What happens when you find yourself faced with difficult emotions?
School shootings, abortion laws, racism, war (I get chills just writing this list). It’s A LOT to process, and it can feel very HEAVY.
If you are human (which I’m pretty sure you are if you are reading this 😆), then the world events that you have lived through over the last few days and last few years have certainly brought up some difficult emotions.
And what happens when you find yourself faced with difficult emotions?
Do you notice that they are present? Or do you tend to shy away from them?
Do you get caught up in the intensity of the emotion and allow it to linger for days?
Or does the intensity trigger a freeze response leaving you confused, not knowing what to do or where to turn for support?
We all have emotional processing patterns that are usually programmed from a very young age. We learn how to deal with difficult emotions by watching our parents, and by learning from people of authority in our lives (teachers play a big role here!).
If as a child, if you had parents that told you to: “suck it up” or “be strong” when you were expressing sadness, or didn’t acknowledge your emotions and told you: “you’re fine” when you really needed to be seen or heard, chances are you will grow up to be someone who doesn’t allow themselves to feel their emotions.
But emotions can only be repressed for so long…
It’s important to know that emotions are energy in motion (E-motion). When you experience an emotion, your body will feel it as a physical sensation.
For example, when you feel sad, your throat may tighten,
Or when you feel anger, you may feel heat and tingling in your extremities,
Or when you feel shame, you may feel sick to your stomach.
Of course many of these sensations are uncomfortable, so the mind and body develop coping mechanisms to protect themselves from feeling pain.
Your body might get really tense (contraction),
Or you might turn to alcohol or drugs,
Or you might dissociate and stay in bed.
There are so many different flavours of coping mechanisms which are there to "protect" you, so you don’t have to feel pain.
But the problem with not allowing yourself to feel pain is that the pain and emotion then remain dormant in the body.
You might not consciously realize it’s there, but it is, under the layers of contraction and numbing techniques.
Many people may be able to continue to function this way, but it often results in daily anxiety. Keeping yourself from feeling what is there takes a lot of work and energy!
If you think you might be struggling with emotional health, please know that it’s not hard to begin to make changes.
A licensed somatic experiencing practitioner can help you, but there are also many simple tools that you can begin to practice right now on your own.
Here are 3 steps to follow to process difficult emotions more effectively:
1. PAUSE and name the emotion.
This first step can be hard, because when you are IN it, it can be hard to have clarity of mind to notice. Next time you find yourself scrolling and getting agitated, or having a disagreement with a loved one, be still for a moment, close your eyes (if this feels safe) and ask yourself:
What emotion am I feeling? And name it. “I am feeling anger”
2. Notice the physical location of the emotion in your body
Where do you notice that anger in your body? If this is new to you, remember to practice with curiosity and non-judgment. What does the anger FEEL like? You can write out your answer and say it out loud (to yourself or a friend).
3. Allow yourself to feel and accept that physical sensation.
Once you have located the anger in your body, stay with it. The longer you can stay present with it, the more it will transform. Breathe deeply into that space, and allow for it to take up more room within the physical boundaries of your body. Notice how it transforms.
It can really help to journal about your experience afterwards, or talk about it with a friend.
This whole process shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes. Don’t overthink it. And try not to analyze if you are doing it right or wrong. Just the fact that you are becoming more aware of your emotions, and noticing how they feel in your body means you are on the right track.
Practicing emotional mindfulness is like building any other skill or muscle, it requires practice, practice, practice. And the more you practice, the more it will become second nature.
If you are looking for more tools on how to build emotional health and resilience, I invite you to subscribe to my mailing list where I give more tips and tools like in this article.
With love and service,
Lauren is a trained neuroscientist, who after a decade of teaching left her job to start her own business. Her struggle with migraines and anxiety is what brought Lauren to yoga, and kept her coming back as it became a medicine for both her body and mind. Today, Lauren is passionate about teaching meditation and yoga to a large audience as tools to develop more resilience and joy, with less anxiety and overwhelm. Lauren lives in Montreal with her husband and two children, Cedar and Oscar.