Spoiler- I can’t actually teach you how to do this. I can however talk through my experience and process with the ever-uncomfortable practice of sitting with unwanted emotions. Sometimes there is solidarity in knowing that we are all navigating life’s chapters with our eyes a little crazed and our hearts fluttering rogue. Sometimes there is solidarity in knowing that truly no one has this life perfectly mapped out (even if their social says otherwise). Sometimes there is solidary in knowing we are not alone in having those days where survival is all we aim for…all we can manage.
And sometimes it is really friggen lonely.
Sometimes it is really hard work, and no one prepares you for that. Because ultimately, that ‘work’ has to be done with yourself, by yourself, and for yourself. People can be there to support, love, guide, encourage, etc. But that inner work- that figuring out who you are, who you want to be, what you want to do, how you want to live, and how to ride the waves that are currently coming your way- there is only one common denominator- one person who has to lead you through it all- you.
Sitting with heavy emotions is one of those things that we all know we should do- don’t run from what you are feeling- sit with it! As if it were as easy as laying out a little picnic blanket, having a nice little mental chat over tea and snacks, staying for just an hour or two, and then moving on- thinking we won’t have to hang out with those feelings for another year or so.
Unfortunately, that isn’t quite how it works. Sitting with your feelings can sometimes mean sitting on a nice pillow- slowing down, finding your breath, observe your thoughts- all somewhat peaceful.
But it can also look like ugly crying in the shower, random break downs while driving, getting toppled over with heartbreak from seeing a single photo.
What they don’t tell you is even though it might be painful, it is ultimately beneficial to comb through those feelings with a fine-tooth brush. It is important to take each strand of emotion and ask yourself what it is trying to teach you, if it is actually a helpful emotion, and how you plan to acknowledge it- then somehow slowly continue with your day.
It means every time you start to experience something unwanted- you listen.
It means, if possible, you slow down.
You don’t run away, you don’t escape, you don’t distract. You don’t gaslight yourself, saying it could be so much worse.
Sure, perspective is great companion, but it isn’t the key to healing.
I am not an expert, just another human demanding to show up as fully as I can.
This year has been a huge call for me to learn how to sit with those darling emotions- the ones that sometimes come rolling into my day like a tidal wave- sink or swim, baby. And although I feel like many times I have sunk (hello, rock bottom)- I am determined to swim, swim, swim.
Here is my process- maybe you find something in here that resonates.
- Notice when your mind starts spinning and/or when your gut starts twitching.
For me, my head is the first thing to start spinning out of control, and my body slowly catches up. For some people, they experience bodily alarm sensations first, then the mind roars. When you start to notice that sympathetic nervous system spinning her wheels of- ‘something isn’t right!’- acknowledge it.
2. Breath and orient yourself.
Take a deep breath and see if you can take a few moments (minutes) to literally sit where you are. Relax your shoulders, intentionally slow your breathing. Scan your surroundings and start to become very mindful of where you are, how you are safe, what colors surround you, what sounds, etc.
3. Name the emotion (or the thought).
Sometimes naming the emotion can be hard because if we immediately think, “I feel angry”- sometimes the deeper emotion is fear, sadness, or grief. But even if you first name ‘anger’- name it and then sit with that. Also, sometimes what is more triggering than an emotion is a thought. Are you truly feeling something deep, or is there a thought that is tricking you to feel a certain way? Is it a gut feeling or just mental chatter?
4. Ask yourself what triggered that emotion.
Did it come out of nowhere? Did you see a picture of something? Were you daydreaming? If we can start to identify patterns in our thinking, we are steps closer to having more control over our thoughts, therefor allowing us to cultivate more awareness of our emotional landscape.
5. Follow up questions– important!
What is this emotion telling me right now? Am I currently safe? Is there anything I can do about this feeling in the moment? Can I stop what I am doing and dive into a list of grounding or stress relieving activities (self-care)? Can I write down a few sentences of what I am feeling to get it out and then continue with my day? Is there some bigger life lesson that these reoccurring unwanted emotions are trying to teach me? Are these thoughts just stories and narratives that actually don’t hold any weight…and are a result of anxiety, depression, etc? If you can take time, whether in the moment or later that day to interrogate yourself, you might start addressing the root and not just the symptom.
6. Moving forward.
You noticed, you took a moment of pause to breathe, you identified the feeling, you brought awareness to a trigger, you asked necessary follow up questions. Now what? This is where it can still be messy. That emotion might not just go away. It might stay with you for the next few minutes, hours, or even days/weeks/months. I like to imagine that this emotion is just hanging in my pocket for a little while- I acknowledge that it is there, but it I also create space for other more pleasant emotions to accompany me- reminder myself that I am not my emotions. (I am experiencing sadness, but I am not sadness). In addition, I would offer that if there are truly difficult reoccurring emotions popping up regularly in your life, to reach out to professional help and support, or at the very least have a trusted person in your life to soundboard with.
Sitting with our emotions is a skill that we will use for the rest of our lives. I am sure as I become ‘better’ at it, the process will feel more automatic- however, that is not to say that the process gets easier. This is important to understand.
At the end of the day, you are the one who has to spend time inside your head and heart. You are the one who has to listen to the stories that replay in your head and heart. You are the one who has the most control over the role your thoughts and emotions play on your head and heart.
So, I believe it is our duty to work continuously (that does not mean without rest) to bring harmony to our head and heart.
Have tips that help you sit with those heavy emotions? Feel free to comment below ❤