Emotions just aren’t a sexy topic for most people. Or at least, in a glamorized world of social media highlight reels, undesirable emotions aren’t liked, double tapped, or retweeted. It’s interesting how we have come to categorize emotions in a polarized way: some emotions are “good” while others are “bad.” It’s okay to feel happiness, achievement, and love, but it’s not okay to feel sadness, anger, or defeat.
I want us to change that unwritten societal rule so that it’s okay to feel everything, deeply.
I also want us to start normalizing all emotions into a spectrum of completely acceptable human reactions to various experiences that we face.
But, given the systemic nature of the world around us, feeling emotions isn’t just as simple as…feeling emotions. It will take a multi-step approach to create a more emotionally free society. Are you in? Here’s where I think we need to start.
As all sustainable behavioral change begins within individuals before inspiring change in others, we have to start by recognizing the ways in which we do not feel deeply. What habits, or safe guards, do we have in place in order to avoid our emotions? How do you numb and detach? Do you clean your house? Eat? Hop on to Facebook/Insta/Twitter? Fill up your calendar with obligations? Once you begin recognizing your avoidance mechanisms, you’ll have a more honest opportunity to process what you’re experiencing emotionally. And when you’ve resolved yourself to desiring more healthy emotions, you’re ready to begin the next step:
We can begin paying attention to the thoughts we are thinking in order to identify the emotions those thoughts trigger.
“There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life.” – Tara Brach
Let’s be honest – it’s a bit hard to pay attention to our thoughts when we are constantly processing and digesting information, plus are expected to craft a response. We are infiltrated with news and media in various forms, from notifications popping up on our devices to tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines demanding our attention. Our brains are taxed with engaging in a fast-paced, multi-sensory society that leaves little free time for doing something like observing our own thoughts, which is not Instagram-worthy and doesn’t yield any immediate gratification.
So, we have to intentionally carve our time and space to simply sit with our thoughts.
Start with 10 minutes. Give yourself a breather from everything else in the world that competes for your attention for 10 minutes every single day. Have a pen and a piece of paper handy so you can jot down any insights or breakthroughs that you have, and follow this process to begin mindfulness training.
- Get comfortable, whether that means sitting, standing, or lying down.
- Begin inhaling and exhaling on an 8-count (inhale for 8 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds).
- As soon as you notice a thought creep into your otherwise quiet mind, imagine that thought written on a piece of paper. The paper gradually appears closer to you until you can grab it, hold it, and review the words splashed across it.
- Determine the relevance of this thought. Is it a fleeting distraction (“Oh sh*t! I forgot to turn the oven off!”)? Or, does the thought hold deeper clues to the state of your emotional being (“I am so proud of myself for taking the time to do this,” or more likely, “I could really use a break. I’m exhausted.”)?
- When you discover a thought that has emotional relevance, simply allow that feeling to wash over you. Is it exhaustion? Let yourself be totally worn out. Is it excitement? Feel as excited as you’d like to. Is it sadness? Embrace yourself, holding space for yourself to just be sad before having to re-emerge into the “real world” of responsibilities.
- Don’t try to change your emotions! Trying to force your way out of feeling a certain way is not only ineffective, but it can cause more damage in the long run because you’ve stifled your authentic nature. Whatever the emotion you’re experiencing is, give yourself full permission to feel it through until it shifts on its own. Remember: emotions are fleeting and will eventually change. Your job is to process it to its fullest by feeling it.
- Write down a few sentences about your experience. This helps by 1. giving you another medium to express yourself and 2. keeping a running record for you to look back on to identify the trends of your emotional self (more on that later).
Congrats – you are on your way to becoming more mindful and self-aware!
Jamie Ferrell, a writer, yoga teacher, EFT practitioner, and mother, lives and breathes helping others transform their lives by releasing emotional baggage and reframing perspectives. A former MindBodyGreen contributor, she writes to create connections in the shared experiences of the human condition and to share ways to live a more fulfilled life.