This week, I’m sharing simple yet powerful tips & techniques that will help you navigate difficult times, by allowing yourself to feel and process your emotions, instead of suppressing them.
These holistic strategies will help improve your mood, release emotional weight that is weighing you down, and ultimately, pull you out of that feeling of being stuck.
Founder of Healthy By Marlowe
Maria Marlowe is the Founder of Healthy by Marlowe, an online destination for science-backed, doctor-approved online nutrition + cooking courses and meal plans that make healthy eating fun and easy. She is the author of The Real Food Grocery Guide, dubbed "the most practical guide to healthy eating" by renowned physician Dr. Dean Ornish, and host of the 5-star rated Happier & Healthier Podcast.
Maria Marlowe: [00:00:29] Today’s episode is a solo cast on how to stay positive when everything feels like it’s falling apart. I was called to do this episode. As I know, it’s quite a challenging time. Now we’re definitely living in unprecedented times and there is this extra layer of fear and sorrow and doubt in the air. But the truth is covered or not, many of us find things to be fearful of and stressed out about any time of the year. And I used to think that positive people were born that way. But after spending time with some of these people, I realized that they work really, really hard to be so positive.
Maria Marlowe: [00:01:23] Humans are not wired to be perpetually optimistic. And in fact, we’re wired to worry and think about the negative because that’s what keeps us safe and away from danger when we’re constantly stuck in fear, self-doubt and worry. We feel like we’re stuck in the mud or stuck in quicksand we become unmotivated. We stop taking action and we start beating ourselves up more for every little perceived infraction. Now, I’ve been there and it’s not fun. So with this episode, I hope to give you some ideas and tools that will help pull you out of the quicksand of negativity and sadness. Personally, I had hit a point many years ago where I wasn’t sure if I had the capability of being a positive person because I felt like all I did was be negative and focus on the negative. And it was just so unbecoming that even I didn’t want to be friends with myself. I was feeling really sorry for myself. All of my misfortune and the bad hand that I had been dealt. Not realizing that it was my choice of how I reacted. Truly positive content happy people are not those who have never had misfortune or never had negative experiences. They’re also not people who never experience pain, fear or sadness or anger. They’re simply people who have learned to feel and process those emotions, then release them and choose positivity anyway. To keep it together actually harms us because those emotions and feelings get repressed and they fester inside of our body, causing not just emotional pain but physical pain, too. When we cry, we release stress hormones through our tears like cortisol, which is part of the reason it feels so good after a cry. If we don’t release these stress hormones, they start building up in our body.
Maria Marlowe: [00:03:42] And we know that elevated cortisol levels are associated with high blood pressure, irritability, weight gain and increased risk of infections. Additionally, stress and repressed emotions also manifest as physical pain in our body. If you have chronic pain, for example, chronic back pain, then I highly recommend you go back and listen to Episode 52 of the podcast with Anela Lineham called Release Physical Pain by releasing emotional pain. It’s fascinating. You’ll also be interested in the work of the late Dr. John Sarno. Dr. John Sarno was a back pain specialist at NYU who realized that 80 percent of his patients could completely heal their back pain by dealing with repressed emotions. Sarno believed that our brain uses pain to distract us from experiencing negative emotions, while traditionally back pain is thought of as a mechanical problem. For example, a bulging disc, he argued the pain was actually the result of a psychosomatic process and emotional factors.
Maria Marlowe: [00:05:02] More specifically, he believed that the brain distracts us from experiencing negative emotions by creating pain. We may not want to acknowledge the uncomfortable feelings that we’re angry with our spouse or that we hate our job. So instead of thinking these negative and uncomfortable thoughts, we focus on the pain. He also thought that the pain was created by reduced oxygen and blood flow to the muscles and nerves of the body. So our brains unconsciously direct blood away from certain areas of our body, and that creates pain. He instructed many of his patients to journal or to seek out psychotherapy to gain a better understanding of the emotions that they were repressing. That was generating their chronic back pain. And he has thousands of patients and readers of his books who will vouch for the healing effects of dealing with repressed emotions and how it can powerfully eliminate physical pain.
Maria Marlowe: [00:06:08] I first learned of Dr. Sarno through a friend who was raving about his book and how he was able to completely heal his chronic back pain by following the principles of this book. And so later on, I when I experienced back pain, I remembered back to Dr. John Sarno and his book, and I realized that even though I experienced back pain after a physical event. So, for example, working out at the gym and I thought I turned the wrong way or this one time I was carrying a really heavy bag on my shoulder and wearing heels and I tripped and did some weird, weird move. And after that, my backwards outward days, it was so painful. So even though there were there was a physical action that seemed to set off the the back pain, I realized that before that physical trip or twist, there was a highly emotionally taxing and upsetting, stressful event.
Maria Marlowe: [00:07:17] So one example where this was just as clear as day for me that my pain was associated with an emotion was a few years ago. My now husband, then fiancé and I were staying in a hotel and we got into a huge, huge fight. I was so mad at him and I decided to let off some steam by going to the gym. So I went downstairs to the gym and I started a workout that I have done for years the same workout and never had an issue. But within five minutes of doing this workout, I pull something in my back. It was excruciatingly painful and I could not turn or twist my body. So I couldn’t finish the workout. I literally could not move. So I had to carefully pick myself up off the floor and go back upstairs and and just and just deal with it. So I called a physical therapist and I went for, I think two sessions like two days in a row and did some physical stretching and things like thought to try and fix it and massage. And it helped slightly, maybe five or ten percent. But the pain was still there.
Maria Marlowe: [00:08:34] And it wasn’t until we solved the problem.I finally stopped ignoring him and being passive aggressive. And I you know, we talked through that problem and issue and forgave each other, and that’s when the back pain actually went away. So for me to experience thought it was really evidence in me that it was my emotions that were causing this physical pain. So I share that with you just in case anyone listening is experiencing any physical pain. That is a great wakeup call, a great S.O.S symptom. I like to call it from the body that there may be some issues, some emotion, something that you’re trying to not think about, but that your body is telling you, you know, you have to deal with this.
Maria Marlowe: [00:09:24] So how do you deal with these emotions and how do you work through them, especially if they’ve been repressed for a really long time? So in this episode, I’m going to share with you a few things, a four or five things that I think are really beneficial, that have been beneficial for me and even shown to help reduce the feelings of depression and sadness and negativity, to boost your mood, to help you process emotions and to help you look at the brighter side of things, even when it feels like everything in your world is crumbling down. So since we’re on the topic of dealing with repressed emotions, I want to start talking about breath work. And if you listen to this podcast. You know, I talk about breathing techniques pretty often. And typically when we talk about it on this show, we’re talking about slow, deep, long breaths which have been shown to calm our. Nervous system down. So these techniques are great in the moment when you’re dealing with a stressful event. They can help calm you down and help you think more clearly.
Maria Marlowe: [00:10:33] Now, more recently, I’ve become interested in a different type of breathwork that was introduced to me by Erinn Telford, who I have had on the podcast. It’s episode 76 called Healing Yourself Through Breathwork. I believe something like that. And this type of breath work that Erin teaches is a complete opposite. So it’s not slow, long breaths. It’s actually a more intense, invigorating, specific type of breath. Most people start crying, start sobbing because this type of breathing brings up these old repressed emotions and somehow helps you release them. So during this guided breathwork, she’s not telling you to think about traumatic events or past problems or issues or anything like that. You’re just focusing on the breath. But by breathing in this specific pattern, it somehow unleashes all of these emotions. So most people end up sobbing.
Maria Marlowe: [00:11:34] By the end of this, by the end of the breath work, which is about 40 minutes long, and as we talked about earlier, after a good cry, you feel so, so good because you’ve released all this pent up stress and all these pent up emotions that were trapped inside. And after doing just one session of the breathwork, you feel different. You feel lighter in a way. And every time you do it, it peels back another layer. And it really just has these profound effects which you will start to see days and even weeks later, that your seeing things in a different light, that you’re reacting to things in a different way and even that you’re gentler to yourself. One thing that I noticed from doing the breathwork is that I was more gentle with myself and also more gentle with others. So it’s a really fascinating technique that I highly recommend, especially if you feel like you have some negative emotions lingering inside or some some things that you just haven’t fully processed or dealt with. Breathwork can be a great way to to deal and process those emotions.
Maria Marlowe: [00:12:54] Another technique that’s really beneficial in maintaining a sense of positivity is developing a daily gratitude practice. This doesn’t have to take long. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you just have to do it. And a daily gratitude practice can be as simple as every morning when you wake up. You take one minute to minute, three minutes, maybe five minutes to think about all of the things that you’re grateful for. And by doing this, your training your brain to look for the positive instead of the negative. And imagine if you start your day with all of these feelings of happiness and positivity that helps carry throughout the day. You could also have a gratitude practice in which you write down all of the things that you’re grateful for. So that’s another great way to do it. Any way you choose to do it is fine. Just make sure that you’re doing it and you’re constantly reminding yourself of all that’s good in your life. And there’s always good and positive things to look for. No matter how bleak things may be, the fact that you’re waking up, the fact that you have air in your lungs, the fact that you have a shelter, the fact that you can run and dance and sing and have legs and have lungs and have have all of these body parts. These are things to be grateful for. There’s always something to be grateful for. So developing a gratitude practice is something really simple and easy to implement in your life that can have a profound impact on boosting your mood and keeping you in that positivity mindset.
Maria Marlowe: [00:14:33] When we’re talking about positivity, I can’t not mention food and diet because believe it or not, our diet has a huge role in our mood and our happiness even and even our depression. So research shows that depression in many cases is associated with specific nutrient deficiencies. And there are a number of different deficiencies that have been associated with depression. So, for example, Omega three, magnesium, the B complex vitamins, iron, amino acids or protein and vitamin D. So if you’re feeling chronically low, and especially if you can’t put your finger on why you’re feeling chronically low, a great place to start is with your diet. Take a look at your diet. You can, of course, go to the doctors and get your nutrient levels tested. So you have some proof on paper that may help you stick with healthier eating habits. But in the meantime, you could even look to start improving your diet right away. So, for example, reducing or eliminating sugar and processed refined foods because these foods promote inflammation and we don’t want inflammation and we definitely don’t want an inflamed brain. We also know that sugar can cause mood swings. It kind of puts us on a rollercoaster of ups and downs, highs and lows throughout the day. And it can make us more moody. So we want to avoid that. We also want to add in more of the foods that are going to give us the nutrients that we need.
Maria Marlowe: [00:16:05] Dark leafy greens, for example, are an excellent source of magnesium. And many people are deficient in magnesium. And that’s also probably because not just because people aren’t eating enough of it, but also because so many of the things that we are consuming depletes it. So, for example, alcohol, salts, coffee, sugar, phosphoric acid, which is found in carbonated beverages. Chronic stress, antibiotics, all of these things can deplete our magnesium levels. So it’s really important that we’re eating dark leafy greens every single day, maybe even at two meals, maybe even three meals, and really making sure that we’re getting in a sufficient serving daily. We also want to make sure we’re getting enough omega three. This is another really common deficiency because omega 3s are not found in abundance in a wide variety of foods. They’re mostly found in seeds like chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds. Also walnuts. And they’re also found in fatty fish like wild salmon. So it’s really important you’re getting enough omega 3s and also vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. Most of us spend a majority of our life indoors. And when we are outdoors we’re covered in sunscreen, but when we expose our skin to the sun, that’s how we produce vitamin D. Most experts suggest about 10 to 15 minutes a day of sunshine. More than that, you probably want to put the sunscreen on. And if you are severely deficient and vitamin D, you are probably going to want to supplement.So just speak with your doctor and they’ll be able to recommend the right amount for you.
Maria Marlowe: [00:17:45] Meditation is another technique that can help you focus on the positive instead of dwelling on the negative. There’s a great book by one of my earlier podcast guests, Emily Fletcher, called Stress Less, Accomplish More. And this is the book that has really helped me develop a consistent meditation practice. And from meditating consistently, I automatically feel more calm, more centered, less reactive. And as she talks about in the book, when we meditate, even for just a short period of time, she recommends 15 minutes twice a day. Although honestly, I only do it once a day. She she talks about how we’re giving our body and our brain time to rest in time to repair. And the result of this is that we feel more rested. Our brain is more sharp. Our brain is more calm. And we’re able to deal and process with past its past stresses as a result of all of this. We also become more productive. And as I talked about earlier, when we’re in this negativity vortex, we become inactive. We stop taking action. We get frozen. Right. So by meditating, you’re freeing up some of that stuff that is stopping you and holding you back. Those spots that are keeping you small and keeping you from taking action. So you’re able to process those. And then on the other side, you’re able to get back to taking action and moving forward in your life.
Maria Marlowe: [00:19:22] Another thing that could be helpful is to stop giving other people’s perceptions and judgments power over your emotions. There’s a book written by neuroscientist Rick Hanson called Buddha’s Brain. And in it, he says, your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. When you lose a client, when investors don’t come calling or when you face other daily disappointments of life, you’re wired to forget all the good things and instead obsess over the negative. When we were worried about fleeing from tigers, this was a very important and helpful mechanism. But now that our stressors are of a different variety, there are things like bills, bosses and boyfriends that are not immediately life threatening. This mechanism can get in our way a little bit when we experience negative emotions. Our brain narrows our focus to just focus on that negative thing. And we stop looking at the bigger picture. We stop looking for other choices, other scenarios, other viable options. And that’s how we get into a little bit of a ruts with this myopic focus.
Maria Marlowe: [00:20:43] So it’s really important to figure out how to stop letting outside criticism, outside stressors, outside people’s opinions mess with your emotions. There’s a wonderful book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz that could be really helpful in this department. And finally, if you’re really struggling, even if you’re not really struggling, even if you only think you’re mine early struggling. Reach out for help. That’s what it’s there for. Whether that’s just a friend or family member you can confide in or that means going to a professional, looking for a holistic psychiatrist or holistic psychologist, that could be extremely beneficial. So on this podcast, I’ve had a number of experts in these fields. I’ve had Dr. Ellen Vora, Dr. Kelly Brogan, Ellie Cobb. So you can look back through some of my earlier podcast episodes with these experts as a great start. But then do your research and find someone that you can reach out to and that you can work with. I know a few of these doctors have group programs as well. You can do individual one on one coaching with them. And don’t be don’t be ashamed or don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
Maria Marlowe: [00:22:10] The last anecdote I want to share before I close out this episode is that I honestly feel that I am now a positive person. You know, I mentioned earlier, I don’t I didn’t think that I could ever be that person, but I realized that I could. And what got me there was a mix of all of these tips and techniques that I’ve shared with you. No matter what you’re feeling right now, if you’re in a bad place, if you’re feeling down, if you’re feeling low, know that you can get out of it, know that you can become that positive person, the person that you wish you could be. You can become that person. All you need to start is the desire and take one step at a time. Don’t do everything at once. You don’t have to do everything at once. Take baby steps. Maybe that means just cleaning up your diet first and foremost. Then later on, try adding in meditation. Maybe try a breath work session. Reach out to a holistic psychiatrist or psychologist. Take whatever step resonates the most with you right now. And all you need to do is take one step and then the rest of the steps will get easier and easier.