How to Feel your Feelings
This blog post, written by a licensed Calgary therapist, discusses why it is important to feel your feelings and strategies to help you do so.
FEEL YOUR FEELINGS
In a world that often encourages us to put on a brave face and soldier through life's challenges, the importance of acknowledging and embracing our emotions cannot be overstated. Unprocessed feelings can have a profound impact on our mental and emotional well-being. In this blog post, we'll explore the art of feeling your feelings and delve into why it's a crucial aspect of personal growth and healing.
How to Feel your Feelings
What are emotions and why are they important?
Many of us will spend a lifetime avoiding our feelings. We’ve developed a relationship with them that says they're scary, overwhelming, and something to distract from. We'll spend our time numbing, whether it's through idly scrolling our phones, using substances, binging food, staying persistently busy or whatever other strategy that we've employed. We'll never know what it’s like on the other side of this avoidance – hope, true joy, a healthier mind, and body; being able to rest and relax, enjoy your life rather than trying to constantly escape, and having more time to do the things that matter to you (because you're spending less time doing the things that don't).
What are emotions? Emotions are sensations that originate in our body and then our thoughts about it create a feeling. They are messengers - giving us information about what is important to us or what our next steps should be. The minute we stop running away from our emotions is the moment that we gain access into what we truly want out of life and who we truly are.
I'll give an example of this. Think of a time where you've felt jealous or, as we like to call it, envy. Where do you think that emotion is coming from? What thoughts have you attached to that emotion? Do you think you're a bad person for experiencing it or do you then feel guilty? The truth is, envy is a crucial emotion, as it tells us what we desire. We can then use the feelings of envy to drive our next steps to obtain what we truly want or practice self-compassion if it is something unattainable.
But, why should I feel my feelings?
Our emotions are like energy in our body, when we push them down or suppress them, they don't go anywhere until they are processed. They stay stored in our body until it becomes too much to take, where they then start to seep out in other ways. This could look like an emotional outburst, anxiety or depression, relationship issues, chronic illness, health concerns, a constant feeling of being in "fight or flight" mode etc.
When we learn to lean in to our emotions (in a way that is not overwhelming) and, when necessary, use them as valuable information, we gain greater emotional intelligence, healthier relationships with ourselves and others, and better mental health.
Lastly, in many of Brene Brown's books and research, she shows us that in order to experience true joy (and all of the other pleasurable emotions) we need to take time to be vulnerable and feel the uncomfortable ones.
How do I feel my feelings?
So often, I hear clients say that they're worried if they start feeling their feelings, they won't ever be able to stop. We have a tendency to associate feeling emotion as uncontrollable crying, depression, or rage. In these instances, we are not feeling our feelings in an adaptive way. Instead, we are letting them overwhelm us.
To start, I invite you to set a timer for 5 minutes - you will have 5 minutes to sit with an emotion and when the timer goes off, that is your cue to move on to a valued action (i.e. go for a walk, listen to a podcast, have a hot shower or bath etc.).
In order to sit with the emotion in an adaptive way, complete the following steps (disclaimer: if you have experienced trauma in your past associated with your body, please only do this exercise under the guidance of a mental health professional):
Name the emotion and acknowledge it (ex. "I am feeling sadness.")
Tune into your body - notice where you are feeling the emotion (ex. "I notice my chest feels tight or heavy).
Fully sit with this sensation. Notice what areas of your body are tense and what are relaxed. Take some deep breaths.
Observe the emotion with non-judgmental awareness. When you notice your mind trying to come up with stories about why you are feeling this emotion/why it's unpleasant/other reasons that you should feel the emotion etc. simply thank your mind for trying to help you and redirect your attention back to the body sensation.
If you notice the emotion becoming intense, direct your attention to your breath. Breathe through it. Sometimes it can be helpful to notice the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen or have a mantra for your inhale or exhale.
Once the timer goes off, take a few deep breaths, wiggle your toes or fingers, and transition to your planned valued activity. Be sure to do your best to be present during this activity - noticing if your mind is trying to bring you back to the emotion, thank it, and then redirect your attention to the present moment. If you find this difficult, refer to my previous blog post on how to practice mindfulness (click here).
If you find it valuable, it may be helpful to reflect on the emotion that you were experiencing and ask yourself what it is trying to tell you.
Other tips for sitting with an uncomfortable emotion:
Imagine the sensation as an object (ex. "I'm picturing a taut rubber band spread out across my chest).
Imagine that you are placing the object outside of your body and onto an area in front of you. Describe the object as if you were describing it to someone that can't see it.