Sweat & Smiles: Acknowledging Emotion and Inviting Them "Inside" to Help Mediate Power They Have

By Melissa Romano on March 06, 2021 from Sweat & Smiles via Connect-Bridgeport.com

When an uncomfortable emotions arises we’ve been trained to find the nearest exit or an off switch.
 
Anger? Run. Leave. Get out of there as soon as possible. Jealously? Run. Get to the closest shopping, car lot, or social media network to find a way to fill that void. Sadness? Well - that is not something to be sad about so go grab some comfort food and the Netflix remote and shove. it. down.
 
How did I nail it? Well, because I also had very few coping skills. It is what we have been taught. When an uncomfortable emotion arises we were trained to head for the hills or bury it. Take a look around. How’s that working out for you? If I had to guess I’d say you might be a little exhausted from running and you might be carrying too much of that extra weight from shoving it down.
 
Here is where mindfulness comes into play. Mindfulness and meditation are sometimes used interchangeably, the way I typically describe it is meditation is a formal practice where you can use mindfulness as a technique and mindfulness is a quality or state of being.
 
Mindfulness is like a living meditation out in the world. By definition (Oxford Dictionary) mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. If you’re tired of running to the nearest exit or burying things down you can apply mindfulness as a therapeutic technique to instead sit right down in those uncomfortable feelings. Invite your anger, jealousy, and sadness in for a cup of tea.
 
You are not alone if this sounds like a difficult task. You are certainly not alone if you try to apply this technique and your inner voice continues its endless chatter and you want to run or bury it. Simply acknowledge what it is. I feel angry. I feel jealous. I feel sad. I feel scared. Whatever the emotion is just state it out loud or silently. Pro tip: this should always start with "‘I feel” and never “xyz made me feel”.
 
You are not alone if you believe acknowledging these difficult emotions will make them stronger. Many of us have been lead to believe in one way or another that if we pay attention to something we give it more power. A study from the University of Texas showed that not acknowledging difficult emotions actually gives them more power. Bottling up emotions can actually make people more aggressive. Think of a time when you absolutely lost your cool over something small, something that usually you wouldn’t bother you much at all. If you really sat down and got honest with yourself you would be able to connect that strong emotion to something else that happened, something else that you tried to run from or bury. Sometimes this looks like having an interaction with a person that leaves you feeling a difficult emotion and you bury it or run from it until one day that person does something minor and you completely blow up on them. Or it can look like having that uncomfortable interaction, burying it or running from it, and then randomly you get cut off in traffic and you blow up causing an accident. Either way the buried emotions seem to make their way to the surface and with all of that pent up energy from shoving it down it looks more like an explosion. Acknowledging difficult emotions doesn’t give them power, it gives you the first step to neutralizing it. 
 
Many studies have shown that emotional suppression leads to a decrease in cognitive abilities, an increase in stress, and even illness. A 2013 study between the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester showed people who suppressed their emotions increased their chance of premature death from all causes by more than 30%, with their risk of being diagnosed with cancer increasing by 70%. 
 
It’s no secret that emotional suppression and lack of coping skills has led to some less than stellar habits for many of us. Take emotional eating for example. A difficult emotion arises and the desire to bury or run from it leaves us with a sort of emptiness or void. An emptiness or void we work to fill with… you guessed it… food. When someone shares with me that they’re an emotional eater I usually congratulate them. If someone can identify themselves as an emotional eater then they have made it to the stage where they are aware that a need has arisen, that a difficult emotion has made its way to the forefront. While eating for comfort is not the highest form of self-care it is at least an attempt to cope. Emotional eating also ignores the physical body and its sensations often eating beyond fullness and eating in a way that does not honor what the physical body is feeling/needing. What if instead an emotional eater applied just sitting with it?
 
Awareness of the present moment while calmly acknowledging one’s feelings in and of itself will begin to hit pause on fleeing to the nearest exit or burying the feeling under the closest snack. Once we’ve hit that pause button and brought ourselves back to the present moment we have the opportunity to accept the feelings and thoughts. This does not mean that we accept the feeling and thoughts as truth. This does not mean that we accept the feeling and thoughts in a way that we “become” them.
 
I think of this each time I hear someone say I am angry, I am depressed, I am sad - as if they themselves have become how they feel and will remain there forever. Instead accepting one’s feelings and thoughts simply means observing them without judgement. Acceptance isn’t emotional. Acceptance is actually taking yourself out of the equation. Acceptance is observing a feeling with the awareness that no feeling lasts forever.
 
One of the simplest ways to sit with difficult emotions is to focus on the ‘bodily sensations’ part of mindfulness. Focusing on your bodily sensations immediately brings your awareness to the present moment and is often a helpful indicator of what the underlying emotion is. Considering the fact that emotional intelligence, psychosocial skills, and emotional skill-building just hit mainstream around thirty years ago chance are slim that you have a vast vocabulary when it comes to feelings and emotions. Bodily sensations is a good place to start. If you don’t have an extensive vocabulary when it comes to emotions themselves you can simply sit with it by saying “I feel my face scowling”, “I feel my heart racing”, “I feel a lump in my throat”, “I feel a heaviness”, “I feel tense”.
 
You learn to sit with difficult emotions by sitting with difficult emotions. You can begin by welcoming pain, discomfort, and all feelings and emotions into your repertoire. Instead of waiting for the difficult emotions to arise to begin practicing start by sitting with yourself all throughout the day. This way you’ll have built a practice and foundation when it comes time to really sit with the big emotions. Try it now. Sit comfortably. Make no effort to control the breath; breathe naturally. Focus your attention on the breath and how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Now, set a timer for three minutes. Close your eyes or use a soft gaze and focus your attention and your natural breath and bodily sensations until the timer buzzes. Keep a piece of paper or the notes section of your phone at the ready to make notes about what feelings came up for you in your practice. Then wash, rinse, and repeat.
 
With love and mindfulness,
 
Melissa


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