Most of us use labels to talk about our concerns. I am stressed. I am sooo overwhelmed. I can’t sleep. I am worn out. I am exhausted.
According to author Sherianna Boyle in her latest book Choosing Love: Discover How to Connect to the Universal Power of Love–and Live a Full, Fearless, and Authentic Life! what’s more helpful is to focus on our experiences. She writes:
When you label something, it is likely you are pulling information (thoughts, interpretations) from your conscious mind. Therefore, when you label or describe something, you are filtering it through that narrow “10 percent” lens. Your descriptions of what’s currently going on are probably actually memories of the past or projections of the future. But what you’re really experiencing is actually slightly different.
Boyle notes that labels don’t really get to the heart of what’s happening within us. Labels are limiting. But when you speak about your experience, you’re tuning into your feelings. You’re getting specific. You’re tuning into a range of information. You’re tuning into yourself.
In Choosing Love, Boyle shares these valuable examples of turning labels into experiences:
“I have anxiety” to “I experience worry and doubt.”
“I am exhausted” to “I experience nervousness when I feel out of control.”
“I have a bad back” to “I feel overworked and carry a lot of responsibilities.”
“I can’t sleep” to “I feel restless and agitated when my body is quiet.”
What concerns are currently troubling you? How can you get specific about what you’re really feeling or experiencing?
If you’d like, journal about these concerns. Dig deeper by describing how you’re feeling as though you’re explaining it to someone who has no clue what being “anxious” means or what being “exhausted” looks like.
You can even start with the label (such as, “anxiety”), and then underneath, list 10 ways that your anxiety manifests; how it feels inside your body; and the reasons you feel anxious. Because while feeling anxious is universal and many commonalities exist, your anxiety will be different from my anxiety.
So if you’re overwhelmed, what does this feel like? Do your thoughts race? What is the content of these thoughts? In other words, what are you telling yourself? Do you have a hard time concentrating on the present? Do you get “overwhelmed” when there are too many tasks on your to-do list or when you can’t control your life?
When do you feel exhausted? What sensations do you experience as “exhausted”? What other feelings is your exhaustion connected to (e.g., sadness, pain)?
Ultimately, in order to take compassionate care of ourselves, it helps to get specific about our needs (i.e., our experiences). So we can feed ourselves what we’re hungry or thirsty for.