Updated: Oct 7, 2021
During my workday, I notice patterns in what is happening with my clients. Often 3 or 4 clients will want to work on the same thing on any given day. Isn’t that interesting? It’s always fascinated me.
Last week, there was a theme where emotions were running high. People were feeling a lot of feelings…whether sadness, anxiety or something else. I wonder if you’ve experienced that as well? It got me thinking that I wanted to write this blog post on how to cope with strong feelings.
Identify your feelings
An important skill in being able to cope with feelings is to understand what’s happening in your body and mind. Ask yourself, what am I feeling right now? You can answer that in one emotional word: it might be angry, happy, sad, embarrassed, anxious, or some other descriptive word. Here’s a list of emotional words that you can refer to if you want to increase your emotional vocabulary.
Start to feel your feelings
Now you want to feel the emotion fully. Here is where we often try to avoid the feeling because this part can feel uncomfortable. When we avoid feelings, it can result in other problems in life, like panic attacks out of the blue, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and more. The benefits of feeling our feelings are that we become more emotionally stable and solid and we’re able to feel confident in being able to handle whatever comes our way. When you’re regularly allowing yourself to feel whatever comes up in your life, many irrational fears start to melt away.
How to feel your feelings
To feel your feelings, you can sit and “hold space” for yourself. This means that you non-judgmentally allow whatever is happening in your body and mind to happen. You notice how it feels. You might cry. When you’re feeling an emotion, it’s beneficial to open your body up and soften yourself.
You find where the feeling is in your body and you pay attention to it. You can name where it is and what it feels like. For example, “the sadness feels like a burning in my throat” or “the anxiety is a tight ball in my stomach.” Feel it until it subsides, which will likely not take as long as you expect.
Experiencing emotions is a process of allowing. It’s not directive, but instead, a more passive observing. It’s important to note that feeling emotion is very different from acting on emotion. Often people worry about feeling anger because they do not want to act angrily. However, feeling angry and acting in anger are separate things. In general, the more you allow yourself to feel your anger, the less likely you are to act out in anger behaviorally.
Feeling emotions, when you do it regularly, does become easier. Although uncomfortable at times, it often feels very good as well, especially when you’re done. Like a hard workout or a good cry, it’s a wonderful release.
What stops us from feeling our feelings?
Now in this discussion about feelings, it’s important to discuss avoidance. We all have our favourite ways to avoid feeling what’s uncomfortable. Human beings are wired to go toward pleasure and resist pain….therefore we can struggle with our favourite avoidance strategies when we’re feeling strong emotion.
Common avoidance strategies are overeating, overdrinking, overspending and overworking. One of the ones that I feel is the biggest in society right now, and I struggle with myself, is playing on our phones. I notice that when I’m in the middle of a difficult project at work, I’ll have strong urges to go on social media and scroll mindlessly. Another big one is excessive Netflixing (sp?).
Now, this isn’t to say that we should never indulge in food, drink alcohol, spend money on frivolous things and work longer hours. Playing on our phone is fine and watching Netflix is relaxing.
Here’s what I want you to think about: Are you doing these things (or other things) to avoid your feelings? Is the behaviour a band-aid over something else that really needs to be felt?
What I recommend is that you work on noticing your avoidant behaviours this week. When you find yourself doing something mindless and perhaps not healthy long-term, as yourself what’s going on for you emotionally. Instead of the mindless or avoidant activity, work on feeling your feelings first. Then if you still want to, do the activity afterward. Over time, you may notice the urge to do the avoidant activity reduces.
Now I’d love to hear from you! What emotion do you plan to work on feeling? How do you usually avoid feeling this?