The people in our lives often model how they attempt to hide their feelings: they eat an entire carton of ice cream when they’re sad, they celebrate by having a large Italian dinner and bottle of wine, they shut down and isolate themselves instead of getting angry, and they snap at their spouses after work because they’re upset with something their bosses said or did.
You’ve probably seen this happen and done it yourself many times. And, often we feel like crap after we do one these things.
So, why not allow yourself to embrace your feelings instead of trying to mask them? When did it become a bad thing to feel scared, angry, sad, or hurt? When did we start to teach our children that a lollipop will make things better?
The Far End of the Spectrum
Sometimes we teach ourselves to numb our feelings so often that really unhealthy things occur such as substance abuse, obesity, and violence.
When we stop connecting our thoughts to our feelings and actions, we can fall down into a dark pit.
You might be wondering how I know about this. Before I made a career change, I practiced therapy with at-risk adolescents and their families. I had teen after teen sit in the chair across from me and not know how to connect their thoughts to their feelings and actions. My job was to teach them how to do it. What I outline below were some of the basic steps that I used:
Stop Running from Your Feelings
The first step in allowing yourself to feel is to stop running from your feelings. Embrace them. Get to know them.
This doesn’t mean that you should stay in bed all day and wallow in your sadness. It means to accept that you feel sad and try to understand what’s behind the sadness.
You need to get to know your body and determine the signals that it gives you. For instance, when I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with any situation I get this sinking feeling in my gut. When I pay attention to that feeling, I often navigate situations with more control. I find that if that sinking feeling creeps in while making a business decision, I pay close attention to why I’m feeling that way. It has never led me the wrong direction.
Trust Your Body
Your body often tells you what you need, so start listening.
People who suffer from anxiety disorders have triggers, and they have warning signs that their anxiety is escalating. They might begin to feel nauseous, become dizzy, or feel their heart beat increase. When these signs pop up, they need to take five minutes to reduce their anxiety by practicing some deep breathing, taking a walk around the block, or practicing visualization.
Like people who have anxiety disorders, you also have triggers. When you get to know and trust your body, you can figure out what you really need.
When I start to get cranky and stressed, it’s usually due to a lack of sleep, unhealthy eating, a lack of exercise, work pressure, or a combination of these things. If I pay attention to my body, I can figure out which one it is, and then fix that area. If I need more sleep, I can take a nap. If I need exercise, I can go for a run.
But, here’s the thing. When I get cranky and stressed, I also start to trick myself into thinking that I can make myself feel better with a bag of chips or by spending an hour watching trashy reality television. In reality, I often feel less satisfied and guiltier after doing one of those things.
Be Kind to Yourself
We can be our own worst enemies, especially when we let our inner critic take over. Your inner critic is that voice in your head that tells you you’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough.
And, if you think about it, you probably say meaner things to yourself than you would ever say to a friend. I would never tell my size 4 friend that she looks fat, but I’ve said it to myself. I would never tell my friend that she should give up on her dream. If anything, I would encourage her to keep going. But, my inner critic tries to tempt me to give up often.
We all have to learn how to be kind to ourselves, and how to tell our inner critics to shut the hell up.
If you’re having a bad day, give yourself 15 minutes at the end of the night to take a bubble bath. If you’re feeling overworked and exhausted, take a mental health day. You’ll be better off for it.
I know that you’re busy and that you can’t always take a break, but if you don’t at least give yourself five minutes to feel whatever you’re feeling and attempt to deal with it in a healthy way, you might just reach for that bag of candy to try to mask those feelings. And, in the long-term, it won’t work.
April Bowles-Olin works with creative women to lead more fulfilling lives while they make money doing it. She also attempts to add a little prettiness to the world with her art and jewelry. You can learn more about her at Blacksburg Belle and connect with her on Twitter @blacksburgbelle.