How challenging emotional experiences can help us stay healthy

Dr Brown and MikeI sent my teenage son off to college this fall. Like thousands of other families, we spent a good part of the summer organizing and planning to make sure he would be ready for the start of classes. By the time he was finally on campus, we were both thrilled about this exciting new phase of his life. I had even taken the time to consider how I might feel about my son leaving home and thought I was fully prepared.

But I wasn’t.

To be honest, my emotions surprised me. I had a pit in my stomach and was sadder than I had anticipated. But at the same time, I felt proud and happy for my son.

Strong emotional events usually lead to deeper self-awareness — spiritually and physically

As we continue the journey of our lives, we are inevitably confronted by events that stir our emotions, whether it’s a child’s passage into adulthood, personal trauma or loss, or the illness of someone we love. While we know that staying positive and upbeat are keys elements of better bones and good health, we should also make sure to let ourselves “feel the pinch” of life’s changes. And it’s not all doom and gloom because there are good lessons to be learned.
When something life-changing happens — good or bad — we often feel scared, and our physical bodies reflect it. Maybe you get butterflies in your stomach, or feel nauseated, or lose your appetite altogether. While this is unnerving when it happens, it can make you more aware of the impact that an event can have on your emotions and well being.

What’s the upside to a challenging emotional experience?

You can’t go through life without stress, loss, or sadness and you certainly can’t just flick a switch to be happy. Instead, give yourself the space and time to accept what’s happened so you can process it in a realistic, productive way. And you can use it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and life in general.

I know that when you’re sad, unhappy, or anxious the feeling seems as if it will last forever. But time has a funny, wonderful way of helping us heal from difficult emotional challenges. It doesn’t take long before we begin to feel better, more like ourselves.

And that may be the most surprising emotion of all.

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