Checkin' in with Feelings
What is your go-to response when someone asks “how are you?” Is it likely that you instinctively answer with “fine” or “I’m good” without really taking a second to think about how you truly ARE feeling? What does “fine” or “okay” really even mean? For many of us, it’s just a quick response said on auto-pilot each day, and it’s appropriate for quick superficial conversations. Not so appropriate if that’s the only way you’re able to gauge your emotions.
When we do the auto-pilot - we disconnect from our feelings, which in itself can often create a disconnect or emotional detachment to certain situations we face. If this detachment is left unchecked, it can lead to a complete emotional blunting - one where we are completely numb or immune to our own feelings or those of the people around us. This may make it difficult to lead a fulfilling life or to feel connected to those we love.
Continue on for part two of our six part series.
How to Check-in With Your Feelings
Try taking a moment to think about how you’re feeling right now in this moment. Are you stressed? Happy? Excited? Somehow, we’ve evolved into only having a handful of feelings; we’ve essentially limited ourselves to the Seven Dwarves of feelings. We often minimize how we’re feeling because we don’t want to deal with it, we don’t know how to deal with it, or we don’t want to put that “burden” on someone when they ask. (For the record, usually if people ask, they actually care about the answer). Sometimes - at worst - we actually don’t even know what we’re feeling, what that feeling (whatever that feeling is) would feel like, or how to describe it! Sigh.
So how can you begin really checking in with those emotions?
Give your feelings a real word.
Before you think “I’m fine,” instead think of another word that might more accurately describe how you’re feeling and better connect you to your emotions. Fine can literally mean anything from sad to happy and is not a word to describe your real feelings, let alone is it even an emotion. Stop using it outside of superficial check-out-line conversation. Instead of “fine,” maybe you’re:
Connect your feelings to what you can understand.
If you’re having a hard time translating exactly how you feel into words, take a breath and focus on where in your body you’re feeling it. Sometimes people feel things like butterflies in their stomach, fluttering in their chest, pressure in their head, or tingling in their arms and legs. Strengthening the mind-body connection is key and may make it easier to pinpoint and understand in the future when you’re feeling the same things.
Accept your feelings for what they are.
Try and become neutral with how you’re feeling. Feeling frustrated (sad, angry, upset) isn't necessarily a good or bad emotion. Emotions are an indicator; a thermometer of sorts. Like when it’s cold and you put on a sweater - you just respond to the indicator and act accordingly. In a perfect world, you accept your feeling for what it is instead of (an unhealthy and unhelpful response of) heightening the unwanted feeling you’re already experiencing. If you can accept your feeling as an indicator, you can better understand the thoughts or actions that led you there. And what’s the point of beating yourself up because you’re feeling sad or angry? Instead notice, “so I feel a bit frustrated, okay, why do I feel this way? I wish a coworker would reach out to me about a confrontation we had earlier. It seems like they don’t care.” Respond to that part; the thought, not the feeling.
Consider replacing your thought with something more neutral.
This isn’t an opportunity to make up excuses for yourself or someone else. We can still have boundaries. It’s a chance to replace a negative thought with something more neutral. Not positive as it’s important to accept that negative feelings (or rather, negative perceptions of feelings) will happen and are necessary, but something more balanced. Think of it more as an “all vibes welcome” place as opposed to “positive vibes only”. Instead of being frustrated, I’m going to choose to trust that the time will come that this coworker and I will speak again and that I will be more open to understanding their emotions as well.
Now that you’ve checked in with your feelings, how can you ground yourself to your surroundings?
If you’re not familiar with the term, grounding means becoming more in touch with the present and your current world. You can ground yourself physically or emotionally. When you are feeling emotionally charged or overwhelmed with your thoughts you can try the following techniques to help you feel more grounded.
Try running different fabrics and materials through your fingers.
Take your shoes and socks off and feel the carpet or floor (or grass) under your feet.
Take deep breaths through your nose until you feel your diaphragm and chest rise up and out, then let the breath out again through your nose.
Name five things you can hear, four things you can see, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
Close your eyes and listen to every noise surrounding you. The cars driving by, the sound of the air conditioner whirring.
It’s time to stop ignoring/suppressing/blaming your feelings because eventually, you will have to deal with them. Or, they will deal with you. You can gain a sense of empowerment by learning to connect with your feelings, appraise them, and feel them - before responding. This creates a more balanced and even feeling for you in your life and interactions. You become more intentional and less given to the whim of spikes of unknown emotions.
If you realize that you still can’t seem to check in with your emotions or you may be emotionally detached, don’t panic. This is very common among those who struggle with perfectionism, people-pleasing, anxiety, low self-esteem, past trauma, childhood neglect, or codependency. So generally speaking - often happens to those of us who put other people’s sh!t ahead of our own. Seeking counselling or psychotherapy with a Registered Psychotherapist near you is the best way to re-learn these skills and tune in.
Amanda and Darrell are Registered Psychotherapists serving the Kingston, ON area. They both recognize the value of connecting with emotions, the regulation of such and how yucky it can be sometimes. (We know, we know, yucky isn't a feeling word!)