As humans, it is instinctual for us to do what we can to avoid feeling uncomfortable. When we are hungry, we eat, when we are cold, we pull on extra layers, when we are tired, we sleep. So, it’s no wonder that I see such a widespread phenomena of people pushing down uncomfortable emotions when they pop up.
As a mental health therapist and in my role as a yoga instructor, one of the most common reactions I see in people is to avoid, repress, ignore, and resist the emotions that they are experiencing. Typically, we have specific things that we don’t want to feel- or that we are afraid to allow ourselves to feel- sad, angry, anxious, fearful, etc.
What many people don’t realize, however, is that we can’t stop feeling only the emotions that are uncomfortable to us. If you can envision your emotions flowing through a pipeline, they all flow through that same space. When you put a barrier in the pipeline to stop the flow of the “bad” emotions, the “good” emotions can’t get through either. So, when we start resisting feeling the fear, pain, guilt, anger, and so on, we also stop our ability to feel joy, love, and gratitude.
This is where depression and anxiety flare up and eventually, numbness can set in. This is not how you want to live.
Another image to envision is that each emotion you choose to “push down” is like a beach ball you are holding under water. The second you stop holding it, it pops up, and many times it pops up and smacks you right in the face. I must acknowledge that over time, you can get pretty good at holding the ball under water. But then without fail, another uncomfortable emotion pops up that you don’t want to feel- another ball to hold under. This is becoming exhausting- holding all of these beach balls under water- and nerve wracking. And then there are times when you can’t hold them all and some pop up and you snap at someone, you breakdown, or you react in a way that you wouldn’t normally react.
This cycle of trying to control and resist feeling our emotions, leads us judge ourselves more and reinforces our determination to hold the beach balls under water- more control, less emotion. But we can typically only do this effectively for so long.
And then, we are exhausted, numb, irritable, and isolated.
One other thing about emotions. What we don’t express stores in our bodies. And do not be fooled, it will express itself in some way. Maybe we experience back pain or tight shoulders, or perhaps we experience ongoing digestive issues. We go to the doctor and we say, “I don’t understand. All of a sudden, I started having back pain.”
Here is the good news: If you allow yourself to feel it, it will go away. Think of your emotions like waves. If you are standing in the ocean, sometimes (as with less intense emotions) the water comes up to your knees and then continues on toward the shore. But other times, (as with deep and intense emotions) the water comes up over your head and washes completely over you, but then it keeps on going and you are still standing. Yes, you can get hit with several back-to-back waves of the same emotion. But, it won’t kill you. If you allow yourself to feel the emotion, it will wash over you and then go away. Nothing lasts forever.
Here are a few things that may help as you set out on this journey of feeling again:
- Set aside time and give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel. Your emotions are like your opinion- they can’t be wrong. Stop judging yourself for feeling the way that you do. It’s all part of being fully alive.
- Practice self-compassion. We frequently skip this step and go from “that didn’t go as I wanted” to “how do I fix it” and we skip the “well, that really hurts” step. Take time to acknowledge what you are feeling and treat yourself like you would treat a friend experiencing the same thing.
- Talk to a friend or loved one. Chances are, others have experienced something similar to what you are going through. It’s helpful to talk about your experience and to realize that you have support and are not alone in having these feelings.
- Have some body work done such as massage therapy, myofacial release physical therapy, or have chiropractic work done.
- Try yoga. Yoga is a hugely effective intervention for releasing emotions and trauma from the body. [For more information on specific trainings pertaining to yoga for releasing trauma, balancing mood, PTSD, visit www.yogafit.com]
- If things become overwhelming, unbearable, or too much, talk to a therapist. That is what we are here for.
Once we are able to allow ourselves to feel again, we can work on feeling the “good” stuff more frequently than the “bad”. But really, nothing is good or bad, it’s all in how we perceive and react to it. It’s all just a part of authentically experiencing this journey.
I encourage you to live fully and feel it all. As usual, I will be practicing along with you. Thanks for sharing your time with me.
We will talk again soon,