How To Handle Emotionsby Kali Munro, M.Ed., Psychotherapist
Definition of emotional intelligence
Intense emotion can be overwhelming for all of us. And if you're just opening up to an emotion, it can feel very raw. No matter how experienced you are with your emotions, we all need help sometimes to know how to deal with them.
Learning to recognize and stay with our feelings is a valuable experience. We can learn that just because we feel something, we don't have to act on it. Or that we can be angry and choose how to respond rather than let the anger control us. The more we know how we feel and ways to feel, release, be with, or let go of our feelings, the better we feel about ourselves.
But how do I know what I'm feeling?
If you don't know how you feel or how to get in touch with your feelings:
1. Identify how you feel:
Sit quietly for a moment; you might want to close your eyes, and then wait and see what you notice from inside.
Notice how different areas of your body feel.
Focus on the areas of tension, breathe, and see if anything comes to your awareness. You don’t have to think about it.
Notice whether any thoughts, images, feelings, memories, sounds come to you.
If nothing comes, that’s okay. You may still want to continue.
Ask yourself how you're feeling, and be aware of what comes up.
You don’t have to figure anything out, just be aware.
If nothing comes to you, that's okay. Sometimes that happens. You may still want to try again, another time.
2. Acknowledge your feelings:
If you know how you feel, let yourself know that this is how you are feeling right now, and that’s okay.
You don’t have to know where it is coming from.
You don’t even have to know what to name it; you may simply know that you have a lot of pain in your chest.
Breathe through it.
Let your feelings just be there.
You don’t have to do anything with them, just accept that this is how you feel.
But where do these feelings come from? They just seemed to come out of the blue.
If you want to understand why you feel a certain way:
1. Identify the source of your feelings:
Know that you are not being "silly" or "crazy" for feeling how you feel; your feelings are there for a good reason.
Turn inward, and ask yourself what are these feelings connected to.
Wait and see what you notice. You might just know. You might remember something, see an image, hear a sound, notice tension in a particular area of your body.
Try not to analyse, interpret or judge what comes to you. Be open to what you notice.
Go deeper. We may think we already know why we're feeling a certain way, but sometimes there is more to it than what we think. Being patient and receptive helps us to go deeper.
If nothing comes to you, that’s okay, too. It helps to just let yourself feel.
What do I do with these feelings?
2. Express or release your feelings.
Even if you don't know why you are feeling this way, you can still express yourself in the privacy of your own home.
Focus on how you feel. Open your mouth and let a sound come from that feeling.
Move with the feeling. You can dance, stomp around, kick, hit something.
Scream. If you are worried about the sound, you can scream into a pillow.
Cry. If you feel like crying, give yourself permission to do this.
Write or draw from this feeling place. Don’t censor yourself, let the feeling do the writing or drawing.
Say out loud what you need to say to someone.
Tell someone supportive how you are feeling.
It's too much for me. I can't take it any more. What do I do?
1. Comfort and reassure yourself:
Talk to yourself as you would a friend. Be gentle and kind.
Reassure yourself with whatever you need to hear, for example, "I’m okay, I’m safe."
Curl up in a comfortable chair/bed with a blanket, a warm drink, a good book, or watch a show on T.V.
Do something nice for yourself. Treat yourself to something special, take a bubble bath, go to a spa, get a massage.
Talk to a supportive friend. Ask for what you need.
2. Take a break from your feelings:
Sometimes feelings become overwhelming and you need a break from them. This doesn't mean denying that they are there, only that you need a break and will come back to them later when you are rested. After taking a break, it is important to come back to your feelings. They may have changed, and that's okay.
Create a safe inner place. Let your imagination create an image of something(s) that represents how you are feeling right now. It may be concrete or abstract. Take your time, let your imagination develop this fully. Then imagine a protective bubble around this image, separating yourself from it. Look at the image. Notice that it is still there, but separate from you. Your feelings are still there, but you are not in them right now. You have a choice, you don't have to be in your feelings right now. Let yourself take the break that you need. Taking this break will mean that you will be better able to deal with them later. You may want to imagine yourself in a safe place -- any image that you choose.
Remember times when you felt good. Let yourself relax and get comfortable. Breathe gently. Remember a time when you felt good, loved or calm. It could be something that really happened, or something that you create, like being near a waterfall. Imagine being in this situation or with this person, and feel all of those pleasant feelings. Feel your body shift from what you were feeling, letting those feelings go. Let yourself feel more relaxed, comforted or at peace. Stay with this memory or image until you feel really connected to it.
Exercise vigorously. This can help you to relax, feel energized, and generally feel better.
Do something that relaxes you.
Do something that absorbs your attention fully. This can help you to shift out of how you are feeling.
Get a change of scenery. If you have been at home or in the same room a lot, maybe you need to get out, even if only for a walk around the block. Change your patterns. If you always go home after work only to feel stuck in your feelings, maybe you need to do something different -- go see a concert, a movie, or have dinner out, something that makes you feel good. Doing things to take care of yourself alone may be better than going home alone.
It's not always easy to stay with your feelings, but it can be rewarding when you do.
© Kali Munro, 2000.