Sitting with our feelings is not easy. It’s so much easier to reach for our phones or our computers or iPads or remote controls. It’s so much easier to reach for anything else. To zone out. To do something mindless. And this impulse, this strong urge is totally understandable. After all, who wants to dwell in discomfort?
“It is hard enough if we were alone in the woods surrounded by nature with no electricity, simply because sitting with challenging feelings tests our resilience,” said Alena Gerst, LCSW, RYT, a mind/body focused psychotherapist. “It requires us to resist the urge to do something, anything, to feel better, when what we really need is to feel our feelings.”
Because sitting with our feelings is how we honor them. It is how we honor ourselves. It is how we resolve our inner pain. Below, Gerst shared several suggestions for sitting with our feelings.
A powerful way to delve deeper is to write about your feelings, without censoring yourself. Write about the sadness that feels like exhaustion. Write about the shaking, electrifying anxiety. Write about the sweaty, pulsating shame. Write about where you feel these feelings. Inside your stomach. All over your skin. Down your spine.
Give yourself the gift of being heard.
Plus, “You can only repeat yourself so much before you start to look for solutions to whatever is concerning you,” Gerst said. Which also means you give yourself the gift to grow and genuinely feel better.
Gerst’s favorite journal prompt comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way: Number a page from 1-20. At the top write: “I want…” Then as quickly as possible, jot down 20 things you want. “What comes up can be surprising,” Gerst said.
Using Your Body as a Portal
Gerst suggested practicing “something that is meditative but allows you to access your deepest feelings using your body as your portal.” For instance, you might try yoga or Tai Chi. According to Gerst, “Sun Style Tai Chi can be a gentle way to begin.” (Here’s an example on YouTube.)
Swimming is another powerful moving meditation. You’re less likely to distract yourself with devices. Instead, you’re focused on counting strokes and laps and getting into the zone to feel your feelings, Gerst said.
You might find it helpful to take a bath, “another way to comfort your physical body, while you allow for difficult feelings to emerge,” Gerst said.
Sitting with our feelings, with our painful feelings, can feel impossible. But remember that there are ways you can start. Maybe it’s writing. Maybe it’s movement. Maybe it’s something else, like talking to a friend or seeing a therapist or joining a support group.
Remember that you can. You can feel your feelings. If you are worried that you will fall apart, feel them anyway. Because if you do, if you do fall apart, the one you will become will catch you.