Everyone has feelings, but actually *feeling* them can take some effort. Here, psychotherapist Christie Uipi of The Better Mind Center explains how to feel your feelings and get in touch with your emotions.
Feelings are having a moment right now. You’ve probably heard that you should be “feeling your feelings” or that “feeling is healing,” but what exactly does it mean to be “in your feelings” and why is it so important?
Not exactly a no-brainer
Though simply ‘feeling your feelings’ sounds like a breeze, it can actually be much more complicated. Growing up and moving through the world, many of us have learned to send our feelings away. It could start with something small: a classmate saying “Don’t be such a baby!” tells us that we should not overtly experience sadness. A parent punishing us for an outburst might signal that we’re better off not letting ourselves get angry.
Over time, our brain notices that we’re avoiding these feelings. When we avoid something — a person, situation, feeling — the brain begins to code it as dangerous, something that we should fear. Once we bury one emotion, our brains learn quickly and start to generalize and avoid all feelings in hopes of protecting us. And our brains are fast! Before our conscious selves even recognize it, our brains can identify and send our feelings away, leaving us no opportunity to ‘feel’ them. Left unchecked, this process can dysregulate the nervous system and lead to other issues such as anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.
Feelings made simple
If you sense that you haven’t been experiencing the full range of your emotions, it’s never too late to try to access them. Try starting with the following:
Create calm in and around you
The calmer you are, the more your nervous system can relax and allow you to feel your feelings. Find a physical space that embodies calm to you; close your eyes if that is comfortable. Take five deep breaths and focus on the sensation of your breathing.
Call to mind something that has impacted you
Consider an experience or incident from your life that either made you emotional or perhaps you recognize should have made you emotional. It could be a recent experience or one that took place years ago. If tapping into your feelings is new or a muscle that you haven’t flexed in a while, start with a lower-intensity memory. For now, you can dip your toe into feeling and, with practice, work your way up to exploring experiences of more consequence.
Connect mind to body
As you think about this event or situation, notice what is going on in your body. Our feelings are feelings! They want to be felt in our bodies. Perhaps you notice that you are experiencing anger as a heat in your chest or down your arms. If you are noticing sadness, that might feel like a heaviness in your stomach or a weight behind your eyes. Joy can feel like a jittery energy or buzzing throughout your whole body.
When you begin this practice, I recommend starting from the top and going through it three times through. At first, you might not notice anything. Something I encourage my clients to remember is that the ask is the task — there is no pressure here for anything to actually happen. So long as you’re asking yourself what you are noticing in your body, you’re doing the exercise right.
While tapping back into your ability to feel difficult feelings isn’t easy, it can ultimately help you to access the full range of your emotions. If you’ve learned to send away negative feelings, your brain might be overprotecting you by also avoiding positive feelings. I hope that this exercise helps you move toward feeling ‘all the feels’ so you can see for yourself what all the hype is about.