For many of us even the hint of sadness or anger can feel overwhelming. We don’t want to go there. So instead we turn away, and pretend we’re perfectly fine. We pretend that nothing has happened, and we take out our favorite shovel and start digging, burying whatever remnants of emotions we haven’t already hidden away, deep into the ground.
Sometimes, the shovel is wine. Sometimes, the shovel is food or Facebook. Sometimes, it’s our phones or the TV. Sometimes, the shovel is something else altogether, but the result is the same: Our feelings are neglected, and go unexplored, and they build and build beneath the surface.
But there are ways we can ease into our emotions and still acknowledge and honor them. Here are 10 practices and ideas to try:
- Liken your feelings to the weather. Are you feeling partly cloudy with a chance of rain? A full-on thunderstorm with golf-ball-sized hail? Are your feelings akin to a hurricane? Or are you experiencing an especially chilly and snowy season?
- Write just one sentence that describes how you’re feeling, and it can be super simple: I am frustrated. I am upset. I am so sad. You don’t have to get into why. You don’t have to do anything about it. Just naming your feeling can be incredibly powerful, and an incredible way to honor yourself.
- Pretend you’re 5-year-old you, and draw how you feel. You can set a timer for 5 minutes, and that’s it.
- Draw the situation that triggered your feeling as a comic strip.
- Get curious about your emotion, and ask yourself five questions about it—from the perspective of a child. How come I feel this way? What does this emotion feel like? What does it look like or smell like? Try to have a playful perspective. I know this is tough, especially with serious seemingly “negative” feelings. But when I say playful and childlike what I really mean is being non-judgmental and genuinely curious and not critical or unkind.
- Write a letter from your feeling to you. What does it want you to know? That is, what does your anger want to tell you? What is your sadness trying to say? Our emotions are messengers. And when we take the time to listen, we can learn some helpful information—everything from what isn’t working to what boundaries need to be set to what changes need to be made.
- Put on headphones, and turn on your favorite calming music. Use paint, crayons, pastels, markers or a pen (i.e., whatever you have on hand). Visualize your emotion moving through your body and moving out from your fingertips and onto the piece of paper. Draw or paint whatever you feel like.
- Light a candle. Watch the flame for a few minutes without doing anything else. Then draw a flame in your notebook based on how you’re feeling. For instance, if you’re feeling angry, you might draw a big, roaring, red flame. If you’re sad, you might draw a small flame that’s a blend of blues and grays.
- Every day do a body scan. Maybe you do a body scan in the mornings, at lunchtime and before bed. If anything comes up that keeps weighing on you, give yourself 10 minutes to write about it, draw it, dance it out, vent about it to a friend, or do anything else that’s healthy and supportive.
- Listen to a brief guided meditation that you like, and observe what arises.
Feeling our feelings, like anything else, takes practice. Thankfully, it’s a skill we can learn at any age, whether we’ve really ever sat with our feelings or not. The key is to keep at it. Because it is vital and essential. Because feeling our feelings is how we tell ourselves, I am listening to you. I am here.