How To Feel Your Feelings
One of the basic foundations of most therapy work is to have awareness of one’s emotions as they come up. But this awareness can often be focused on our thoughts about the emotion instead of feeling it. For example, if someone has anxiety about an upcoming social event, they might have the thought ‘I am anxious about this event.’
They might even be able to observe the specific thoughts they are having about the event: picturing the worst that could happen, anticipating discomfort, thinking of ways to avoid the event, etc.
While this is important awareness to have, it enforces the idea that our feelings are something we THINK and ignores the physical experience of feeling them.
Feelings and the Body
Our emotions do not just exist in our brains, they are experienced in our bodies.
While this person is focused on thoughts about their anxiety, they will likely have less awareness of the physical sensations their body is experiencing. For example, anxiety could cause faster breathing, sweating, fluttering in the stomach, heart racing, or shaking.
Even if we know these are physical symptoms of anxiety, we usually do not take the time to fully experience the sensations in the moment. In fact, many of us avoid attuning to our physical experience of emotions because we want to avoid discomfort. But avoiding the physical feelings works against us because it does not allow the emotions to be processed fully, and they will last longer as a result.
By developing the skill of experiencing and connecting with how our emotions feel in the body, we can become better able to allow them to come and go as they are meant to.
A Step by Step Guide to Feeling Your Feelings
- Find a quiet place to sit or lay with your eyes closed. Take some deep breaths to start to get more in touch with your physical awareness.
- Think of an event that triggered an emotion for you. Start with something small that is not too intense or uncomfortable.
- Allow the feeling to come up and focus your attention on the physical sensations, where you feel this emotion in your body.
- Describe the sensations (‘my heart is racing, there is a heavy pressure in my gut, etc.’)
- Your brain will want to start thinking thoughts about the event – keep bringing your awareness back to your physical experience.
- Keep breathing into the sensations and allow them to be.
- Observe how things shift and the sensations change – and trust they will leave.
- Notice that you got through this process and tolerated the feeling!
Developing this awareness through practice will allow you to be able to eventually tune in to your physical sensations in the moment when you are triggered. This will help in processing and releasing your emotions, as well as better informing you in how to communicate your feelings and needs to others.
Sometimes previous experiences, such as trauma, cause one to become even more disconnected from the awareness of their body, which will make it difficult to access physical sensations. If for any reason you find this practice too challenging to do on your own, working with a mental health professional can help guide you in becoming more attuned to your body in a safe way.
-Laura Gross, LMSW
Laura Gross is a Clinical Therapist with Marsh Psychology Group
You can contact her at:
Source: Emily McDowell, @emilyonlife