We tend to overcomplicate the process of connecting to our emotions. We blow it up in our minds. We think it’s going to be too big, too much. And so we naturally avoid our feelings, because who wants to dive head-first into an abyss?
We think feeling our emotions will be overwhelming and all-consuming. And sometimes, it is both. Sometimes that’s because it’s been a while since we’ve acknowledged what’s happening inside our hearts—and we’ve essentially got a surplus of emotions. Maybe some of those emotions go as far back as last year, because you’ve yet to let yourself actually feel them. Sometimes, the emotions we’re experiencing are big.
And all of that is OK.
Because even then we can simplify the process of feeling our feelings—whatever their size, whatever their magnitude. We can turn to fairly simple and straightforward strategies to help us feel those difficult or painful emotions. Here are six tips to try:
- Set a timer for 5, 10, 15, or 20 minutes to journal about your feelings. Give yourself permission for that time to jot down whatever feelings arise, without judging yourself, without wondering why, without thinking you shouldn’t feel that way. If it helps, put on your headphones and listen to a soothing, slow, or sad song. This usually helps to coax the emotion out (particularly if you tend to become numb or stuck or paralyzed or “empty” when an emotions arises).
- Use a prompt. Another way to connect to an emotion is to use a journal prompt to get started, such as: I am feeling … I welcome the feeling of …. My emotion is the color of … If my emotion were a song, it’d sound like …
- Focus on the sensation. Refocus on what’s happening inside your body. Where is the sadness located? Where do you experience tension? How does your head feel? What about your stomach? What about your breathing?
- Scan your body. This is another way to connect to the physical sensations of your emotions. You can find a variety of body scans online, such as this 30-minute practice from Jon Kabat-Zinn or this 3-minute audio from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.
- Try this two-word reframe. When an emotion arises, instead of saying I am angry or I am devastated, say “There is _____.” In other words, There is anger. There is sadness. According to positive psychologist Deborah Smith in her forthcoming book Grow Your Own Happiness, “The moment you become mindful of the emotion and label it ‘There is …’ the intensity of the emotion will start to decrease. You adopt the interested, curious observer’s perspective who says ‘That is interesting, look at that emotion.” In other words, instead of getting entangled with an emotion, and very overwhelmed, we’re essentially able to witness it.
- Use art. If it resonates with you, get out a few markers, crayons, paints, or pencils, and draw your emotion. Similar to journaling, get it out onto paper. Release it. Let it flow through your body and onto the page. You can simply scribble or doodle or splash paint onto a canvas. Let your emotion guide what you do. Let your emotion dictate what you draw or create. Give it permission to express itself freely.
Feeling our feelings takes practice. But the good news is that you can start at any time. In fact, you can start right now simply by checking in with yourself and asking: How am I feeling in this moment? And making sure that you listen to the response.