|Dr. Valencia Ray, MD
Functional Medicine Doctor
Mind-Body-Spirit Medicine Expert
In Western medicine we tend to see the body and mind as two separate entities. While sometimes attention is paid to mental health, for mainstream medicine, physical health is really the focus.
I see the separation of the mind and body as a missed opportunity. Human beings are complex and can’t be reduced to just one aspect. We are much more than just a physical body! In my own life and in the lives of my patients, I’ve seen the power of taking a more holistic approach, one that pays attention to all the parts that make us who we are. An approach that encompasses the body, the mind, and the spirit.
How I healed a heart condition by listening to my heart
The fact that I’m here at all demonstrates the power of a holistic approach. In my early twenties, I experienced a mitral valve prolapse. This is a very serious heart issue, which leads to blood flowing backwards in the heart. It can very quickly lead to heart failure.
When this happened, I went on a quest to learn more about health. Having grown up in a very traditional family, I’d never been exposed to any alternative ideas about wellness. I was very emotionally numb; I’d been taught that the right way to deal with emotions was to pretend that they weren’t happening. I was so disconnected from my own emotional state that I could hardly even tell that I had any emotions at all. I’d also gotten so busy at work that I’d started to completely neglect the creative pursuits that were important to me, like music, art, and dance.
When my heart condition showed up, I realized that things couldn’t continue this way. I was crashing and burning. It was time to take a different path. I started to really acknowledge my own emotions and allowed myself to feel them fully. Also, I reconnected to my creativity. I began to pay more attention to my spiritual side, prioritizing things like meditation that were considered strange at that time.
When I opened up to my emotional and spiritual self, that’s when things started to change in my body. My heart completely healed itself. I’m now free of mitral valve prolapse, and in fact, my health has never been better. I’m vibrant and happy, and I’ve been this way for decades.
Due to this experience, it is now my mission to help guide my patients through their own journey of spiritual, emotional, and physical healing.
How unprocessed emotions cause chronic disease
I know this idea might sound kind of “out there”, but my own healing is really not surprising at all. We now know that psychological stress plays a key role in many chronic diseases[1,2]. Unprocessed or unacknowledged emotions can be a major source of stress that unless addressed, can stay in your system for decades.
But how mindful are you of your stress levels or unprocessed emotions at this moment?
Even if you’re not aware that something is affecting you, your brain still must deal with that issue in the background. Your brain and body may be constantly trying to bring your source of stress into your awareness, even though you keep ignoring it. Your body and mind will not stop until you handle your stress. But because you aren’t processing your emotions, you aren’t giving them a chance to be released.
I’ve seen many people in my practice who try their best to ignore their emotions. They often think, “I’m strong and I can handle anything.” It’s true, you are strong. But there’s nothing weak about having emotions. In fact, true strength is fully acknowledging everything that you’re feeling. And that’s exactly what I’ve found both in myself and in my patients. Emotions actually flow through faster when you fully accept them and allow them to be expressed completely.
Doing this will pay dividends throughout your life. Many of my patients have found relief from chronic health issues once they finally started to address the emotions that they’d ignored for many years. For many people, this is the key that enables them to unlock better health and well-being.
Tools for making friends with your emotions
If you’re anything like I was when I first began this journey of self-awareness, you might be thinking, “Okay, this sounds interesting, but where do I start?” Our culture generally places little value on emotions. Many of us have become so disconnected, that we’re hardly even aware of our own emotional state, let alone having any tools for processing our emotions.
Over several decades of doing this work, I’ve discovered quite a few methods that can be useful. You may find that you resonate well with some of these, and less with others. This is completely normal. Different tools work well for different people. You can start with the ones you can relate to.
Express your emotions
Let yourself outwardly express whatever it is that you’re feeling, to the fullest. For example, if you’re disappointed, just give yourself over to disappointment. Cry, sob, even throw yourself down on the floor.
Usually, after just a few minutes, the disappointment has finished moving through your system, and you feel calm again.
Emotional freedom technique (EFT)
Also known as EFT tapping, this method involves tapping on certain places in the body while repeating a phrase related to whatever emotion you’re processing. For example, “Even though I’m feeling very disappointed that I didn’t get that job, I love and accept myself completely.”
I’ve found that tapping speeds up the process of releasing an emotion from the system.
Notice when you’re triggered
You can’t get triggered unless there are bullets in the chamber. You need to unload your gun. Similarly, notice what it is that makes you want to blow up, and spend some time with it to really get to the heart of what makes you feel angry or afraid.
What you’re judging in someone else almost certainly points towards a quality in yourself that you may need to accept to move on. Tools like journaling, meditation and others can help you observe the details of whatever feelings and emotions are coming up for you.
Spend time in nature
Taking a walk in nature is a great way to process and release your emotions. In fact, there are studies showing that spending just two hours in nature per week can significantly benefit your health and well-being.
The beauty of nature gives us the ability to focus on the present. To do this, while you’re walking, simply notice whatever feelings or emotions arise within you. Being in nature will help you to stay grounded when something difficult comes up.
Will I become emotional all the time?
Obviously, there’s a time and a place for processing your emotions. If you’re in a business meeting, that’s not the time to start sobbing and throwing yourself on the floor. Sometimes, we have no choice but to take something difficult and save it for later.
But it’s important to complete the cycle – dedicate time later that day to processing what happened and allow the emotions to flow through, so that they can be released. Anytime you say, “Well, I can’t process this right now,” then it’s important to make a commitment to coming back to it later, so it doesn’t get ignored and cause more stress.
You also may be able to do more than you think, even in a controlled environment like a business meeting. If someone says something that gets you worked up, you might be able to do some discreet EFT under the table. For example, you could rub the side of your hand with your other hand, while thinking, “Even though I’m feeling this difficult emotion, I love and accept myself completely.”
Gathering support for your journey
When you’re on a journey of self-discovery, it can be very helpful to have a guide. You’re the ultimate authority on your own life, and you should always be the one who chooses what’s right for you. But it can certainly be helpful to have someone to guide you and help you see what you may not have been aware of.
When I work with patients, I see it as my role to be a helper and a guide, rather than the one in charge of making decisions. I want my patients to feel completely empowered.
It’s also very important to have the right community around you. We all need social support. It’s important that the people you surround yourself with honor and respect your journey. This is why I offer patients in my practice a chance to connect with each other, so they can provide that support for one another.
Acknowledging and fully expressing emotions can change lives. I have seen this happen in my own life as well as in the lives of my patients. I invite you to take the first step, and together explore how making friends with your emotions could unlock better health and vitality for you.