If you read last week’s Wellness Wednesday, you may remember me talking about allowing yourself to “feel your feelings.” This week, I want to get into what that means and why it is so important for our mental and physical health. Now, in order to start we must first understand the difference between an emotion and feeling. Understanding the difference will help you in the long run. The difference is that they originate in different parts of our body. Feelings formulate in our minds after emotions are represented by physical changes in our body.
Let me give you an example. You are having a conversation with a loved one and they say something that really offends you. Your heart begins racing, you start to become nauseous, your mouth goes dry and you begin to sweat. These are emotions or a physical change in your body. Your body is sending out these messages signaling feelings of sadness, shame and maybe even anger. These are feelings and your brain will begin to determine how you will respond. Your feelings will vary in different situations based on learned experiences and memories. Has this person said these things to you in the past? Are you afraid they might be right in what they are saying? Have you not dealt with the feelings/emotions this person has brought you in the past?
Let’s go deeper as to why it is so important for us to actually feel our feelings and what could possibly happen when we don’t.
The more you suppress negative feelings, the more you will have.
It is understandable that as human beings, we do not want to feel things that are painful and this includes our psychologically. We want to pretend our feelings don’t exist or we assume they will just go away if we ignore them. This is a completely natural response. Individuals who routinely suppress physical emotions, numb their feelings to certain emotions, or simply ignore their bodies reaction (emotions) to certain situations are more likely to become depressed, anxious and/or suffer from negative behaviors such as poor nutrition, substance abuse, abnormal sleeping patterns, etc. Oftentimes, individuals will put up self-defense against their emotion or mask them instead of allowing themselves to feel it. Have you ever heard anyone talk about how it is unhealthy to bottle up emotions because eventually you will explode? This is simply because emotions are energy and without having an outlet, the energy collects in the body. In doing this, you cause your body and your mind to suffer greatly because the energy is persistently present. While acknowledging and expressing our hurt is a way of preventing the energy from building up. Simply put, you let feelings "go" by feeling them fully. Now, I am not saying that you should go destroying things when you are feeling upset. Remember how I told you before that emotional pain triggers the same area of the brain that physical pain does? Our brains are telling us that something is wrong (feelings). They are messages that tell us action needs to be taken. It is important that you act but just as important that you act appropriately. Always remember that whatever you are feeling is valid. Don’t judge your feelings because when you do this, you are closing the door to a beautiful learning experience. Also remember that processing your feelings allows you access to your inner-self. Nothing is better than truly knowing yourself and being able to handle those feelings.
Now how do you feel your feelings?
This can come in multiple steps especially because it is not something that we are taught to do. Most of the time we are taught to “suck it up” or “get over it.” So learning a new skill when it comes to the way our brains function can be difficult. Here is a list of some things you can start doing:
1. Recognize the physical change (emotion) that comes along with feeling
We cannot escape either emotions or feelings. It is who we are and it is going to happen today, tomorrow, next month, etc. More often than not, we know when our body is responding to something. We can’t ignore our racing heart, sick stomach or sweat pouring from our face. The feelings that come along with those emotions are what we tend to bottle up. Partially because we cannot exactly see them right in front of us. Take a few deep breaths, a moment to pause and figure out what your body feels like in that moment. Recognize that when you have physical changes in your body, you will also have feelings that come along for the ride. Recognize that they are there!
2. Ask yourself, what happened?
Take a step back from responding right away and ask yourself what just happened? Be aware of the exact thing that triggered you to have the emotions that then caused your feelings. Has something like this happened in the past? Are you dealing with a potential traumatic situation? The ability to recognize your triggers is an important step in really getting to know yourself.
3. Name the emotions you are experiencing.
Begin to name what emotions you are having and the feelings that come along with them. Are you feeling sad, angry, shocked, anxious, etc? Along with naming the emotions, you’ll be able to learn what your body is telling you about them. For example, I tend to get chest pain when I am feeling anxious. It is quite literally an immediate emotion to feeling anxious. We are all different so we will all have different physical changes along with our feelings. Take the time to name yours.
4. Remember that negative feelings are not bad!
We are taught that negative feelings such as anger, guilt, sadness or fear are bad. This is why we tend to bottle them up. Remember that this is absolutely not true. The only time we can truly say that these kinds of feelings are bad is when we respond with bad behavior. Otherwise, remember that even your negative feelings are a message to you. Fear is telling you fight or flight, anger can be telling us we have an unfulfilled need, sadness is telling us that we are showing empathy or compassion and the list goes on.
5. Write your feelings down.
I am a huge fan of journaling. If you are like me and you feel deeply sometimes feeling your emotions can become overwhelming. Getting them onto paper is so beneficial. Once you’ve gotten them out and onto paper you can learn a lot about yourself and why you’re feeling this way. You can then begin to move on from these feelings.
So let’s start there! I really hope you can take something out of this, give yourself grace and allow personal growth! I was so used to judging myself for feeling certain kinds of ways until I realized I wasn’t actually crazy like I had been told so many times by people in the past. I am a deep feeler and I didn’t know how to recognize and deal with my emotions. I was also very impulsive. I responded without even understanding what I was feeling and why I was feeling it. It is still a work in progress but I have to tell you that since I started doing the things listed above, I have had so much personal growth. I feel like I know myself and I know what triggers me to feel certain feelings. I’d love to hear your feedback down below!
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a Doctor or practicing professional in mental health. I earned my M.A in Forensic Psychology from Argosy University. I am currently a member of the peer support team for first responder's and those who work with first responder's. I enjoy studying mental health and I take trainings to further my education on current mental health issues.