Lia Avellino, LCSW
Advisor of Head and Heart at THE WELL
When unsettling emotions surface, turn to these simple practices.
We bottle up our emotions for many reasons — we convince ourselves that they don't deserve to be expressed or we worry about how they might be received or judged by others. Another big fear: that if we feel all the feels, an ever-flowing, uncontrollable floodgate will open.
Many of us conceal our emotions thinking it will enable us to function in order to fulfill family, work and social obligations when really, it's the suppression of these emotions that hinders us.
One of the most important things I've learned as a therapist and by conducting Support Circles at THE WELL as their Director of Head & Heart, is that by releasing the hurt that’s already inside of us, we create the opportunity for emotional release and connection. Still, an important question remains: How do we express our emotions in ways that serve us rather than lead us to our breaking point?
Below, I share three practices that can help shift how we're feeling, even in a time of crisis.
The Daily Check-In
The first step in this process involves taking some time to turn inward. Throughout your day, begin to notice:
- the predominant feelings that come up for you
- the time of day they arise
- how long they last
- words that consistently pop up with these feelings
- your most common thought
- how you react toward these words and feelings
- the energy behind the emotion (forceful versus dull)
- the locations of tension in your body (such as the jaw, throat, chest and shoulders)
The goal of this practice is to consistently acknowledge the richness of your internal world and embark on the long and fruitful journey of getting to know how you feel. Feelings are real, but they are not facts — they don't always point to something that's immovable.
When we begin to notice discomfort around an emotion creeping up, many of us turn away — pick up our phones, return to a task that makes us feel productive or shove the negativity on a shelf to be dealt with another day. Instead, explore the feeling, sit with it and accept it as a messenger that is just trying expose what’s happening in your heart. Reminder: You don't have to do anything with the message you receive.
The Daily Practice
When we create goals that are unrealistic, we set ourselves up for feeling like failures. Avoid that trap by tracking your unique energetic rhythms and identifying goals that align with them. For example, on a morning that you're feeling low energy, don't commit to going for a run. Instead, the goal can simply be to put your feet on the ground and notice how that feels.
Or, if you're feeling angry but are unsure of how to express it effectively, just a simple physical exercise (like pressing your hands against a wall and pushing into it) can begin to facilitate a release. We need to have "successful" experiences —no matter now small — in order to forge ahead.
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The Daily Share
Once you familiarize yourself with the landscape of your emotional world and start to work with — not against — your rhythms, the daily check-in will become habit. You will know that drinking tea makes you feel soothed, cracking a new book open gets you excited, reading the news fans your anger, being dismissed by your coworker makes you feel worthless and watching the sunset relaxes you.
Next, identify someone in your life who makes you feel accepted and share what's coming up in your daily check-ins. You don’t need to reveal everything, but consider these three buckets: pleasure, pain and power. What is bringing you pleasure? What is triggering pain in your heart or your body? And what is making you feel empowered? (You can center on simple things, such as being able to cook your own meals or the ability to express your opinion freely on a work call.) To share one true thing about anything is a significant feat.
Last, institute rituals that foster communication, whether that's regularly scheduled phone calls with your best friend, a nightly neighborhood walk while social distancing, wine on the sofa at the end of the day or a couple's shower (nudity makes way for vulnerability) — just to name a few.
Unlocking our emotions at a pace that feels slow and aligned with your own internal beats will create space for honesty, openness, moments of tranquility and connection.