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Emotional Plumbing Survival Guide

Posted on Monday, October 29th at 11:32 pm

By: Nick Wagenseller, MA, LPC-I 
Primary Therapist

Nick Wagenseller, MA, LPC-I
Primary Therapist

My father, who has been a practicing psychoanalyst for over 45 years, used to tell me, “emotions are not efficient.”  Productivity and mental health issues are somewhat paradoxical.  Part of the challenge with working through depression, anxiety, or PTSD, is that an individual’s emotional experience has been resisted, suppressed, or avoided at some point, causing a kind of a clog in the plumbing of human experience.

As with all plumbing issues, the best course of action is to focus on the source of the clog.  In psychotherapy, the individual is encouraged to get back in touch with the emotions that have been resisted, gaining exposure to that which the individual has been unable to tolerate.  

When we begin unearthing emotions that we haven’t experienced in a while, or in some cases ever before, it can get messy, and sometimes it gets worse before it gets better.  However, if we don’t deal with the “clog,” then the whole house starts to reek. We stop inviting people over, isolate, and we’re driven further into depression. 

The psychotherapeutic process takes time, patience, and courage to jump into some of our most undesirable emotional clogs. Here are some tips to help the process flow efficiently: 

  • Connect – find a therapist, join a support group, find undivided attention outside your immediate friend or family community.  Find someone just for you and develop a health and wellness budget.  Venting buddies are awesome, and they’re about as effective as opening the window when you’ve got a clogged toilet.  If you want to be productive in working through mental health challenges, you’ll have to do more than venting. 
  • Exercise – getting outside would be the best option, but if it’s not possible for you, join a gym, go for a walk in the morning, dedicate 30 minutes of your day to taking care of your body by getting active. 
  • Drink water – drink more water than caffeine.  Caffeine can help you wake up in the morning, stay focused for periods of time during the work day, sure.  But if you’re not hydrated, all of that’s a bust.  Drink water!
  • Eat a balanced diet.  It’s hard to do emotional work when your clogging your internal system with junk food.  Flush your physical system with good nutrition.  It’s like Drano for emotional clogs – it loosens things up. 
  • Dedicate your time to short term goals.  Long term goals are the Achilles heel to a person working through depression/anxiety or PTSD.  They tend to overwhelm the system that is already flooded with cortisol.  If you have a deadline a week from now, break up the workload to smaller bites.  Every small accomplishment releases a shot of dopamine.  Accomplish something even if it’s taking a shower, writing a sentence, making the phone call to interview a therapist, or paying a bill. 
  • Laugh – Don’t take the “mental illness” thing too seriously.  Laughter is the simplest way to release endorphins, which is our bodies’ natural analgesic.  Humor’s natural medicine increases our tolerance to painful thoughts, memories, or situations.  If you can find a therapist who you can laugh with, fantastic.  They’ll be able to help you navigate the pipes a whole lot easier.
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