How to Feel

Do you slip into numbness? Do you dissociate with food or tv or internet or work? There are things you can do to reactive feeling as a part of your life.

Feeling is important because it is part of what helps us conceptualize our lives and navigate relationships. We want our feeling and our thinking to work together as a team.

I recommend doing body scans throughout the day to notice what’s going on physically in your body. Feelings are felt in the physical body. That may sound obvious, but once you get practiced at knowing your body sensations, then the labeling of feelings comes pretty quickly. Each feeling has its own little map in the body and lands in different places. Everyone is unique so everyone feels their feelings a little bit differently. There are some commonalities that I notice among people. Sadness is often felt as a sinking sensation inside the core of the body down to the stomach. Anger comes with hotness and tension in the arms. Sometimes people feel it in their jaws and faces. Fear can feel almost nauseous in the body, and the butterfly feeling in the stomach happens to most people.

When learning to notice feelings in the body, it might be easier for you to start with positive feelings. Think about someone that you love and notice the warmth building in your chest, radiating outward. Picture the beach or mountains and notice the feeling of relaxation as muscles in your face, shoulders and stomach relax. Learning to recognize even subtle cues is important because conflicts often start way before we are even aware of them.

Practice recognizing anxiety or anger entering into the body so you can get more acquainted with what your triggers are in life. Once you know exactly what triggered you then you can process it using journaling, praying, talking to a friend, or doing EMDR.

If we go through life numb, we are actually acquiring a bunch of triggers that go unprocessed and can lead to really intense symptoms of depression or addiction or some other mental/emotional issue later on.

Additional practicing activities that you may want to try to get acquainted with yourself are journaling and meditation. Journaling in a steam of conscious kind of way about your day can make you a more introspective person. When you are in an introspective state you naturally become more attuned to how you are feeling inside. Journaling gives space to check in with yourself and explore what is going on inside both your mind and your heart. You may want to get even more specific with your journaling and do a feeling journal. Take things from your day that were both high moments and low moments and journal about them by describing how each moment made you feel in greater detail. After writing most people feel lighter.

DISCLAIMER: If you have been numbing for a while and you are opening up pandoras box to see what is in there, all the feelings may come rushing out suddenly.

You might want to do two things. The first is to titrate your emotional experience by focusing on one small area of your life to feel about. Keep everything else in a container in your brain. Or, if it’s all trying to come out, make a list of things that you know you need to feel about to get through and then focus on one and put the rest in an actual jar. Containing is an important part of being a feeler because sometimes it’s not appropriate to feel in big ways, like at work. As you practice feeling you will gradually allow feelings to come up naturally as moments are happening or shortly afterwards.

Another option is to just to allow the big feelings to come up. I would recommend doing this with another person like a counselor or a friend or spouse because the other person can provide containment for you where you can feel and know that it is safe because they will help to bring you back if things get too intense for you. Don’t let the fear of feelings making you lose control keep you from practicing waking up emotionally.

Without feeling we have a hard time being truly known by people, and we feel more distant in our relationships with self, others and God. Feelings shared create bonds and bonds are what make close relationships. Another tool you might want to try is a reminder tool to check in on your feeling state. Put “How am I feeling right now?” on your calendar several times a day and take a few moments to notice. If you struggle with finding words for feelings (which many, many people do often because growing up no one mirrored them by labeling feelings) you might want to carry around a paper feeling chart in your pocket and pick the feeling which most closely resembles what’s going on inside. Pick one that has 20 feelings on it rather than 100, you don’t want to spend all day searching for the perfect word. The main feelings that I notice are calm (relaxed, peaceful, good, content), angry (frustrated, annoyed, tension, rage), fear (anxiety, stress, scared), joy (happy, excited, grateful, love), shame (embarrassed), sad (lonely, hurt, pain, sorrowful, grieved), and disgust (grossed out).

Putting your attention on your feelings will heighten them initially, but if you stay with it and process them they will move on like the weather does in its ever shifting ways. No feeling lasts forever. Numbing prolongs the processing experience and things can get stuck. You might be feeling stuck because you have unprocessed experiences and feelings stuck in your body. Counseling is a great place to get coaching on how to feel and what to do with feelings once you have gotten in touch with them. It’s not just about coming in to therapy and crying, although that does often happen, but rather it’s more about getting in touch with yourself so that you can better navigate life and relationships. Also, it’s about getting deeper and learning how to be vulnerable so that you can feel closer to other people and they can feel closer to you.

Reach out today if you need help defrosting emotionally, getting unstuck, and moving through experiences.

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