Are you starving or encouraging your emotions?
"By starving emotions we become humourless, rigid and stereotyped; by repressing them we become literal, reformatory and holier-than-thou; encouraged, they perfume life; discouraged, they poison it."
- Joseph Collins
What are feelings?
To be human is to experience emotion. Whether those emotions are positive or negative, they are very real and can feel very intense. Defining feelings is a bit like defining love though. Feelings are different for everyone and some people feel more deeply than others; just as some people are more athletic, more creative or better at maths than others. So, you might be a sensitive type, while your friend sails through life barely noticing her feelings unless someone hits her on the head!
What to do when you are experiencing strong emotions?
If we feel in control of our emotions, we can handle stress more easily, can communicate well with others and generally feel confident and together (ish!). So it’s important to learn how to deal with positive and negative emotions.
The most important step in getting a handle on our emotions is awareness.
Learning to recognise our feelings is key to trying to make sense of what’s going on.
Not all strong feelings are negative. Even happiness can create a ruckus in our lives. As strange as it sounds, when people are very happy, they can experience feelings almost like being high – ahh, the good vibes buzz! This high can prevent them from eating enough and sleeping, so when you are feeling happy clappy and all at one with the world, make sure to still eat well and get some rest. Too much excitement can actually be draining on the body.
In general, one of the most important things you can do is become aware of your feelings.
You have a good level of emotional awareness if:
- You can live with strong emotions without feeling like you are going to spontaneously combust or otherwise flounder.
- You can feel your emotions in your body, i.e. in your stomach or head. This shows you are in touch with them on a deep level.
- You are comfortable with your feelings. Yeah, you don’t actually want to be sad, angry or scared, but you realise it is okay to be, and that it is human.
- You tune into your emotions and use them to guide your decisions.
- You communicate your feelings honestly, openly and calmly when you need to.
- You are in tune with other’s needs and feelings also.
Unhealthy ways of dealing with emotions:
- Blocking or numbing yourself and shutting down emotionally. This can backfire and leave you feeling like you have no emotions at all, which is a lonely place to be.
- Sticking to one feeling/emotion. We all know the classic angry type; if he is upset, he gets angry; if he is late, he gets angry; if he doesn’t sleep, he gets angry etc. etc. Slapping on these mono-emotional response labels is very unhelpful and serves to alienate you from what you really feel, as well as alienating everyone around you too!
- Distracting yourself: We all need some form of comfort when we get down. For example, some of us escape into movies while others surf the net or empty the fridge into our bellies. Then there’s the infamous piss-up, marred with a blur of empty bottles, cigarette butts, and maybe even a stranger lying next to us in bed. Sue Atkinson calls such comforting activities, ‘the cave’, as they act like temporary shelters. However, hanging out in the cave for too long can lead us into darkness, and farther and farther away from our true feelings, others and ourselves.
Healthy ways of dealing with emotions:
- Learn how to manage stress. This is different for everyone, but basically if you cannot manage stress, any heightened emotion will feel overwhelming to you. Life will also be generally more difficult and little things will trigger large emotional reactions. There are many ways to manage stress: from talking about your problems to taking up yoga. Click here for further info.
- Learn to recognise that feelings come and go. They do not stick around forever. So, you might be in the depths of despair now, but that feeling will NOT last forever. Nothing in life lasts forever. Life is full of seasons and changes. This may be hard to believe when you are feeling awful, but it really is true.
- Have a sit down (maybe in your favourite spot). Think about the problem at hand. Perhaps there is something that can be done to actually fix it, thus making you feel better. A family member, friend or counsellor can be really good at helping you figure this type of stuff out.
- Exercise. We’ve said it once, and we will say it a thousand times: Exercise does good things for just about every part of the body -from the cells in your brains to the bones in your feet. So, even a short walk can help lift mood, calm you down or get some perspective on how you are feeling.
- Write down your thoughts and feelings. You could use a simple old fashioned journal, blog anonymously, write a poem or song, or talk about them on an online forum.
"All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own."
- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe