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 we also may have the tendency to push down uncomfortable emotions whenever they pop up.
As a mental health therapist and in my roles as a yoga instructor and yoga therapist, 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- sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, etc.
What many people don’t realize, however, is that we can’t stop feeling only the emotions that are uncomfortable to us. Envision a pipeline that our emotions flow through and they all flow through that same space. When we 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 anxiety can flare up which may lead to depression and even eventually end up with our feeling completely numb. This is not how we want to live our lives.
Another image to envision is that each emotion we choose to “push down” is like a beach ball we are holding under water. The second we stop holding it, it pops up, and many times it pops up and smacks us right in the face. Now, don’t get me wrong, over time, we can get pretty good at holding the ball under water. But then without fail, another uncomfortable emotion pops up that we don’t want to feel and that creates another ball to hold under. This quickly becomes exhausting and nerve wracking- holding all of these beach balls under water- and the time will come when we can’t hold them all down any longer. When they pop up, we may tend to snap at someone, shutdown, or react in a way that we wouldn’t normally react.
This cycle of trying to control and/or 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 only do this effectively for so long. Until 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 we allow ourselves to feel it, it will go away. Think of emotions like waves. If we are standing in the ocean, sometimes (as with less intense emotions) the water comes up to our knees and then continues on toward the shore. But other times, (as with deep and intense emotions) the water comes up over our heads and washes completely over, but then it keeps on going and we are still standing. Yes, we can get hit with several back-to-back waves of the same emotion. But, believe me, it isn’t lethal. (Althought it may temporarily feel as if it is.) If we can learn to allow ourselves to feel the emotion, it will wash over and then go away. Nothing lasts forever.
Here are a few tips that may help on this journey of feeling again:
- Set aside time and practice permission to feel. Our emotions are like our opinion- they can’t be wrong. We must stop judging ourselves for feeling what we feel. It’s all part of being fully alive.
- Practice self-compassion. We frequently skip self-compassion as we go from “that didn’t go as I wanted” to “how do I fix it”. We skip the part of the process that we offer to others of recognizing that it really hurts. Taking time to acknowledge that things are difficult in the moment and treat ourselves like we would treat a friend experiencing the same thing can help us through the process.
- Talk to a friend or loved one. Chances are, others have experienced something similar to what we are going through. It’s helpful to talk about our experience and to realize that we have support and are not alone in having these feelings.
- Have some body work done such as massage therapy, accupuncture, 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, addiction and recovery, 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 and taking care of ourselves.
I encourage you to live fully and feel it all. Take some time this week to notice if you are resisting feeling and attempting to hold beach balls underwater. As usual, I will be practicing along with you. Thanks for sharing your time with me.
Chat again soon,