We cannot think our way through an emotion. Emotions must be experienced!
That is because we have a thinking brain, emotional brain and body brain that function somewhat independently. We have to learn the difference between a thought, an emotion, and a physical sensation (Review Part 1 and Part 2 ). And we have to practice experiencing each of them. Emotions have to be felt viscerally for us to achieve long-lasting relief.
Most of us spend a lifetime figuring out how to avoid emotions. But that’s because we aren't taught better ways to work with them. The society we live in does not yet recognize that mental health is a byproduct of our being able to name and safely experience the myriad of emotions that life brings.
You may at first resist tending directly to your emotions because, let’s face it, emotions can feel overwhelming.“How big will the feeling get?” or “Will I be able to stand it?” are just some of the concerns that can come to mind. The truth is, we can all learn to tolerate and even embrace getting in touch with deep emotional experiences and the sensations they bring forth in our bodies. The benefits include feeling less anxious, less depressed, calmer and more authentic!
Two-Minute Exercise to Experience Your Three Brains and the Self:
Find a quiet, calm moment and slow yourself way down by feeling the ground underneath you an taking 4 or 5 deep belly breaths.
Now, think of a recent experience that had some (but not too much) emotional punch to it. It could be as simple as remembering a compliment someone gave you or a nice moment with your friend, partner, or pet. You could remember a scene in a book or film that made you sad or scared, or the last time you got slightly annoyed. We are conjuring up a past memory to bring up an emotion to re-experience now.
Think about the details of the memory, noticing the images that go with it as if you are watching a movie. For example, as I write, I am remembering a happy moment with my child a few weekends ago. I see us in the kitchen cooking together. The image makes me joyful. Make your memory as vivid as possible so the emotions grow stronger. Holding the memory in mind, see if you can label one or more emotions that your memory evokes.
If tuning into your emotions feels scary or you notice you don’t want to — that is OK — just imagine a peaceful place like the beach or mountains to calm your nervous system. Part 5 of this series will validate why we are sometimes afraid, uncomfortable or reluctant to get in touch with emotions.
Let’s go back to the exercise. What emotions come up for you as you bring up your memory? Without judging or evaluating yourself, name the emotion your memory brings up for you now. Literally ask yourself, “Do I feel sadness?” Do I feel joy? Do I feel excitement? Do I feel anger? Do I feel fear? Do I feel disgust? Do I feel anxiety? shame? guilt? Try on each emotion above, one by one, until you find the ones that fit. When you find the emotion word that f