Emotional Health Part III – Heart-Check

Emotional Health Part III – Heart-Check

Yesterday I talked about how important it is to have a healthy, peaceful heart to create a peaceful home, a haven. Today I’m going to dive more into some strategies and thoughts that have helped me.

I’m excited to share this post with you because this is something I’ve had to really lean into and learn.

Earlier this year, I quit my job for a season to be home with my children. My pace of life slowed down and in the quieter moments, I was hit with an absolute onslaught of thoughts, feelings and emotions. My heart was an untended jungle of things I could brush past when my life was faster-paced. I was overwhelmed by all the things I always thought I would be and do, but never have. It has been a process of unraveling from my former lifestyle and resetting and realigning my life with my longer-term goals. In this new season, I’ve had to learn (and am still learning)  how to face my feelings, to process and grow from them, rather than distracting myself with unhealthy habits like emotional eating, getting on social media and just plain busyness.

In our fast-paced lifestyle and culture, it’s so easy to rush past the feelings and worries we don’t want to feel, to stay busy and distracted from the signals (sometimes SOS’s) our hearts are trying to send us. In doing so, we miss opportunities to grow and even miss some critical adjustments we need to make in our lives.

This ancient biblical proverb holds true today:

Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life

Proverbs 4:23, AMP

How do we “watch over” and tend to our hearts? I like to do “Heart-checks” – intentional times to check in to see what’s going on with my heart.

Doing a heart-check may sound silly, “woo-woo” or indulgent- it certainly did to me at first. But in reality, it is a critical tool for emotional well-being and finding freedom from intentional distraction (busyness, social media, emotional eating); from damaging addictive behaviors.

Some people tend to their hearts as an on-going habit. You will hear it in comments they make. “______ (Fill in the blank) really bothered me, but after I thought about it, I realized ______.” For others like me, it has to be an intentional exercise to establish the practice.

Here is what a heart-check looks like:

  • Ask yourself questions:  “What’s going on with my heart? Do I feel anxious, excited, or am I dreading my day? What do I need to help relieve stress? (It may be to make a plan, to get more sleep, to take some kind of action, ask for help with childcare or simply to take 5 minutes to gather your thoughts).
  • Examine Your Thoughts:  Sometimes our naturally occurring thoughts and emotions can be very negative about ourselves or our circumstances, and just plain false. (For example, “I’ll never get this mess cleaned up,” or  “I’ll never make that deadline”). Replace negative thoughts with true, hopeful thoughts.
  • Pray:  Sometimes I don’t know what’s bothering me, or if I do, I don’t know what will help. Praying for wisdom can point me to the answer.
  • Journal: Writing down thoughts on a page with no agenda can help process what’s going on with your heart and emotions.
  • Take a 5 or 10 minute walk – the simple act of physical movement and just changing our immediate physical environment can help process what’s going on in our hearts.
  • Listen to Music: Put on some music that quiets your thoughts. For me, that is acoustic hymns. (Spotify or Pandora is your friend).
  • Get Quiet and Still: Clear out your head for a few minutes and give yourself a break from all the racing thoughts and to-do’s, and just think about your breathing (that’s easy, right?). Keep a pen and paper nearby, and as random thoughts come to you, write them down so your brain is not worried about forgetting them.
  • Find good resources, such as:
    • A trusted friend or family member you can talk to.
    • A good counselor – When you’re going in circles on something day after day and can’t make emotional progress, it can be very helpful to talk to a good counselor. This takes some effort as finding a good counselor is just as important as finding a doctor you like. You have to click with them and be able to trust their counsel. Ask friends for referrals.
    • Books and organizations: As part of my Heart-Check time, I like to read a few pages from a good book, such as:
      • Christa Black Gifford has a wonderful (faith-based) book called “Heart Made Whole” that has questions and practical heart-checking practices and exercises. This one takes a deep dive into trauma and how it impacts our heart, but the same tools are also helpful for processing lesser traumas and the stresses of daily life.
      • Rising Strong” by Brene Brown provides an excellent template for processing through “face-down” moments as she calls them. It’s a story-driven, non-formulaic book that shows you how to process thoughts and feelings in a meaningful, healthy way.
      • As a believer in God, I also turn to the Bible to lead me to truth and set my thoughts on a firm foundation. When I feel anxious and inadequate to my challenges, the Bible reminds me that God is with me, that I am His daughter, and that He has a greater purpose for my life (which is to serve Him). These game-changing truths can fade all too quickly in all the detail and minutia of life, and a reminder lifts my perspective in a way that nothing else can.
      • Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist is also an excellent resource. One of my very favorite quotes comes from this book:”…I ate on the run, slept in my clothes, worshipped at the altar of my to-do list, ignored the crying out of my body and soul like they were nothing more than the buzz of pesky mosquitoes……..”….Now I know that the best thing I can offer to this world is not my force or energy, but a well-tended spirit, a wise and brave soul…”

When to do a Heart Check:

Anytime you start feeling your blood pressure or anxiety rise, a heart check is needed.

  • It can be any time of the day – ten minutes before the kids get up, during a break or over lunch, during a commute.Starting your day with a Heart-Check is always a good idea – it’s a great way to direct your priorities for the day and get yourself tuned up for the day. Use those first precious minutes of a day to read a few pages from one of the books I suggested above, to pray, and journal.
  • It can take as little or as much time as you need it to.  A ten-minute or even five-minute time-out can make a world of difference. Now that I’m home with my children, I do this during naptime, or go to a side room where I can still monitor/ hear my children. Sometimes the best spot is the bathroom! When I was working a job, even in the middle of a crazy day, I would go for a ten-minute walk, find a quiet corner conference room or again, head into the bathroom for a few minutes of quiet.Ten minutes will not fix all my worries, but it can help me acknowledge my heart; that it’s trying to tell me something. It can help me get to the root cause of the issue so I’m not looking to anesthetize the pain with an inappropriate remedy and doing the equivalent of walking on an injury during my day.

 

guardyourheartproverb

 

Getting to the heart of the issue takes time, patience, and it’s simply uncomfortable. It’s staring into the mirror and seeing my insecurities, my weaknesses. But it is so good, so healing and it puts my knees on the floor and my feet on a solid foundation. And it takes far less time than endless days and years of putting a lid on the pain. Unhealthy coping mechanisms in the long run only add more pain, more brokenness, more endless circles of wandering around the mountain and never climbing and conquering it. I know. I’ve lived it.

shaunaniequistFor me to be that wise, brave soul, cultivating a home and a haven for my husband and my children, building a foundation from which I can achieve my goals and dreams, I must take care of my heart. This is not a destination, a thing that I’ve learned and scratched off my list; it does not come naturally or automatically. It is a daily, sometimes hourly, even minute-by-minute journey filled with real-life ups and downs, stumbles and falls and getting back up again. Every new circumstance in life brings more challenges, sometimes making it ever harder to cultivate a peaceful heart. But you know what? It only makes me more thankful for God’s renewed grace every day. And it is one of my best teachers.

This journey to a healthy, peaceful heart is essential, and so very worth it.



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