Practical Ways to Work Toward Better Emotional Balance

Young woman relaxing on the beachJust as the body works to maintain homeostasis on a physical, cellular level, I believe the mind strives to create balance emotionally. Both happen unconsciously, though you can accelerate the processes with various interventions. Just as physical wounds heal more quickly with antibiotic cream and a bandage, psychological injuries heal faster with rational self-talk, breathwork, journaling, therapy, good food, yoga nidra, plenty of sleep, and other supportive strategies.

How the Conscious and Unconscious Affect Emotional Balance

It’s hard to imagine that emotional homeostatic work can be accomplished unconsciously, but how else can sayings such as “Time heals all wounds” be explained? How does the simple passage of time assuage psychic pain? You may not notice incremental improvement, but suddenly, one day, you feel differently about something that previously disturbed you. That’s your unconscious mind processing change over time. Certain practices can support this growth and transformation.

When you choose to pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, you will often speed up the emotional healing process. It does not have to be solely relegated to your unconscious mind. Practices like yoga, meditation, journaling, psychotherapy, yoga nidra, dreamwork, and breathwork can all help soothe the nervous system and make conscious what has been unconscious so it can be safely felt, dealt with, and transcended.

All these interventions may seem challenging or annoying at first because they are unfamiliar, require learning new skills, or bring up unpleasant memories or feelings from the past. With practice, the initial break-in period will pass quickly, and you will begin experiencing a feeling of mastery. These intervention can also serve as healthy tools for future times when you feel anxious, angry, sad, or overwhelmed.

Practices to Move You toward Emotional Homeostasis

Take a close look at your inner landscape. Where are the boulders blocking your path? Are they out in plain sight, or are your obstacles more like potholes, only noticeable when you’re right on top of them?

Some great ways to analyze your internal topography include:

  • Journaling: Journaling can work show remarkably well for helping people feel more in touch with their emotional well-being and better able to navigate life’s slings and arrows.
  • Daily check-ins: When you notice an uneasy feeling—a headache, stomach issue, weariness, muscle tension, or other physical pain—try breathing into that space and ask yourself what it is trying to tell you. Acknowledge it, monitor it, and then relax.
  • Five minutes of breath meditation: The simplest (but not easiest) exercise to work toward emotional balance is watching your breathing. Notice the length of your inhalation and exhalation, its temperature, where you first feel it entering your body, and how it moves through your lungs.
  • Virtual alternate breathing with counting: I am partial to this activity. It is wonderfully relaxing and focuses the mind while relieving it of most distractions. This calming breath work engages the parasympathetic nervous system, improves rest and digestion, and increases vagal tone. Here is how it’s done:
  1. Take a deep, slow breath through both nostrils and exhale.
  2. Take a close look at your inner landscape. Where are the boulders blocking your path? Are they out in plain sight, or are your obstacles more like potholes, only noticeable when you’re right on top of them?Now, without touching your nose, focus on inhaling through the left nostril and count ONE.
  3. Exhale though the right and count ONE.
  4. Inhale through the right. Count TWO.
  5. Exhale through the left. Count TWO.
  6. Inhale through the left. Count THREE.
  7. Exhale through the right. Count THREE.
  8. Inhale through the right. Count FOUR.
  9. Exhale through the left. Count FOUR.
  10. Inhale through both nostrils. Count FIVE.
  11. Exhale through both nostrils. Count FIVE.
  12. Inhale through the left. Count SIX.
  13. Exhale through the right. Count SIX.

Continue in this manner and inhale and exhale through both nostrils on every multiple of five. If you lose count, go back to the beginning and start with one. If you would like a beautiful explanation and walkthrough of this technique, check out Swami Janakananda’s CD, Experience Yoga Nidra.

Like all good habits, the benefits from these practices accrue over time. In addition, doing yoga nidra, an ancient passive guided meditation, can strengthen your emotional resilience and nervous system, allowing for more easy switching from fight-flight-freeze mode to rest and digest.

Some other excellent yoga nidra sources I recommend:

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, LMHC, therapist in Buffalo, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Fran

    Fran

    September 2nd, 2015 at 8:34 AM

    Printing these out to put on my bathroom mirror!!

  • Grace

    Grace

    September 3rd, 2015 at 8:34 AM

    Journaling has been a little bit of a savior for me. It is just a safe way for me to get my thoughts and feelings out without necessarily having to talk to anyone else but a way to get out the things that are bothering me.

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    September 4th, 2015 at 5:25 AM

    Hi Fran,
    I am so glad these inspired you.
    Nicole

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    September 4th, 2015 at 5:26 AM

    Hi Grace,
    I am also a huge fan of journaling and all the research that shows how incredibly helpful it is. Thanks for taking the time to share you experience.
    Nicole

  • Calista

    Calista

    September 7th, 2015 at 10:53 AM

    I have tried to become more mindful given that I would find that there were a great many things that would annoy me but then I would sit and try to live with those feelings and figure out why all of the annoyance and what was causing it. I have decided that there are a lot of things about ME that I don’t really like right now (my job, my weight, my finances, it goes on and on) and I think that it causes me to get very annoyed with others who seem to have it all together with seemingly little effort.
    I think that is’s called jealousy and I want very much to work on that because it is honestly making me miserable.

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    September 7th, 2015 at 1:35 PM

    Hi Calista,
    It takes great courage to share what you did in your post.
    It may seem as if other people have it all together and do so effortlessly, but that is definitely not the case. Everyone suffers with both internal and external challenges.
    You mentioned feeling jealous, but you have no idea what these other people’s lives are really like as you are comparing your insides to their outsides. That involves all sorts of assumptions that may not be true. Furthermore, it seems as if you are then blaming yourself and doing some self-downing. Whenever you catch yourself in that place it’s time for a dose of self-compassion. Kristin Neff and Chris Germer have excellent websites with free downloads of meditations that can help you become more self-compassionate. The yoga nidra practices I mentioned above can also be very helpful.
    In addition, this might be a good time to work with a counselor who can both support your inner work and teach you some new ways of being with yourself and the world.
    Wishing you every goodness,
    Nicole

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