As anyone who’s embarked on an intense cleansing program could tell you, you may experience side effects when detoxing — and not just to your skin or digestion, either. Purging years of toxins and other harmful substances from your system stirs up all kinds of reactions, and while you might already expect mild headaches, muscle aches or breakouts, you might be surprised at the other emotional changes that result.
The truth is, it’s not at all uncommon for people switching diets, doing juice fasts or trying out some other kind of cleansing protocol to experience waves of emotions, from anger to depression to fear, in the process. As your body cleanses, certain emotional reactions take place.
If this happens to you, how can you deal with the side effects? What are the best ways to cope with the emotional side of detox? How can you avoid feeling totally overwhelmed?
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To help answer these questions, here’s a look at 7 specific strategies for handling the emotional rollercoaster that can happen as you cleanse:
1. Accept and Acknowledge
When you feel the tears coming or the frustration building, don’t try to fight it — this will only magnify your symptoms. Rather, accept what is happening and acknowledge the feelings. “The whole point of the release is to let go of negative things buried deep inside you,” says Demetra Szatkowski from Mind Body Green. “Don’t suppress it and re-bury them. Burst into tears! Yell! Cry!” Remember that it is normal to feel sad or angry or grumpy at different times; these are just emotions that everybody feels at some point or another. Likewise, remind yourself that quitting coffee or skipping a meal does not cause emotional reactions — the cleansing that can occur does. It will end. By processing what is happening instead of suppressing it, you’ll be able to move through it and feel much better again.
2. Search Your Heart
Ask yourself why you’re feeling this particular wave of emotion. Could there be suppressed feelings from your past that have never been dealt with? Did something happen recently that is still bothering you? Sometimes the answer will be obvious, and other times you won’t know; either situation is OK. You don’t need to know why you’re reacting, but if there is something asking for you to deal with it, don’t resist.
3. Enlist the Help of Loved Ones
Don’t try to be a hero and handle problems on your own. Instead, let your loved ones know when you’re cleansing so they can be prepared to expect unusual reactions and to know how to help you. The ones in your life who love you most can be your greatest allies in emotional meltdowns, so get their support in order to make the process easier. You may find that talking through emotions helps you deal with them, or that knowing someone is nearby to listen frees you inside to process the emotion faster. If you have a friend or family member who has already gone through a detox, even better — he or she will have a compassion that comes from walking where you now walk.
4. Aid the Detox Process
Part of what makes detox symptoms more intense is when we don’t support our bodies to heal. So rather than doing life as usual when your body is cleansing, for example, try to aid the process through careful strategies: get extra rest, drink lots of water, get outside, go for walks in nature and take time to meditate and practice deep breaths. All of these things will support your body and guide you more quickly through to the end.
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5. Stay Regular
When your body is cleansing, harmful things need somewhere to go, which is why your body’s elimination channels are so important. It’s also why (when you’re detoxing especially) you must have regular bowel movements in order to minimize a host of other reactions. So with that in mind, you may consider taking whole-food-based vitamin C, supplemental magnesium or even enemas to keep things moving.
6. Take Epsom Salt Baths
Not only is taking the time to soak in the tub a soothing process, but also, when you soak in a salt bath of either sea salt, Epsom salts or some other salt mixture, you help to draw toxins out of the body through the skin. “The sulfates in Epsom salt help flush toxins and heavy metals from the cells, easing muscle pain and helping the body to eliminate harmful substances,” says Saltworks.us. As more toxins come out of the body, you free more elimination channels and reduce the symptoms you’re feeling.
7. Avoid Strenuous Exercise
While light to moderate exercise can be good for the body while it’s detoxing, engaging in intense exercise only puts more strain on the systems that are already overwhelmed. “The body needs time and rest to heal,” says Tummy Temple. “Make sure to get plenty of rest and do not engage in strenuous exercise if you are feeling weak.” Rather than overdoing it with exercise, focus on getting time to rest and rejuvenate as your body heals.
As we pursue more healthy lifestyles, most of us will experience reactions from time to time. Whether we’re cutting out a harmful substance or adding in a new habit that can benefit our overall health, simple changes can create chain reactions. So if and when you experience emotional reactions to a new diet or workout plan, take heart: what you’re going through is normal, and you can cope with it using the strategies above. In fact, by knowing what to expect and how to plan for emotions, you can ease symptoms and move through them to a healthier life.