Written By: Gary Hayre, MCP, Registered Clinical Counsellor
When something upsets you, how do you deal with it?
Do you tell yourself things like, “I don’t let it bother me”, “let’s just move past it”, or “it is what it is”
Maybe you ignore it and try to pretend it didn’t happen. Or you distract yourself with tv/video games/social media, other tasks, or just focus on anything that doesn’t remind you of what is upsetting you.
When you do this, you are avoiding the issue. Avoidance is causing you to store up your emotions, and if left unchecked, they can start to hurt you and the people around you.
Ignoring something won’t make it go away, it will find another way out that is outside of your awareness, which makes it harder to control your reactions. It can also have a negative impact on your body as well, as these stored emotions can cause migraines, muscle tension, nausea, just to name a few.
It can be so tempting to avoid something that bothers you because maybe in your experience, confronting the issue usually makes things worse. You can cause yourself to feel worse about a situation by continuing to ruminate and overthink what has happened.
You dwell on the details, such as what happened, what you could have done differently, or how you were wronged by someone else. This rumination will happen until you’ve decided it’s too much to deal with and start avoiding again.
When you don’t let yourself fully feel your emotions, it causes a pile up of unresolved issues that may come out in an explosion of anger at a later time. Sometimes you can be set off by a seemingly small event, but it comes out after it’s been built up for so long, like a volcano that is about to erupt.
So, what can you do about this? Don’t just do nothing, sit with it.
Sitting with your emotions is a vague concept that isn’t as simple as it sounds. It can be uncomfortable, especially since this approach isn’t how you normally deal with your feelings.
To sit with your emotions, you need to go against your usual ways of coping. It requires you to go inwards and open up to a more real and vulnerable side of yourself.
Here are 5 steps to guide you through how to sit with your emotions and process them without avoiding them or making yourself feel worse:
1. Acknowledge that you are feeling something
The first step is just to simply acknowledge that you are feeling something. If you have gotten so used to avoiding your emotions, then you may not even be aware that you are feeling something.
This first step is about slowing things down and noticing that you feel off, even if you can’t figure out why you may be feeling this way.
2. Name and identify the feeling
Once you have acknowledged that you are feeling something, the next step is to try to name your emotional experience. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what you are feeling, so it can be helpful to start off smaller and broader, such as identifying if the emotion feels good, bad, or neutral.
With practice, you can get better at being more specific when identifying your emotions.
3. Observe where you are feeling it and what it feels like
Your body is constantly giving you signals about what is going on internally and how you feel. Different parts of your body will react in accordance to your different emotions.
For example, many people will describe anxiety as their stomach feeling like it’s in knots, constriction of the chest, shortness of breath, etc. Different emotions have corresponding bodily reactions.
Just sit with your emotion. When you do notice a physical sensation or an emotion, just breathe. Don’t do anything. Don’t try to change the feeling, make it go away, or talk yourself out of the emotion. Just breathe.
Bring your attention to the physical sensation in your body and approach them with curiosity. This helps you to further explore the feeling.
Does the feeling change as you pay attention to it? Maybe you notice another sensation you weren’t aware of before.
Remember that the feeling won’t last forever. Some research shows that the average time we feel an emotion is only 90 seconds before it begins to change and dissipate.
Tell yourself that it is okay for you to feel your emotion. Also remind yourself that it is hard to sit with emotions. Don’t be too hard on yourself, if you find it difficult to do or feel like you aren’t doing it right.
Take care of yourself like you would a friend or a child. Feeling and sitting with your emotion is a skill that takes practice, so be patient with it. Don’t judge yourself for having these feelings or for not being able to make sense of your feelings.
Practice these 5 steps regularly, with all of your emotions and you’ll find that over time, it becomes easier and easier to sit with your emotions. Not only that, but you’ll notice that your mind and body feel better because it’s not storing up all of your pent up emotions.
If you’d like more support in learning how to sit with your emotions, please contact a therapist today at Brentwood Counselling Centre.