How to Feel Your Feelings

If you’ve ever received bad news, then you’ve probably heard the phrase, “There’s no reason to be upset.”

Phrases like these are often used by those close to us in an attempt to improve our mood. If you were rejected by your dream college, you might be told that you shouldn’t be unhappy because the university only accepts a small percentage of applicants. If you experienced a break up, you might be told that you shouldn’t be dejected because that person wasn’t meant for you and someone better will come along. While these affirmations are well intentioned, they also run the risk of invalidating your feelings.

You might feel forced to dismiss your feelings before you’ve had time to give them any deep consideration. Ignoring negative emotions doesn’t eradicate them but instead leads to them reemerging later.

1. Be objective.

It might seem counterintuitive but if you feel overwhelmed by negative emotions, it can be helpful to separate yourself from your emotions and scrutinize them from afar.

By putting space between yourself and your emotions, you are giving yourself the opportunity to identify an emotion without feeling ashamed or embarrassed of them. Review your emotions as if you are looking them up in a dictionary, that is, without any biases or prejudices. There’s no need to determine whether your emotions are correct or not. Emotions are not always based on rational thoughts, and judging them as either valid or invalid does nothing to help you move past them. Instead, it leads to a cycle of guilt and feeling worse.

2. Identify your emotions.

Your emotions are meant to communicate your mindset to yourself and others. Negative feelings convey an issue in the hopes that it’ll be resolved. Fear,for example, can be unpleasant but it’s primary purpose is to communicate the threat of danger or pain. All adverse emotions are essential to an extent as they point you to areas worth exploring.

A problem arises though when the signal is unclear. Your mind may convey fear to you without expanding on the complexities of the emotion. Fear could indicate excitement, and rather than urging you to avoid a situation it’s encouraging you to embrace it. Fear, as well as happiness, disgust, and anger can be considered blanket emotions, meaning that they often conceal more complicated feelings. Anger often conceal feelings of vulnerability or frustration.

Expressive writing is a useful method to better understand your emotions because it emphasizes the importance of articulating and describing your emotions. If you’re overwhelmed by obscure emotions, try to find time in your day to write continuously for 15 minutes about your emotions and thoughts. You’ll likely emerge with a greater sense of self-awareness.

3. Don’t be rash.

It can be beneficial to let your emotions manifest themselves within reason. Crying is a perfectly reasonable response to grief, for example. Releasing your emotions in such a way can actually reduce physical pain and tears encourage empathy and support from those close to you. But there are some emotions that, if manifested before being understood, can be harmful to yourself and others.

For example, if you experience jealousy because of a friend’s success responding to that feeling by downplaying their success you only succeed in jeopardizing a friendship. But if you recognize that you’re feeling jealous of your friend’s recent success, you can positively manifest that feeling into motivation to make greater efforts towards your own goals.

You’re going to feel negative emotions whether you want to or not. The way you respond to those emotions is what matters most and the only way to respond positively is to identify and understand them.

4. Resist distractions.

When overwhelmed by emotions, you might feel compelled to distract yourself from them. Constant social media usage, mindless eating, and binge-watching television, are all methods you might be using to avoid negative emotions. The instant gratification you receive from these distractions can lead you to believe that the painful feelings are resolved, when they’re really being masked. It’s of course alright to watch a little television to lift your spirits but consider your motivation for doing so. Are you present while doing these activities and if the answer is no, then why not? Being present is the most effective way to identify your emotions and subsequently move past them.

While it is true that you shouldn’t wallow in your negative feelings, ignoring them entirely can be just as harmful. Accepting and exploring your emotions is a powerful way to reveal parts of your mind that have long since been overlooked. When you decide to embrace your emotions after not doing so for an extended period of time, it’s like extending a limb that has fallen asleep.

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