Have you ever had an injury to one of your joints? Let's say you have a knee injury, and your knee swells up. You may have a hard time walking up and down the steps because your knee doesn't bend as it should; you're not as agile or as flexible. Another example of physical inflammation could be a time when you ate a lot of salty food, and the next day you feel it in your hands and feet. Physical inflammation keeps us from doing things we usually do, makes us inflexible, and is the root cause of many chronic diseases.
Emotional inflammation is similar in that we are unable to be emotionally agile or move from a negative emotion to the positive. As an example, if you see a group of friends walking down the street together laughing, instead of feeling joy, you might think dark thoughts about them spreading COVID 19 to each other. If you are at the ocean, and instead of feeling the pleasure of being in nature, you feel dread due to the threat of climate change and the rising seas, you might have emotional inflammation.
Other symptoms of emotional inflammation can include being unable to sleep, unable to wake up from sleep, scrambling from one thing to another, anxiety, and depression. Many times, we can't pinpoint what got us to that space, but we know that the pace of our world today has changed from the past. TV and media are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our cell phones ping, ding, and buzz at any moment to get our attention. We have guidelines for how quickly we should respond to an email or text message fueled by our culture's "right now" demands. We are continuously bombarded with news about the pandemic, climate change, violence in our society, political issues, racial discrimination, and our lack of freedom these days. Our inability to think positively about our world and the future of our community is another example of emotional inflammation.
So what can we do if we have emotional inflammation? The first thing is to practice self-compassion. As restrictions lift and businesses open, we are trying to find our new normal; let's try not to expect so much from ourselves. Maybe we shouldn't try and re-invent the wheel with a hard stop deadline. Instead, adopt more manageable expectations that you feel comfortable with, taking baby steps. We can also acknowledge that we're beings that live within nature. Instead of staying up late at night, staring at screens all day, eating junk food, and filling our minds with junk media, we could start reconnecting with the patterns of behavior that our body and mind crave. Below is a shortlist of ways to respond to emotional inflammation. Pick what works for you. The important part is recognizing the triggers, adjusting to the new normal with some old ways of living and thinking, and living in self-compassion.
Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times by Lise Van Susteren and Stacey Colino
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