Exercising Emotions: Comparision with Physical Fitness

Lead in

This is a comparison between emotional and physical fitness.


We have discussed stored emotion and processing emotion. In the next three presentations we discuss exercising emotion.  Whereas processing emotion deals with emotion that has potentially been stored and whose release might lead to enhanced emotional fitness, exercising emotion consists of practising emotion you already know on a regular basis in order to maintain emotional fitness. When exercising emotion, we are healthily responding to emotional impacts from outside ourselves and not storing it away to deal with some other day.

In this presentation we make a comparison between emotional fitness and physical fitness.


We exercise our emotions by participating in recreational activities such as dramatic performances, watching movies, TV shows and anything that involves story telling.  We also exercise our emotions through interpersonal interactions whereby we assert ourselves towards other people or are subject to other people's assertions in the never ending establishment and re-establishment of pecking order and hierarchy that is inevitable in human society.  You  could say that the recreational activities provide some kind of theoretical instruction in emotional exercise, while the interpersonal relations are the practice.

Benefits of definition

We are so used to thinking that emotions are events inside of us which we seldom have much control over.  If we understand that emotions are faculties that we have that we have learnt like any other skill or activity and that we learn them, exercise them and potentially lose them in the same manner that we might any other activity, then we can learn to understand and manage them better.

Main event

There are definite things we can do to improve our physical fitness and medical health.  We'd like to show you that there are things you can do to improve or at least maintain, your emotional health.

The similarities between emotional and physical fitness.  

Although they are quite independent there are many aspects of emotional fitness that run parallel to physical fitness.  A physically fit person is not necessarily going to be emotionally fit as well.  The similarities are as follows
As with physical fitness we develop emotional fitness in a certain pattern according to our upbringing and lifestyle.  This we might call our emotional repertoire
As with physical fitness we are fit at the emotions that we regularly exercise
As with physical fitness if we fail to exercise emotions we will lose fitness
As with physical fitness we can learn emotional fitness in areas that we are not currently fit in.  We do not need to take for granted that our current emotional repertoire is unchangeable.  It is.
As with physical fitness emotional fitness is associated with the strength and flexibility of certain muscles in the body, specifically the chest and facial muscles.

How do we exercise the emotions?. It is not as simple to exercise your emotions as it is to go for a run or do an aerobics workout. We exercise emotions by allowing ourselves to feel them; letting their impact undergo change in our system and then responding in some way. There are no rules for how we do it, and everybody exercises their emotions differently. Some people carry their feelings on their sleeve and respond straight away, other people tend to store emotions and respond later. 

Unlike with physical fitness, which you can exercise anytime that you have free time and aren't exhausted, with emotions, you can only really exercise them when the emotion presents itself, in response to something happening in your life.  You might be in the middle of some activity when you feel an intense emotion that you wish to exercise.  You may need to stop the activity and exercise the emotion straight away, or you may be able to hold it in for long enough for the activity to finish before you exercise it.  If you lose the momentum of the emotion by delaying, then that might mean you end up holding it in, leading to personal detriment.  Like any fitness, exercising emotions effectively requires an investment of time and attitude.

Emotional breakdown/unfitness

Emotional Unfitness is similar to physical unfitness.  Emotional unfitness may happen slowly or it may spring upon you out of nowhere.  As with physical fitness it is dependent on the situation.  A person who has trained for a 100 metre sprint may well suffer exhaustion trying to run a marathon.  Similarly a marathon runner may pull several tendons when trying to do a 100 metre sprint.  We are fit for the situations that we are experienced with.  As we develop and go through our lives we learn to exercise our emotions in an increasingly large number of situations.  Occasionally we will encounter a situation which we are not fit for and it will cause us stress.  If we are not able to respond to this stress then we risk emotional injury. 

Conditioning plays a large role in emotional fitness, especially as we mature.  When young we are often timid and shy in social situations but with more experience and exercising of the emotions involved in group behaviours we become more confident.  Any different kind of situation involves being exposed a number of times before we gain emotional confidence in that situation.  A person who is thrown into a situation for which they are not yet ready may experience an emotional breakdown, which causes them to go backwards in their process of learning emotional fitness for that situation.  The person was not emotionally fit enough to endure the situation presented to them.

Personal example

Challenge to audience

Exercising emotions helps to improve or maintain emotional fitness.  Gyms for physical fitness are a comparatively recent innovation in our society, stemming from the mid nineteenth century.  There is no reason why we cannot have commercial emotional fitness enterprises, with the accompanying enthusiasm and multi-billion dollar industry that comes with it, in the future.  That is something that I might have already put my mind to.

References and further reading