Emotions. What are these intangible things? What is their purpose? Simply put, they are our natural internal guidance system. Think of them as a GPS signal that’s humming in the background or sometimes blasting sirens. Our emotions help us manage present or future situations, not hurt or hinder us even though we can experience emotions as uncomfortable.Understanding emotions and how they serve us is the foundation of self-mastery.
As a therapist, I’ve encountered many clients whose emotional intensity frustrates them and their reactions to these experiences often bring about issues at home, work/school, and even performance in the gym. They seek help with the desire to make the feelings go away, often saying, “If I could control my emotions (i.e. sadness, anxiety, anger, fear, etc.), then I could be better. Everything would be okay *then*”. What if it were possible to accept these strong emotional experiences, invite them in, and try to understand them as part of our larger experience, rather than “coping” them away?
Instead of trying to change our experience or make it vanish, we want to shift our perspective to acknowledge all emotions, feel them, understand what they are communicating, and move forward to feeling better. I’d like to share some things I have learned through clinical work, personal work, and from others that have helped me embrace emotions as part of the greater experience of life.
1. Awareness and Identification of Emotions
In order for us to turn towards our emotions with acceptance, we want to first become aware of the emotion by identifying physical sensations in the body. All emotions have physical sensations. The sensations you feel in your body hold the key to shifting limiting patterns, transforming stress, and generating lasting happiness.
Bodily topography of emotions associated with words. The body maps show regions whose activation increased (warm colors) or decreased (cool colors) when feeling each emotion.
Your body gives a steady stream of reliable information about your experience in the form of sensation. Next, we want to identify and label the emotion. Studies show putting language to what you feel helps calm down the brain. The validation helps release the energy, because the job of the emotion is to be noticed, not ignored. Taking the time to name emotions tells the brain you have tended to it in some way. This is the first step to processing them and releasing their energy. To stay mindful, say to yourself, “This is anger” or “This is anxiety.”
Here’s a handy list of words to put language to emotions and physical sensations you may experience.
2. Fluidity and Impermanence of Emotions
If you’ve ever stubbed your toe or maybe even dropped a 45 lb plate on yourself, it takes a moment before you feel the pain, but you know it is coming. The pain hits you; it rises; reaches a peak, and thankfully, starts to diminish. This is important to remember as we are experiencing our emotions. Even if the emotion feels overwhelming, remember that it will pass. Emotions are fluid. Ride their waves feeling their energy increase intensely, climax, and dissipate.
After identifying the physiological sensation (i.e. a knot in your throat, pit in your stomach, etc.) of what we call a “feeling”/emotion, we are able to see how short the experience can be. We prolong and reignite uncomfortable negative states when we try to problem solve too soon. It is imperative that we check in with ourselves and introduce new thoughts and narratives that align with what we want vs simply the negative feedback of undesired results. Understanding that emotions are energy implies that they are fluidly moving natural resources meant to be felt and released rather than suppressed and ignored.
3. Impulses and Reactions of Emotions
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor E. Frankl
Performing body scans from head to toe allows us to notice any impulses. You can ask yourself, “what is this emotion asking me to do?” Maybe it’s asking you to cry, scream, push or hit something, hug someone or something, dance, hide under the covers… essentially anything.
Validate the impulse of your emotion and notice what action it is pulling for you to do. However, we want to remember that emotions do not require a reaction. Avoiding “knee-jerk” reactions requires us to create some separation between our emotional response to our external environment and the behavior that may follow. We can then maintain our capacity to evaluate the situation and respond calmly. With practice, it gets easier to pause and look around before choosing what to do, if anything at all.
4. Separation Between Yourself and Your Emotions
As we’ve come to learn, emotions are powerful forms of energy. When we are immersed in a strong emotion, such as sadness or anger, it can prove to be challenging to remember that you are a complex being and that experiencing any emotion does not define you. You are not your emotions. Feeling anger does not make you an “angry person”. We want to remain in our power knowing that we feel emotions within a moment and they do not need to bring us down. Our emotions are what make us human, and they are only one facet of what makes us who we are.
5. Emotions Do Not Require A Specific Reason
When we feel a negative emotion, it is common for others to ask, “What’s wrong?” This can quickly spiral into desperate problem-solving action trying to identify the “why.” This process can be helpful when we are in a calm state later on, but prior to centering yourself this thought train can lead us to a longer, more challenging emotional experience than necessary.
What if you can’t find a reason? What if there are lots of reasons? What if there is NO reason? When someone asks, “What’s wrong? You look unhappy,” what if we said, “Yeah, I probably need to rest for a while,” instead of expanding on the many problems and failures of the day? It’s okay to sometimes focus on feeling better rather than trying to sift around for “what’s wrong;” the former brings the added bonus of establishing healthy boundaries with others.
6. Emotions as Feedback
Nature provided us an extensive range of emotional experiences and signals. We can view every emotion as objectively neutral, but also experience them as either positive or negative. After taking time to regulate yourself from the effect of your emotion, it’s time to explore what exactly happened and what the emotion is communicating. This, in my opinion, is the greatest gift our emotions provide us.
You can ask yourself questions, such as:
- “What triggered me?”
- “What about the trigger is causing me to feel this way?”
- “What is the discomfort I’m experiencing and where is it arising?”
- Is this a pattern that keeps arising?
- What were my expectations surrounding the situation?
Asking yourself these questions and identifying the root of difficult emotions will help increase compassion and insight into what you are experiencing. You will also have the opportunity to create a space to see things with a new and lighter perspective. This will ultimately allow you to be more present and connected with yourself and others.
I hope this helps build awareness of emotional states, how to reflect and understand emotions, regulate how emotions impact thinking and behavior, and bring more attunement to the emotions of others to better relate to them and adapt your interactions and behavior accordingly.
Mental Health Resources
About My Therapeutic Background and Approach:
Amanda Rizo, M.S., LPCC
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor
I am passionate about inspiring my clients to embrace and allow their well-being. The short-cut to happiness is the deliberate intention of only feeling good. I help clients cultivate authentic relationships in their lives; both with themselves and others. I provide a safe environment for clients to explore their true selves.
I guide clients in mastering the process of creating their own reality and I can guide them in seeing the powerful beings they are. I support my clients in living enriched and empowered lives. I will join clients in inspired co-creation of their well-being. Life can be easy, fun, and blissful.
Let’s uncover the abundance in your life to manifest your desires!
How to get in contact with me:
National Alliance of Mental Illness
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
National Eating Disorders Association
Choosing A Therapist: