Impact of unexpressed emotions and ways to navigate them

इस ब्लॉग को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए, यहाँ क्लिक करें।
हा ब्लॉग मराठी मध्ये वाचण्यासाठी, येथे क्लिक करा.

Take a moment to think about what are some emotions that have come to you in the last six months? What are some ways in which you have expressed them? Could you name all the emotions? Were some of them new? What were some events that may have impacted you emotionally?

Since the arrival of COVID-19 in our lives, a lot has happened. The National Commission of Women has reported a rise in domestic and gender-based violence since the imposition of the countrywide lockdown. Financial hardships, risk of unemployment, the worry of pay-cuts, and the fear of contracting the disease are all affecting our collective mental well-being. The gigantic surge in misinformation has triggered fear-driven reactions such as panic buying, disowning pets, communal divide, discourtesy towards frontline workers, and indignities against migrants. The pandemic had a more severe impact on those who live on the margins of our society, which further accentuates mental and physical stress.

There are rising concerns amongst people regarding social distancing and its psychological impacts, working from home, financial difficulties caused by unemployment, and other related issues. An increasing number of people are thus seeking access to mental health support. This pandemic is not only affecting people with pre-existing medical conditions, but also the otherwise healthy population. 

Stress, anxiety, tension, depression, loneliness, laziness, and fumbling are commonly experienced emotions during this lockdown. These feelings also impact the physical state of the body. Several research shows how unexpressed emotions could lead to unhealthy lifestyles. The term ‘psychosomatic’ refers to real physical symptoms that arise from or are influenced by the mind and emotions rather than a specific organic cause in the body (such as an injury or infection). A common misconception is that psychosomatic conditions are imaginary or “all in the head.” In reality, physical symptoms of psychosomatic conditions are real and require treatment just as any other illness would. Unfortunately, effective treatment doesn’t always come in a timely or effective manner. Specially for economically marginalised communities, these services are neither available nor accessible. 

To understand the impact of unexpressed emotions, we interviewed ten different people from Lallubhai Compound, Mankhurd, Mumbai. Lallubhai is an SRA-rehabilitated area, where families of 8-10 people live together. They often face challenges such as restriction of physical space, lack of movement, and ongoingly negotiating the differences. This gap built by poor governance and systemic poverty, makes many people either disengage or repress their emotions. 

We are all experiencing this pandemic very differently. “We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat,” wrote an unknown writer. When we look beneath the news and dig deeper, we see the imbalance of access to care and wellbeing. However, there is hope and possibility of coming together. And that again, we have learned from the communities themselves. 

In our conversations, with our interviewees, we then explored how do they find lights of hope and continue to make new possibilities? Many shared that community activities such as being able to eat together helps. The pandemic also offered them new perspectives and some of them started acknowledging each other’s work. Many have taken initiative to learn new technologies, and yet some of them began taking out time for self-care. We were reminded of Audre Lorde’s words, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” 

In our work, we have found that people always respond to problems in some or the other way. These responses are built over a period of time through our lived experiences. We have found some of the following ways of expression very useful while working with children, youth, and communities. Sharing with all of you with a hope that they may be useful to you too:

1. Expressive writing: This is a practice where you write whatever you are feeling or thinking at the moment. One may be wondering, “How is writing related to my wellness?” 

When you engage with expressive writing, you find an opportunity to put out on paper the feelings that come to you. It is personal and emotional writing, without any judgment or other writing conventions, such as worrying about spelling or punctuation. James W. Pennebaker is usually credited to have developed this practice. 

2. Expressive Colouring: “Expressive coloring is my favorite,” says Priyanka. It is quite similar to expressive writing. The only difference here is you use colors instead of writing. Think about what you are feeling at the moment, choose a color that you resonate with that emotion, and just color as much as you want. The process asks you not to judge but to do it as your mind and body allows you to do it. A lot of times we are confused with naming our emotions and that’s the politics of emotions. This way of expressing your emotions helps you understand what you are feeling. You don’t have to have a name for every emotion, if it’s a color for you, just color it out! 

Here are some examples:

Simpler coloring activities for beginnersA Mandala coloring activity

3. Expressive drawing:  This is a mixture of expressive writing and drawing. With expressive drawing, you can draw an emotion that you are feeling in the present moment. The process guides you to externalize the emotion you are experiencing at the moment and think about how this emotion looks like? What name do you want to give to this emotion? What is this emotion trying to do in your life and what do you want to do with this emotion? You can also think about things that you have been doing to distance with this emotion or you can think of tricks you want to plan to distance with the emotion. Start from what you know. We don’t have to be great artists to do art. If you need some inspiration, here are some images from our kindergarten class:

Pictures from kindergarten students when asked to draw what makes them happy/sad and what are they feeling.

4. Joining a support group: It’s always a treasure to find people or a group with whom you can share what you are feeling. You get a chance to tell and retell your story with an audience. Sharing helps you understand what you are feeling and supports you to gather different perspectives. Sharing stories makes us more open to listening to other stories and it makes us more open to being vulnerable. Some of the useful support groups we have found are Shor, Mehfil-e-kisse, Apni Shala’s online SEL workshop groups, Ummeed’s family support groups, and mindfulness circles held by various organizations.

5. Watching mindful movies or series: Watching movies and series are great, but we need to be very mindful of what we are watching. Sometimes watching some movies does not go well with what we are feeling and it ends up creating more difficulties for us. Priyanka usually prefers watching movies and series that do not require a lot of logical thinking and something light. 

6. Creating a task list and sticking to a schedule: A lot of us are working online due to pandemic. Working online is what this pandemic is demanding from us and I am sure this must be tough for some of us. Creating a task list and sticking to a schedule helps a lot in this but with a structure, you have to be okay when things don’t go accordingly. Some Days your body may ask for rest or a break go ahead and do what your body is asking from you at the moment. 

7. Talking to friends who hold some space in your heart: We all have friends who hold some space in our hearts. Friends who are just away from a call. Don’t think much just dial and talk. The best part about sharing what you are feeling with a friend is you find a lot of resonance and the trick of sharing with friends is that the problem is shared and it becomes little. That’s the magic of sharing our problems with our dearest ones. 

8. Mind-Body Activities: Some activities that we have tried in our class for settling in and bringing back our mind and body to the physical space are starting the class by breathing exercise, observing what we feel in different parts of our body, what all we can hear, see, smell, feel at moment journaling thoughts or drawing it out. Physical exercises like yoga, Zumba, dance with peppy music might help your mind and body stay connected.

There are many ways to truly come together in this storm. Hold safe and non-judgemental spaces for each other. Listen up. Reach out to each other. People are holding grief and are impacted by the systemic physical and mental violence. Do what you can in your circle of influence to reduce it. We may not have been in this together yet, but we can come together as we see what’s possible for us and for others around us. 

Note: We recognise that many of you may have many other ways of expressing and working with your emotions than what we have shared. We would love to learn from you. Do share what works for you in the comments with us. 

About the authors:

Priyanka Shrivastav is a Grade 1 teacher with Khoj Community School. She leads a class of 26 amazing young people on a journey of discovery and co-creation. She holds a degree in E.C.C. Ed. and Bachelors of Commerce. She also leads the Youth Project, a social-emotional learning initiative for youth in the community. When not teaching, Priyanka loves to doodle and watch drama series.

Vanisha Shetty is a Kindergarten teacher with Khoj Community School. Though her educational background is in sociology, her volunteer work has consistently led her to care for young children. She genuinely enjoys nurturing and caring for preschoolers. She believes that each child is unique, therefore they learn and thrive at their own pace. Apart from teaching Vanisha loves to dance, travel, and do what makes her happy.


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