through.
- Watch Your Judgments. Have you ever heard the phrase "You get what you expect?" Notice if you are expecting hassles, conflict or disrespect. It is our judgments which intensify our experiences. When you notice yourself judging, turn the thought into an image in your mind. For example, if you find you are judging someone else's opinion or attitude visualize the beach or a sunset in your mind while breathing.
- Reduce Stimulation. Emotional toxicity can be over stimulating to your nervous system as your body may interpret what is happening as a potential threat. In many ways, your body is attempting to reclaim its balance. You can support yourself back to homeostasis by shutting off fluorescent lights, removing all electronics (even your phone) and taking a couple minutes to breathe in (abdominal rises on inhale) and out (abdominals deflate on exhale) of your nose.
- Do Something Different. Emotional toxicity can be a sign that your brain and body are revisiting an old experience or emotion. It feels overwhelming because it may be actually striking old wounds. Doing something different like taking a shower at night or driving a different route home can be enough to shift your brain in a new direction. It forces you to be in the present moment where these experiences can be more easily released.
- Visualize. When I get slammed with heavy energy I like to visualize myself doing something fun like skiing, swimming or running around on the beach.
- Distribute Your Energy. Emotional toxicity is a sign that your energy is stagnant. Circulating your energy through physical movement (e.g. inhaling your arms up overhead, and exhaling them down by your side) while breathing in and out through your nose will do the trick. After moving your body for a minute or so than take a moment to sit up tall and notice the sensations on your skin. Relax your face and jaw as you do this. This is energy moving. This is emotional toxicity transforming from heavy to light energy which can flow more freely. As a result, you feel more capable, confident and strong.
Finally, consider not waiting until you encounter a rough patch. These practices can be strengthened by implementing them daily. Not only will you build resiliency but also the ability to shake things off more easily.
Sherianna Boyle is an adjunct psychology professor and author of five books her most recent being The Four Gifts of Anxiety and Choosing Love. Her resources and services can be found at www.sheriannaboyle.com. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.