Expressing what's inside

  • Published
  • By Mary Arnold
  • 301st Fighter Wing, director of psychological health

We are living in a world today that is full of turmoil. Between a global pandemic and issues related to racism and social injustice, people are polarized with their thoughts and emotions. This often leads to increased tensions and difficult interactions.   


Fear. Hurt. Frustration. Anger. Sadness. These emotions are often labeled as “bad” or “wrong,” but, there is no such thing as a “bad” or “wrong” emotion. We are entitled to whatever emotion we are feeling related to whatever thought we are having about whatever event is occurring. People label emotions as “good” or “bad” to help us to make sense of what we are feeling and to regulate ourselves.


Our responses to our emotions, or our behaviors, are what can have negative consequences. If I am angry and decide to punch a wall, then the negative consequence would be a hole in the wall and a bruised or broken hand. Being angry is not the issue. Punching the wall is. 


So if these emotions are ok to have, then what do we do with them? 


Expression of emotions is critical. We typically have no problem expressing happiness in socially appropriate ways.  So this is also how we will work to express our fear, hurt, frustration, anger, sadness, and any other vulnerable emotion that we may be experiencing.


When we’re happy, we share it with others. We have conversations with our families and friends about what is making us happy. Talking about vulnerable emotions with those we trust will help us to release the tension that builds. When we are talking about things that bother us, we are less likely to lose control of our behaviors. This will improve trust in relationships and increase our mood.


When we’re happy, we do things in our communities that make a difference. We may volunteer with organizations that help others. Volunteering with meaningful organizations while we experience vulnerable emotions can help us to get our minds off of our personal stress and on to things that effect change. Helping others when we are down will improve our mood. And improved moods will strengthen relationships.


When we’re happy, we listen to others’ with more ability to hear what they are really saying. We hear their experiences and understand where they are coming from. Listening to others when we are experiencing vulnerable emotions can build bridges that can also affect change. Listening to hear their story (not to “convince” them of our side) shows respect. Showing them that we are willing to take a step in their direction will help them to take a step in ours.


There are other ways to express our emotions that are helpful and affective. Educating ourselves through watching TED Talks and podcasts, reading books, and having real conversations for the sake of learning will help us to grow. Exercise, journaling, art, and other hobbies can also be healthy ways of expression. 


I challenge you to identify more ways to express yourself. Then share what you are doing with your fellow Airmen, family, and friends. We will all get through these difficult times… together!