If you’re feeling well… like you don’t even know what you’re feeling, you’re not alone. We’re learning to navigate and adapt in real time to a world that feels foreign.
It’s normal to feel adrift, to run the gamut of emotions, and experience conflicting emotions sometimes simultaneously. Especially strong negative emotions, they can feel like they overtake us, inhabiting our body without our permission.
The first step in any kind of emotion regulation strategy is awareness. We must recognize that we are having an emotional experience and then discern what, exactly, we are feeling. Anger, frustration, and fear all feel bad, but they are very different emotions that should prompt different responses if we are trying to help ourselves feel better.
Mental health professionals suggest that simply naming our emotions, bringing awareness to how we are feeling, can be a first step in coping with emotional upheaval.
Simply naming what you are feeling attenuates negative emotional experiences. Taking a moment to name what you’re feeling forces you to pause.
Shifting to an “Observer” perspective can be enough to break the powerful hold the emotion has over you, turning the out-of-control feeling into a strong-but-manageable feeling.
If you often feel tongue-tied when it comes to describing your emotions, consider consulting an emotions wheel, start in the middle and work your way out figuring out what labels do and do not fit what you’re feeling.
Once we’ve named our emotions, here are some tools to help to manage them:
Self Compassion – Kristin Neff, who pioneered the field of self-compassion research, identifies three components of self-compassion: mindfulness, recognizing the common humanity of your experience and offering yourself kindness. Here is an example of how to use them in practice, you might say to yourself, “I am feeling anxiety about whether my family will get sick. (Mindfulness) This is a normal reaction to this situation. Lots of people are also experiencing this same type of anxiety (common humanity). I wish peace for myself (kindness).
Journaling – Thousands of studies have been conducted on journaling’s relationship to mental health by Psychologists such as James Pennebaker, and meta-analyses confirm a small but robust effect: writing about our feelings improves well-being. For more great tips on Journaling, see our blog post: Journaling 101.
Please take care of yourself during this time and don’t add to your distress by judging yourself harshly for your emotional responses. The goal here is non-judgmental awareness, knowing what you are feeling so you can move forward from a place of self-understanding.