Why are you so angry?
Are you still feeling sad?
You should let that go?
Go ahead - you can cry - I am here with you...
Think for a moment about what you heard about emotions while you were growing up? Was it nurturing or scary? Did you learn that "boys don't cry." (BTW that is not true) Did you learn that you should only express anger alone under the covers? Did someone help you express your feelings in tough times?
Just take a minute and ponder...
Call it what you will but learning to listen to and valuing our emotions is a skill we work on over time. #truth
In our lives messages about emotions have taught us how to treat our feelings.
Sometimes we have internalized that emotions are weak or emotions "aren't really helpful." NOT TRUE!
Emotions are like street signs - Stop, Yield, Caution. When we shut them out it doesn't mean the signs aren't important. If I am driving my car and I close my eyes so I don't see a stop sign that does not mean the stop sign isn't important. Am I right?
So what can we do instead of shutting out the feels?
Listening to emotions and labeling them can be a helpful first step. Glad, Mad, Angry, Scared. Just take note of the feeling and try to give it a name. Knowing what we are feeling is step one in beginning to understand what our feelings are communicating with us.
"But David that scares the crap out of me!" Let's talk about taking care of yourself while you learn to feel what's happening.
Enter Self Compassion
Practicing self-compassion is an important step. Opening ourselves up to feelings and listening carefully to what the feelings are communicating can be draining.
Let me offer 5 ideas on practicing self-compassion as you work on listening to emotions. Here we go!
1) Soothe yourself with senses.
In the same way emotions can be experienced and labeled it can also cause us to spend a good deal of time "hooked" and in our minds. We can spend a good deal of time in the mind and have a hard time coming back to the day to day stuff. This can be a moment to soothe with senses. You might want to use an essential oil or fragrance to calm the mind and reconnect with your body. I love the products at Eden's Garden. Use a roll on scent so you can keep it in your pocket or bag. When you feel hooked on an emotion dab a touch on and spend a moment processing the smell and naming the elements of the scent. Is it earthy? Sweet? Bake cookies, peel an orange. Soak in the scent. Allow your mind to tune in to the moment and away from the feelings that were hooking you or making you anxious.
2) Activate the body.
A second way to practice self-compassion is a way to regroup and maybe hit the reset button. Yes - we should spend time getting familiar with emotions but we also need some downtime. As a psychologist I am also thinking about the whole person and what it will take for my clients to live whole healthy lives. I believe an awesome way to do this would be to . Do you need to get up and move? Stretch? Touch your toes? Get up and move and in the process pay attention to the sensations in your muscles and joints. Listen to the needs of your body and your mind. Better yet combine #1 and #2. How about a walk in the Arboretum or McConnell Springs? Activate the body and be in nature to stimulate the senses.
3) Write it out.
Often we hold onto emotions internally and it can become like a pinball game in our head. The silver ball bounces around and around here and there and all over the place. When we take the time to write it out there is a new way to express what we are feeling. When we see the written word on the page we can read it out loud and hold it in a new light.
Sometimes clients will tell me that they don't know how to begin to write about the feelings.
My response is usually to the tune of - Let it be single words, let it be a poem, it does not have to be perfect. This will not be graded. In addition to writing it out consider drawing, painting, and other expressive mediums. This process activates the mind in a new way and allows us to be compassionate with our process and teaches us that emotions can be expressed and understood.
4) Give yourself a mantra.
Emotions can feel like glue and convince us that they are going to last forever. Not true. Emotions will pass. When you recognize a strong emotional state take a deep breath, label what you are feeling, then try to notice if the emotion is centered in a particular area of the body. Is it tension in the shoulders? A knot in the belly? A pain in the neck? Or is it just a sensation in the mind? All of these are valid. Label the emotion and work on a statement of reassurance. I use the word "mantra."
"This will pass."
"Emotions are not forever."
"I have felt this before and I survived."
Practice this mantra on a regular basis and reinvent your statement when/if it starts to feel stale. No one likes a stale mantra.
5) Plan ahead!
All of these skills can be helpful - and lord only knows if you google self-compassion you can find 1 billion more ideas. But none of it is helpful if you wait until the moment of powerful emotions to make a plan. As a psychologist I work with client's to be proactive and make a plan for coping, so that when they are exploring emotions and working on getting in touch with that inner world they have a tool belt of skills on-call. I would encourage you to keep a reminder in your phone or on a note card in your pocket so that when you are feeling stressed you can pull it out and remember your plan for self-compassionate action.
Self-compassion is a skill learned over time. Take a moment today to practice some of the skills or add to this list and make up your own. This is about personal practice and learning to be gentle with your emotions and with your needs.