The Importance of Emotional Detox

Emotional detox? Surprised to read? If you are a common person, you would have probably heard only about physical detox wherein, we consume certain food items and limit others in order to physically cleanse our body of the toxins. But is that enough? Is physical cleansing all that we require to feel fit and healthy?

We all must have ultra-health and fitness conscious friends or relatives who regularly indulge in the latest fads like juice detox, detoxing with water, or abstaining from sugar loaded beverages and processed foods while consuming only natural and organic food. These are also the ones who not only engage in such luxurious diets but also make it their mission to convince their friends about the benefits of the same. If you have been a prey to this, then I am sure you too can vividly recall such instances and despise your friend for always being a killjoy when you go out for meals with them. But are their bodies truly rid of all the toxins and the unhealthy chemicals? Does our body only constitute of the food we fuel it with? What about our emotional states, or our past experiences? What about the neurotransmitters released with every emotion? Don’t all these things too become a part of our body’s composition? Dr. Candice Pert in her book titled,

“The Molecules of Emotion”

explained how both positive and negative emotions can impact and change the biology of our cells. Positive and happy emotions like joy, happiness, excitement, help promote cellular health and regeneration; while on the other hand; negative emotions like sadness, grief, anger, resentment cause a disruption in the cell machinery and interrupt normal cell regeneration. So the age old Facebook and Instagram quote

“You glow differently when you’re actually happy”

may really have some science behind it after all, because happier emotion leads to better cell regeneration and thus healthier, glowing skin!

Day in and out, we are being exposed to harmful physical chemicals in the environment like pollution, smoke etc.; however at the same time, we are continuously exposed to other emotions, stressors from the environment, burdens of our pasts and so on…Are we doing anything to help our body get rid of these too? We often focus so much on our physical health and well-being that we often forget that emotional and mental health is major contributor towards our overall good health. The earlier pathogenesis model in medicine was replaced by salutogenesis model, where health is not seen as just absence of disease, but it includes innumerous psychological factors like stress, inner strength, learned optimism, overall quality of life and sociological factors like social capital, connectedness etc. This shift from a primarily biological based model to a more holistic, biopsychosocial model was to account for as many variables promoting an individual’s health. While the pathogenic model focused on prevention of diseases, the salutogenisis model focuses on promotion of health and well-being.

What is emotional detox?

Emotional detox is an extended way of helping us replenish, rejuvenate and reform ourselves to not only help get rid of the past guarded and unresolved emotions but to also help boost our psychological immune, in order to take on any life stressors head on. Just like the physical immune, our psychological immune too has a memory of its own. If our bodies are invaded by the same virus again, we have a prepared system of attack to help fight the foreign invader. Similarly, when we experience an intense emotion of similar emotional valence as experienced in our past, we tend to be better equipped with emotional aid and adaptive coping mechanisms to help deal with the similar emotional encounter. However, if we hadn’t resolved or processed the past emotion well, then we may have harder time coping with the current emotional state.

So how do you know whether you really require an emotional detox or not? Do we start feeling uneasy in our stomach as we do when we eat lots of processed food or unhealthy food? Well, for each person the symptoms for requiring an emotional detox may manifest differently. Have you ever experienced being extremely uneasy and agitated and reacting negatively or angrily to otherwise mundane or not so important tasks? Have you noticed yourself critically evaluating and condemning every miniscule detail or habits of people? These may not be all, but are surely some signs that you are not at emotional rest and ease inside. You may have some pent up emotions which require a proper outlet or it may be released just like a fart held in for too long and may result in something shitty, smelly and possibly embarrassing.

Emotional composure is a prerequisite to healthy mind and rational proactive choices. Most of the days we operate on autopilot mode, functioning based on an innate operational manual and relying too heavily on our procedural and muscle memory to carry out daily tasks. Have you stopped to notice the color of your brush or the various distinct fragrances of your soap as you carry out your daily chores? We are so often preoccupied with the thoughts in our head and the vivid imagination that we have forgotten to be present. We are living in memories of our past or in anticipation of our future, holding onto emotions or actively processing negative emotion which eventually manifests in our other tasks, resulting in emotional spillover. This spillover of emotions can lead to carry forward of an emotional valence from one area of functioning to other.

You may have experienced low mood due to a fight at home in the morning before you leave for office, this may be caused due to you reacting in a negative manner to a small row, which leads to spoilt mood and thus as you leave home you are still in a bad mood. When you arrive at office, this feeling of frustration may have subsided or may have persisted depending on other factors like whom you fought with, your perception of the problem, your sleep the night before etc. However, in office if someone collides against you by mistake as you are walking through the aisle or if they spill coffee over you as they walk past you, you are more likely to react negatively due to earlier state of mood you were in, thus leading to not only the spillover of that coffee but also your emotion into your workspace.

Techniques of emotional detox

Emotional detox can be done in many ways and using multiple techniques. Physical and general body detox that includes eating gut friendly and easily digestible food and keeping yourself hydrated is a major contributor to better mood as well.

A study has shown that more than 90 percent of serotonin in our body is produced in the gut by the microbes (Caltech.edu, 2019). Another study showed about how 50 percent of our dopamine is also produced in our gut (Nytimes.com, 2019). Dopamine and serotonin are the major neurotransmitters associated with experiencing happiness.

Dopamine is also associated with motivation and feelings of euphoria while serotonin helps regulate our mood, thoughts and even sleep! Therefore, it is no rocket science to deduce that consuming a healthier diet also contributes to a happy and calm mood. On days you have uneasy bowel movement, doesn’t it ruin your day, thinking continuously about the churning noises in your abdomen? Doesn’t it make you irritable and annoyed at the thought of food on such days and you are even reluctant making plans with your friends, due to the anticipation of not being able to enjoy yourself.

Apart from eating healthy, other techniques that can help you detox some pent up emotions include deep introspection and self reflection after any emotional event. You don’t have to hold onto to the negative and overwhelming emotion by avoiding it or ignoring it. No doubt a chocolate ice-cream can solve almost any problem in the world and is a comfort food for many, while it is okay to use it to avoid your emotions at times, which do not require deep processing or may not be of relevance like unwanted anger towards your boss which may have been generated due to a misunderstanding and thus is better avoided. But certain emotions like grieving or the loss of a relationship is far more deeply etched in our souls and may thus affect us in a severe manner if such emotions are not processed well. Introspection is a technique of looking inside one’s own mind through the careful examination of one’s thoughts, emotions, feelings and reactions while reflection means evaluating these responses and trying to understand one’s behavior based on this. This introspection and reflection can be done best when we sit alone in peace and try to recall our experiences and reason with ourselves. This also includes keeping an open mind and being open to criticism by oneself and accepting one’s flaws and learning through the process. It is an essential way to attain self-knowledge.

Other technique that can be really helpful in emotional detox includes thought and emotion journaling. When you know that you may be feeling irritated and require an emotional detox, then it is best to adopt journaling as an effective tool to keep a track record of your behaviors and thoughts. This includes freely writing about the thoughts that goes in one’s head without being judgmental and without eliminating any thought. Writing both thoughts and feelings in a systematic way, helps us access these worrisome thoughts better and thus gives us an objective picture of what is going on in our mind which otherwise seems very chaotic and hard to grasp hold of,since thoughts and feelings are fleeting in nature. It’s like catching hold of a butterfly and observing its wings and studying it well rather than just letting it go and wondering about it later. So ensure that you are nonjudgmental towards it irrespective of its pattern and form, for each butterfly is unique and different, some may be good while others bad, but they all serve their purpose, so be gentle with them.

A major way to get a wholesome emotional detox is to let go of things not in your control. Whether you believe in destiny, god, supernatural forces or the universe, there are things in life which we have no control over, so instead of grinding our gears, how about living with some ease and pouring some lubricant over the churning thought engine and letting certain things and emotions slip by just like that…along with this also comes power to forgive others, for they too may not have control over certain things or their consequences. Holding grudges not only eats you up from inside but it also doesn’t let you emotionally grow. Forgive them, not for their sake but because you deserve that peace in your life. Not only is forgiving and letting go therapeutic but it also widens our perspective and makes us more compassionate towards others. This art of forgiving is not limited to others but it has a major component of forgiving ourselves too, after all charity begins at home and if you aren’t at peace with yourself and your past, you cannot expect to make peace with others around you.You aren’t meant to be perfect, you are in this world to experience human life in all its spectrum and true colors, and in the process of it, if you made a mistake, learn from it and grow, for that is one of the biggest experiences in itself. So go on this emotional detox journey and start with small steps towards your growth, and emerge as a more wholesome and evolved being, after all let’s prove Darwin right, about his theory of continuous evolution and growth.

About the Author

Nataasha Khattar
Pursuing PG Diploma in Counselling Psychology.

Ms Nataasha Khattar has done B.Sc. (Hon) in Psychology.

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