If you’re anything like me, learning to identify and express feelings can be a challenge. It’s a skill I’ve only recently started to develop in the past few years, and for someone who spent so long trying to compartmentalize and run away, it can be a difficult endeavor.
If you’re an expert at feeling your feelings (kudos!), then the following tips may seem trivial. For those of you who may need some extra help identifying and expressing your feelings, here are eight things I try and incorporate in my everyday life.
1. Examine Your Physical Response
One of the biggest cues that I am feeling something is a physical manifestation of that feeling. It can be different for everyone, but there is usually a physical that accompanies an emotional reaction. Pay attention to the cues that your body is giving you. For me,
- tight chest/shoulders = anxiety, fear
- stomach tightness or pain = sadness, grief, distrust, betrayal
- face flush = embarrassment, happiness
Having those physical responses causes me to pause and ask “what is going on right now?”
Related: Learning to Listen to Your Gut
2. Identify the Feeling
When I stopped using drugs and drinking to numb any feelings that I had, they quickly started returning. My problem was that I had no idea which feeling I had at any particular moment. I remember early into Neil and I spending time together that everything made me “anxious.” I had no further delineation of feeling, it was just all anxiety. Over time, I learned to figure out more nuanced feelings such as feeling inferior to others and that the happiness I felt was often an optimism about where I was going and what I was doing.
Although it may seem silly, referring to feeling wheels such as this one helped me actually figure out the exact emotions I was having at any given time.
3. Avoid Judgement
One of the main reasons why I ran from my feelings or became adept at ignoring them was because I placed judgement on them. As an example, when my grandfather died, I said to myself that in time grief passes and people move on, so that’s what I chose to do. I told myself it was stupid to get upset when I would eventually not be upset in the future. I was marginally sad and told myself to continue living the way I was living.
On the 12 hour drive back from his funeral, I was pulled over for speeding. His health had started to fail quickly, so even though I was still on probation at the time and not allowed to leave the state, Neil and I decided to make the trip without informing my probation officer. Now there was legal paperwork linking me to North Carolina. Neil and I got into a huge fight (mainly because of fear) and I exploded into a monster of sobbing, profanity, and irrational reactions all around. Had I simply acknowledged that I was sad and upset, my emotions wouldn’t have come out sideways.
4. Be Still
I can be quick to gloss over feelings because I move quickly from one place and one thought to the next. Take some time to meditate or just sit with yourself and the situation and see what comes up. Being present is something I’m always working on and it’s amazing what even 10 minutes can bring up.
One of the quickest ways I use to escape feelings is my phone. Anytime I’m feeling uncomfortable, I can escape into awesome Instagram photos or any other social media that controls my life. Putting it out of my reach often helps me forget about it altogether and be more present in my life.
I think writing is one of the most underused forms of therapy. I’m certainly guilty of underutilizing it. Writing this blog is tremendously helpful, but something magical happens when you put a pen to paper. Take some time to journal or just write out a quick summary of what is going on in your life. I’m always surprised at how much more comes out and gets processed through free writing.
6. Talk To Someone
As hard as it is, it’s important to let others in. Vulnerability shows extreme courage and the help you get from another person can be invaluable. Even if you simply explain what’s going on and don’t look to that person for advice or answers, it will help you process. It’s easy to have a tough day and respond that you’re doing “fine” when someone asks how you are, but it’s harder to respond honestly and let others know that you could use someone to listen.
If you’re really having a hard time processing your feelings, try talking to someone in the mental health field. I can’t tell you how important it was for me over the last year to put my trust in professionals to get through certain times.
Music has always been something that elicits emotion for me. Even when I tried to escape everything I felt, certain songs cut right to the core and could instantly bring up things I didn’t even realize I was feeling. If you’re trying to tap into something specific, choose songs that bring out those emotions for you.
8. Daily Reflection
At the end of the day, take some time before bed to reflect on your day. What made you happy? Sad? Frustrated? If you want to kill two birds with one stone, keep a journal near your bed so that you can jot some of those feelings and situations down. Think about how you could have handled them differently or if you need to process them any further.
Thanks to Amanda for letting me think out loud.
- What other ways do you process feelings?
- What feeling or emotion do you have the most trouble dealing with?