I think one of the foundations to great emotional and mental health is being able to identify and process our emotions. Which isn’t easy. Most of us are more used to tuning out our feelings. We’re more used to ignoring or dismissing them. We’re more used to telling ourselves that we should feel differently. We should be happier. We shouldn’t be anxious.
We’re more used to getting upset at ourselves for feeling certain feelings — you might bash yourself for being anxious about something so “silly” or getting hurt over a loved one’s “small” remark.
In other words, we might not accept our feelings. We might not give ourselves permission to feel whatever arises.
This isn’t very helpful (or good for our well-being). What is helpful is having a collection of tools we can turn to for better understanding and managing our emotions. Today, I’m sharing a few different strategies:
- Draw your body, just the outline or get as detailed as you like. Think about where you’re feeling your feeling (e.g., your belly, ears, head, heart). Mark it on your drawing. Next to the drawing, write about what you’re feeling exactly in that body part. Then acknowledge these feelings and sensations. Avoid judging yourself for them. They are what they are. Once we can accept our feelings fully, we can fully move on.
- Create a mindmap of your feeling and any related thoughts and triggers. That is, write the feeling you’re feeling in the center of your page. Circle it. Then from that circle, draw several lines, which connect to other circles. In those circles, include the events, experiences or people that triggered your feeling. Include your thoughts and anything else that comes to mind. Create offshoots from those thoughts and triggers. For instance, your other circles might include past experiences and memories. This is a good way to get to the bottom of your feelings and really to get to know yourself. Plus, getting your feelings and thoughts on paper helps to make them tangible and manageable.
- Doodle, color or draw your feelings. What do they look like? Transfer your sensations into colors and images.
- Make your feelings into different characters. Describe what they look like, sound like, the thoughts they’re thinking, and how they interact with others. For instance, there might be Angry Annie, Anxious Andy, Sad Solomon, Elated Elaine and Jealous Judy. This might feel silly. But sometimes a little silly is exactly what we need when we’re dealing with difficult emotions.
- If your feeling were the weather, what would it look like? Write about it, or draw it.
- If your feeling were an article of clothing, what would it be?
- If your feeling were a food, what would it be?
- What if your feeling were a character from TV, movies or books?
- What if your feeling were an object, plant, tree or flower?
- What if your feeling were an animal? Sometimes, asking ourselves these seemingly odd questions actually helps us to see our feelings in a different light and even better understand them.
- Close your eyes. Picture yourself standing on a beach. Any beach. Picture yourself feeling whatever emotion is arising. Picture yourself feeling it fully. Picture the feeling swirling inside your body. Then when you’re ready, after the feeling has been felt, picture your feeling leaving your body. Picture it going out into the ocean. Picture it flying away with the seagulls. Picture it as a cloud floating away with the other clouds. Picture yourself feeling soothed and calmed by the sea and your beautiful surroundings. Picture yourself leaving the beach and returning home to focus on the day ahead.
- Create a list of 50 practical, helpful and maybe even fun ways you can cope with your feelings. Keep your list with you. Ask your loved ones to share what helps them cope healthfully with their emotions. Put your favorite ones on your list.
- Picture your feeling as a package or letter that arrives to you via your mailman. What is the letter or package trying to tell you? What is its message? What does it want you to know? You can even take the perspective of your feeling, and create an actual letter in your journal (e.g., “Hi, this is anger, what I’m really trying to tell you is …”). Our feelings actually give us useful information, if we’re willing to listen. For instance, being angry might tell you that your boundary has been crossed. Being jealous might tell you what you really, really want.
Whenever you honor your feelings by sitting with them, you’re really honoring yourself. And it doesn’t get any healthier than that.
The winner of Polly Campbell’s new book How to Live an Awesome Life: How to Live Well, Do Good, Be Happy is Ellyce (picked using random.org). Congrats! I’ll be emailing you shortly. 🙂 Thanks to everyone who shared what’s awesome in their lives!