Counselors are known to ask the question, “How are you feeling?”, and our media loves to playfully poke fun at counselors for it. The funny thing is, most of us don’t know what we are feeling. Emotions can seem fickle and unreliable, and we can intentionally overlook them. Sometimes we are so busy we don’t stop long enough to check in with ourselves about how we are doing.
Why is it important to know what you are feeling? Why do emotions matter? Consider these three reasons:
Recognizing Emotions Protects Your Mental and Physical Health
There are many things in life that cause us emotional pain and trauma. When you identify your emotional response to these painful experiences, it aids in processing these events. When you don’t process emotional pain, it can turn into stored trauma and limit your ability to mature, grow and experience joy. Ignoring emotions can hinder the healing process and doing so often leads to more painful situations.
While recognizing emotions can protect your mental health, your physical health is also impacted by recognizing the emotions you are having. It is not uncommon for one’s emotions to get pushed aside, ignored, or limited in some way. The physical health consequences of not recognizing emotions can include symptoms such as high blood pressure, gastrointestinal pain, and disrupted sleep, among other things. The reason for this effect on the body is that emotions influence stress and how we handle stress. Stress is a physiological response, involving flight or flight hormones. See my blog on Toxic Stress to know more about the physical health impact of stress on the body.
Emotions are Part of Your Story
Although your emotions do not make up the whole story, they are part of the story. Your feelings that stir in response to an event or an interaction with another person are part of your lived experience. They can clue you in to what is going well and what might need to change. Ignoring or overlooking your emotions means that part of the story of your life is missing. Your story has value. Your emotions have value. You have value.
Emotions Influence Behavior
Do you ever feel perplexed by your behaviors? Sometimes you may act in ways that you do not understand. Sometimes you may do things that you wished you didn’t do. Your behaviors are linked to your feelings, as well as to your thoughts. Learning to identify the thoughts you have in response to life events, and the emotion stirred in response to those thoughts, can help you begin to make sense of your actions. Here are some tips on tuning into your emotions:
Tune Into Your Emotions: Three Exercises to Practice
In a moment when you feel perplexed by your behavior or your thoughts are racing, ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Challenge yourself to name an emotion, rather than a thought. For example, you might say “I’m feeling like I don’t matter to my boss right now.” This statement is not an emotion, rather it is a thought you are having. The thought is important and is connected to your feelings. Instead, you might say “I feel mad,” or “I feel confused.” If you get stuck, use this short list of primary emotions: happy, sad, mad, confused, jealous, excited. An additional step would be to write down the scenario and the feeling and bring it to your next counseling appointment to look at with your therapist.
Before bed, take some time to remember your day and identify the different emotions you had throughout the day. Maybe jot these down in a journal. After several days, do you notice any patterns?
Practice identifying emotions in others. Children can be a great resource for this. Can you guess the emotion that someone else might be feeling? What makes you guess one emotion over another?
Counseling is a great resource to help you tune into your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It’s not uncommon to struggle with tuning into these parts of yourself. If you think you could use some help with looking into your thoughts, emotions and behaviors, don’t hesitate to give me a call today!
Written by therapist Amie Bilson
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