I laughed I cried. I freaked out, yelled, sighed, felt excited and anxious – and that was just Monday.
I am an emotional person – and so are you. We all are, it’s a distinction that separates us from other animals. Yet, many people don’t show or share their emotions. Others try to blow through them or suppress them or deny and dull them by drinking or shopping or eating so that they don’t have to feel the rough stuff.
Thing is, emotions can provide us valuable clues that tell us when we are on track in our lives or falling over the edge. We can use them to guide us, help us make important changes, connect more honestly and deeply with others.
But we still have to find a way to function, to live in this world even with our big feelings. You can feel your emotions, you can be charged with joy and excitement or unhappiness, even stress – you can feel it all, but you still have to work get up and get moving again.
The best thing we can do is to learn to identify what it is we are feeling, and then learn how to live with those feelings, how to manage them, so we get their message without winding up a dripping, overwhelmed mess in the corner.
Here are three ways to do it.
1. Keep a feelings journal. Often we get fired up and we act on the emotions we think we are feeling — when really it’s something else altogether. Until we can identify what it is we are experiencing, we have a hard time soothing ourselves or easing the situation that may be fueling the feeling. For example, you may react in anger to something your husband says, when hurt is really at the root of it. Anger can cause the conversation to veer off course and never get resolved, but if you can slow down long enough to identify what it is you are feeling, and then address that – ‘I felt hurt when you said that,’ — you’ll gain greater insight and develop a deeper connection to others. Journaling, simply writing about your feelings or listing the emotions you think you are feeling in a notebook can provide clarity and help you identify the patterns and triggers that drive your feelings.
2. Gain some distance. It’s tough to manage big, intense emotions when we are in the thick of them and feeling overwhelmed or flooded by all that we are feeling. This is a good time to gain some distance from our feelings so we can find balance and understanding. One way to do this, according to Ethan Kross, a researcher at the University of Michigan, is to take a wider view of the situation. Look at the circumstances from a distance as an outsider. This psychological distancing can provide space and calm that will help us reason through the circumstances without being overwhelmed by them.
3. Become mindful. Yep, this simple and powerful approach can help us settle down and move into a place of awareness and understanding even in the moments of intense feeling. With mindfulness, you give your attention to the moment. This takes us out of our head. Keeps us from over-thinking, which we are prone to do when we are mad or stressed or worried – even when we are happy. We often experience those big emotions as something outside ourselves. Mindfulness requires you to reconnect to the now, to feel the sensations in your body, notice your environment, observe your thoughts. It’s a non-judgmental way of noticing and it creates great peace and balance, which allows you to experience your emotions without being run over by them.