clean your mind
Have you ever been so overwhelmed by your thoughts or responsibilities that you feel like you’re stuck in quicksand? Or, so emotionally out of control that you get easily triggered and often overreact to situations you wouldn’t normally find stressful? You may feel withdrawn or struggle with childhood trauma or rejections from the past that affect your present and future. (Here’s how to set boundaries for your mental health.)
If you’re feeling this way, it may be time for an emotional detox. (Try these herbal remedies for fatigue and exhaustion.)
Most of us know what a physical detox is (think the infamous Green Juice Cleanse), but we don’t hear nearly as much about how to do an emotional detox and its potential benefits.
Here’s what you need to know about emotional detox and how clearing toxic feelings can lead to better mental health.
What is an emotional detox?
Clinical psychologist Barbara Ford Shabazz, director of the psychology program at South University in Savannah, Georgia, and founder of Intentional Activities, describes emotional detoxification as engaging in behaviors and activities that “eliminate emotions that directly interfere with optimal mental health and connectedness.” are with for our physical health.”
Sounds easy, right? Shabazz warns that emotional disconnection can be harder than it looks.
“When we’re part of a culture that values being busy rather than slowing down to ‘sit’ with ourselves, existence on autopilot tends to leave us exhausted, distracted, and disconnected, primarily from ourselves. Shabazz warns.
While there are no quick fixes when it comes to processing, extracting, or letting go of the trauma, stress, and burnout we carry with us from day to day, it is doable.
Tips for doing an emotional detox
Here are 14 suggestions to consider when preparing for an emotional detox.
Shabazz says the best way to address the root of your stress is to be honest with yourself about what may be causing you mental or emotional discomfort or tension. She says, “recognition is the best way to get to the root and clear the path to healing.” (Here’s why toxic positivity can be negative.)
The heart and mind are connected to the body
While there are differences between a physical and emotional detox, one of the features inherent in both is eating healthy and nutritious foods and exercising your body. Before embarking on your emotional detox, clean up your eating habits and get your blood flowing, suggests Candice Williams, a licensed professional counselor and athletic counselor in the Ohio State University athletics department.
These changes can look different for each person. You may decide to start slowly by eliminating soda from your diet or limiting the number of times you eat out.
Others may opt for a more aggressive change by going vegan or following a strict excise tax regime five days a week. Regardless, Williams emphasizes the mind-body connection. When we eat right we tend to feel better physically and when we feel better physically it helps increase mental clarity. (Find out what happens to your body when you relax.)
Make a plan before you start your plan
Williams recommends creating an action plan for your detox before you officially begin. Work on your plan in small amounts for a few days leading up to the start of your detox.
Williams also recommends setting realistic and practical goals that consider your day-to-day responsibilities and non-negotiable obligations. This can also be a good time to start identifying and thinking about what might be causing your stress or tension so that you can tailor your plan to your specific needs.
Clear your head and the rest will follow
According to Shabazz, “There’s nothing like a good brain dump to clear your mind.” Without editing or thinking deeply, she recommends writing down what comes up, saying it’s key to identifying your unconscious needs and some of the conflicts you may never have articulated.
After you’re doing your brain dump, read through your thoughts and identify patterns. “Be honest with yourself about the consistent patterns you find. Forgive yourself. emote. Ask what it is, when it comes up, who or what causes it, why it’s important, where it comes from, and plan how you choose to let go of what’s holding you back,” says Shabazz.
As hard as it is for some of us not to allow our minds to wander to the many tasks we have to complete or the event of the day, Williams emphasizes the importance of staying present and focused on your plan while detoxing. (Suffering from a bad night’s sleep? Here’s how cleaning up helps insomnia.)
Kick social media to the curb
Or at least use it responsibly. After you make your plan or do a braindump, you will find that social media is a trigger for you as it is for many others. Williams says taking a break from social media can be very helpful during an emotional detox.
Constantly looking at the lives of others and the inevitable comparisons we make between ourselves and the lives we see on social media can take a significant toll on our mental and emotional well-being over time. And if for some reason you find that you can’t completely rid yourself of social media during your full cleanse, limit your use and make sure to only visit sites and pages that bring you peace of mind. An alternative to using social media could be a journal. (Follow these therapists’ tips for starting a journal.)
Identify and limit vices
Comfort-seeking behavior is part of human nature, especially during times of stress or compulsion. Being overly concerned with things like food and alcohol are the most common vices, as they are also the most easily accessible. But consistently engaging in this behavior to numb the pain won’t lead to the cure you’re really looking for. (These stress management tips can get you started.)
To make matters worse, overeating can also lead to serious problems down the road, such as overeating, excessive weight gain, alcoholism and overall ill health. So, before reaching for that glass of wine after an argument with your partner or a bag of crisps after a long stressful day at work, stop. Recognize the urge and do an exercise of self-reflection about what is causing that desire. (Here’s how to avoid emotional eating during times of stress.)
Ask for help
Identify those in your life you trust and don’t be afraid to reach out to them if you need their help. The same goes for speaking with a mental health professional. We’ve all needed someone in our lives. There is no shame in asking for help. (Learn more about finding a therapist.)
Forgive yourself and others
Many of us hold a grudge against ourselves and others, which can slowly erode our mental and emotional well-being. If this sounds vaguely familiar, give yourself some mercy. Recognize that we all make mistakes.
This is not to say that you should not hold yourself and others accountable or that you should maintain relationships with those who have caused you extreme pain. Forgiveness is not an allowance. Forgiving yourself and others is the habit of acknowledging the anger, processing those emotions, and then getting to a place where you can accept whatever happened, make peace with it, and let it go.
wallow in the “good”
Just like any other detox, once you get rid of the impurities that once weighed you down, replace them with the stuff. Find and fill and wallow in the people and spaces that serve you. Be aware of activities and interaction with people that make you happy.
Of course, whatever you do will not leave you overjoyed and any interaction you have with other people will not leave you with a heart in your eyes. However, do your best to have those positive experiences as often as possible. Williams recommends using a gratitude journal to keep yourself focused and constantly grounded in a place of peace and appreciation.
(Check out these positive quotes to boost your mood.)
What is a Post-Emotional Detox?
Once you’ve completed your emotional detox, hopefully there will be behaviors, thoughts, perspectives, and attitudes that you won’t want to go back to.
Similar to dieting or a physical detox, if you go back to eating another pint of ice cream for breakfast, you may very well end up in the same situation again. That is why it is important to also have a maintenance plan that you are working on that is realistic.
Tips during a post-emotional detox
Here are a few other things to keep in mind after the detox.
Fixing reduces recurrence
Make sure you keep making intentional efforts for post-detox recovery and healing. “What we don’t ‘repair’ doesn’t just go away. It may not be at a level of conscious awareness, but it always finds its way to the surface when we are activated or triggered. Don’t let the ease of denial hold you back from continued identification and necessary growth,” Shabazz says. (Try this 10-minute quick anxiety fix.)
Keep asking for help
According to Shabazz, “support is a verb.” She recommends staying connected with a trusted network of family, friends, and professionals who can nurture you objectively and help you maintain balance while working through emotions as things arise. (Here’s how friends relieve stress and help us cope.)
Don’t be afraid to hit restart
If you find yourself back to square one, like many of us are, don’t be afraid to hit restart. It may even be a good idea to schedule an emotional detox into your schedule on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis.
Then practice some self-care and learn how to free up “me-time”.