High-Risk Baggage: Emotional Pain Memory

Photo by alphaspirit/iStock / Getty Images

It is an unavoidable reality of being human: Life has stress.  

Stress itself is not always a bad thing.  For instance, challenging ourselves to stretch beyond our limitations in physical endurance or academics can be stressful, but these efforts can also make us stronger and can allow us to explore our human potential.

Stress produces collateral damage, however, when it hits a tipping point and becomes "too much."  What constitutes too much depends upon a number of factors: a person's individual capacity for handling stress, the intensity and duration of the stressor, other current stressors at influence, assistance/resources available, and more.  


When a situation in life becomes too much, we experience overwhelm.  In a state of overwhelm, we lose our capacities to stay emotional and psychologically present -- sometimes dissociating from our bodies completely.  It is in these moments that, what I call "Emotional Pain Memory" begins to accumulate within the body.  

Emotional Pain Memory (EPM) is a backlog of unmetabolized emotion that stores itself within the body's tissues.  This accumulation of toxic emotion threatens our health, stresses our relationships, and decreases our ability to lead functional, fulfilling, enjoyable lives.

Here are some of the leading causes of EPM

  • Singular or repetitive traumatic experience
  • Loss - a loved one, a home, a job, a relationship, catastrophy
  • Big life changes or transitions
  • Living out of integrity with your true self
  • Stress.  A vicious cycle: Too much stress begets more stress and on it goes!

Every person alive experiences at least one of the causes of EPM.  Regardless of the severity of the experience, we tend to have strongly-ingrained tendencies toward accumulating negative emotions and not discharging them.  

Releasing the EPM Baggage

Unfortunately, most of us wait until things have become so overwhelming that life becomes unbearable, before we take steps to address the backlog of Emotional Pain Memory -- our health is suffering, our anxiety is at a peak, our relationships are suffering, and there is a feeling of "I just can't stand it anymore!"

It's at this point that I usually meet my clients...in this "acute stage."  

If we knew better, most of us wouldn't actively choose to pile on this EPM baggage.  The problem is, we generally don’t have techniques for effectively releasing the intense emotional charges inherent in overwhelming life experiences.

Exercise, meditation, rest, eating well, and generally avoiding toxins (be they substances, people, or situations) can help a great deal to minimize EPM.  It is a reality, however, that life throws us curves that any amount of good lifestyle habits cannot overcome.  

This is the point when we need to reach out and get support.  

While many of us are conditioned to be "self reliant," there comes a time when that self reliance becomes a hinderance...not an asset.  If you find yourself being overwhelmed by life and Emotional Pain Memory, do the smart thing and reach out for support.



10 Tips for an Easier Holiday Season

Photo by Alliance/iStock / Getty Images

The holiday season is often billed as “the most wonderful time of year.”  While the winter holidays can be a very special time for creating happy memories in a winter wonderland, they can also be a time of heightened stress for many of us.

Whether it be the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping and events, negotiating your way through cold and flu season, hosting dinners and houseguests, consuming extra rich and sugary foods, or braving airports and busy highways — the pressures of the holidays often usher in stress…and its harmful side effects.

As a little holiday gift, I have compiled a quick list of tips for making the holidays more enjoyable by eliminating unnecessary stress.  I hope you will find them useful as you embark on your holiday adventures!


Tip #1  Don’t beat yourself up.  

What is a perfect holiday season?  Commercial culture paints a picture that is idyllically, and generally out of touch with most people’s lives.  Somehow, if you buy the right things, serve the most amazingly-appointed meal, and make it all picture perfect, you will be transported into the twinkling dream land of holiday magic!

Even if we’re savvy about overcoming the hype, we can still get caught up with the pressure it brings. Instead of aspiring toward images of the perfect holiday, perhaps ask yourself, “What is meaningful and carries the true spirit of the holidays for my loved ones and myself?”  “What will leave us feeling more connected (and less financially stressed!)?”  “How can we make the holiday ‘our own’ rather than reaching for some external ideal?”


Tip #2  Give yourself little escapes.  

Some of us need more “alone time” to recharge…some need less.  When we are “filled up inside,” we have more to offer in our connections with people.  Here are a few ideas for building in mini-escapes during the holidays:

  • Drop in for a 30-minute massage
  • Take a nap
  • Take a walk (bundling up for an evening walk to view holiday lights…YES!)
  • Go for a work out
  • Read something fun (not work related)
  • Putz around in the garden
  • Have tea downtown where you can people watch
  • Write in a journal
  • You may have your own list…don’t leave it behind!

Tip #3  Care for your fragilities.

We all have things that put us at our edge during the holidays.  For some it may be straying too far from a diet your body is familiar with.  For others it may be knowing you are spending more money than you can afford.  For many of us, it is reuniting with family members, some of whom can be “professional button pushers.”  Still for others, it is knowing we will be spending the holidays alone.

Before simply “finding yourself” in a situation that brings out your fragilities (pushing the stress-meter up), try instead to preemptively imagine creative ways to care for yourself.  For example, if you know you will be in places where you have trouble finding food you know your body likes, maybe pack along a small “survival kit” of essentials to help you through.  In the case of being “trapped” with difficult family members, perhaps foot the bill for a hotel for a couple nights rather than being chained to them 24/7…or if nothing else, just plan to extract yourself from the situation periodically to take a breather.

If you expect to be alone but would rather not be, see what types of “orphan” gatherings you might join such as public events at churches, community centers, or MeetUp groups (MeetUp.com).

The point here is to imagine where you might need self-care and build it into the plan!


Tip #4  Gratitudes.

It is my experience these days that “expressing gratitudes” is often billed as a cure-all for most of the world’s problems…which is likely a bit of an overstatement.  Still, actually taking moments to account for (and even write down) the things we have to be grateful for can really alter our mental/emotional perspective.

Sometimes when things are tough — unemployment, illness, injury, loss of a loved one, divorce, or other misfortune — it can be easy to fall into an emotional slump and forget that there are still many things that can be “lights” in our life.

Take a moment (right now!) to jot down 10 things you are truly grateful for.  Don’t “should” your way through this one…” I should be grateful for this or that.”  This list is personal — not something anyone can create for you based on their perception of what you “should” appreciate.

If life is full of challenges right now, what part of life is actually working?  It may need to be very basic…”Though my right arm is broken, my left arm is strong and working well.  I am grateful for my left arm.”


Tip #5  Breathe deeply. 

Doesn’t it always seem that life speeds up this time of year?  When it does, we tend to run faster and breathe more shallowly.  Breathing shallowly cuts down the oxygen supply to the brain making it function less efficiently, as well as decreasing vital energy to the body.  It can also add stress and negative impact our mental outlook on life.

At these busy times, take moments to feel the fresh air on your skin.  As you inhale slowly and deeply (big belly, diaphragmatic breath!), just take a moment to notice everything around you — the people, the environment in which you live.

Maybe take a moment to appreciate the things we miss moving at the speed of light?


Tip #6  Ask for what you need. 

Most of us are tuned into the spirit of this season as “the season of giving.”  The generosity this time of year can bring out within us can open our hearts and remind us of our humanity.

Often in family gatherings, however, we find ourselves doing things — not because we want to, but we think we should.  If, however, everyone does what they should do, is anyone really doing what they really want to be doing?  I’m not talking about a narcissist campaign to “make it all about you,” but what are the holidays about anyhow?  A moral obligation?

We have a lot more choice than we think we have — especially when it comes to family gatherings.  Own it…lovingly make it yours.  When you show up powerful and happy, you add these qualities to the occasion…which makes it more special.


Tip #7  Give to those who appreciate it (and you). 

Gift-giving is a fulfilling act when there is an exchange of energy between the giver and the receiver.  On one hand, the gift giver offers their energy in the form of time, thoughtfulness, and often money in service to the recipient’s pleasure.  On the other hand, the receiver who truly appreciates the gesture of the gift (whether or not they actually need or want the gift itself), is reciprocating with the generosity of “receiving the giver into his/her heart.”  Being received is a wonderful feeling — it is to feel appreciated, seen, and valued.

Who really appreciates you?  Who really sees you?  As you check off your holiday gift-giving list, make sure that the people who really value your precious care, support, time and energy are on that list!


Tip #8  Take the pressure off your interactions with others. 

During the holiday season, it is important to remember that, in general, people are more stressed and stress brings out the worst in all of us.  Whether it be maneuvering through chaotic holiday traffic or gathering with family members we rarely see, the holidays can create the sparks which ignite drama.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can probably predict which of the people we’ll be spending holiday time with who are going to be curmudgeons, drunks, complainers, self-absorbed, drama kings/queens, worriers, control freaks, upset no matter what, Scroogy, grumpy, unappreciative, or entitled…hopefully not all of these at the same time!

If you really must spend time with difficult people, why not just acknowledge this ahead of time and find ways to care for yourself around those people?  Rather than going head-to-head or getting upset, you can make this a fun challenge with ideas such as:

  • Change the subject
  • Add humor to tense moments
  • Excuse yourself if it gets to be too much
  • Veer toward people who nourish you
  • See and respond to (with compassion) the upset inner child before you rather than the troubled adult (this is a hard one!)
  • Lovingly make your concerns known.

You will know which of these or other ideas are appropriate for your situation.


Tip #9  Honor those who have passed.  

In addition to bringing cheer, often the holidays bring our thoughts and hearts closer to loved ones who have passed on.  We think about the times we enjoyed special moments with them and it makes us long to have them by our sides.

If this is the case for you, why not take a little time to allow the feelings of care and missing to have their moment?  Light a candle.  Write a letter to the deceased loved ones.  Have a box of kleenex handy.  Share the experience with others who can empathize.

This is an honoring, not a downer.  By tending to your feelings for the ones who have moved on, you let them come closer to your heart…which is enriching.  Tears aren’t bad, they remind us what is important to our hearts — isn’t that what the holiday season is all about?


Tip #10  Get help.  

If you are having a rough time and really need support, make sure to find it.  Social services and community organizations understand that the holidays can be a particularly tough time for many people and they have special hotlines and resources available to people in need.

We all have those moments at one point or another, but we don’t have to go through it alone.  Start with your local social service office phone number/website — there is usually a good referral list that will help you contact the appropriate support for your unique situation.


These tips address themes that tend to surface for my clients during the holidays — I hope you find them helpful.  The objective in sharing them is to give you a set of creative resources (and reminders) that will help make your season truly brighter and more enjoyable.  Even if you remember to use only one or two of them, you holidays can be better for it.

Please let me know in the comments section below how these holiday tips are working for you!

Also, this list is by no means exhaustive.  I would love to hear any helpful ways you lovingly care for yourself and others during the holidays to make the whole experience more full of the grace of the season.

Best holiday wishes to you!

Jeni Ambrose