When someone suggests that you feel your feelings, you might be wondering, that’s nice, but how the heck do I do that? Because if you’re used to ignoring or dismissing your feelings or distracting yourself, this is foreign territory. This is something that does not come naturally to you.
And that’s OK. And it’s actually super common. Many of us never learned how to process our emotions. Because our caregivers didn’t really know either—or they didn’t teach us. But the great thing is that you can learn today.
Below are seven ways to ease into healthfully processing your emotions:
- Draw an outline of your body. Mark where you’re feeling what you’re feeling (with an “x” for instance). Maybe you’re feeling a pounding inside your head, so you put x’s around your head on your sketch. Maybe you feel tension in your stomach, so you draw a big x in the center of your belly. Or maybe you prefer to jot down specific descriptions of the sensations next to the body part. Do what resonates with you. Do what helps you express and understand your emotion best.
- Describe your emotion in terms that a child would understand. In other words, simplify. Don’t try to analyze (or over-analyze). Use short sentences. Use easy-to-understand words. Sometimes, we hide behind big, sophisticated terms and interpretations. But all this does is keep us living inside our minds, and feeling utterly disconnected from the actual emotion.
- Set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes (whatever you feel more comfortable with). Think of your emotion. Zero in on where you’re feeling it. Turn on some music, close your eyes, and just sit—until your timer dings.
- Draw your emotion as a wave. How strong is it? How tall is it? How smooth or choppy is the water in general? What’s the wind like? What about the overall weather?
- Look at your face in the mirror (or take a photo of yourself). Look at your expression when you’re experiencing any kind of emotion. Look at what your brows are doing. Look at what your lips are doing—and your shoulders and your eyes. Then draw yourself. Get to know what you look like when you’re feeling all sorts of feelings. (This is also a powerful way to really see yourself.)
- Use different markers or crayons or paints to doodle the specific colors of your emotions. Is your sadness blue or black or purple? What color is your fear? What color is your excitement? What hues are behind your anger? What about your shame?
- Write about what’s weighing you down. What feels like an anchor that’s lowering you to the bottom of the sea? What feels unbearable? What feels so big? Why does this emotion feel uncomfortable? Pinpoint it. Write it down on paper. You can rip that paper up into teeny tiny pieces after you’re done, if you’d like. Just get it down, so you can explore it. So you can make sense of it.
Processing our emotions takes practice. Start with a relatively innocuous emotion. This way when a more intense feeling arises, you have a fairly good idea of what to do.
Processing our emotions can feel scary. Which is why something as simple and accessible as doodling provides a helpful way in. Start small. Start tiny, if you need to. And always start with kindness toward yourself.