By Dietitian Jill Place AKA The Good Gut Queen
Know how to fully feel your emotions? Many of us don’t.
And I’m finding in these shut-in times that even I … with an equivalent doctoral degree in emotions from “Thespian University” (thespian is another word for actor) … am having difficulties.
Living alone (the cat is a great comfort) without the chatter of friends and colleagues. Or the mandatory Saturday brunch. Or my fave eating stations and watering holes. And noisy (always) neighbors who are currently ear-splittingly paving their back yard (complete with gargantuan cement truck) … are enough to make you beyond exasperated.
So I sat yesterday for the better part of the day in my jammies with a glass of wine. Buying picture frames for my office. And crying. And also wondering why I … who has that doctoral degree … couldn’t get a handle on my emotions.
Here’s what I came up with … WE’RE HUMAN! Feeling feelings is not only normal … we can feel many at once. AND SITTING WITH THEM IS VITAL FOR OUR HEALTH!
I later realized … PhD in acting or no … that these times encourage crazy feelings. Many mental health experts all over the world have said that the “second wave” of Coronavirus will be emotional ills.
And I must say that … in the trenches at my psych hospital … that I see many more “normal” people in crisis these days. As compared to those who are chronically mentally ill.
So I guess it’s back to major mindfulness. And doing Qigong three times a week these days. And not stressing so much the surprise ear-splitting din two days ago..
Here’s an article I wrote some time ago with some ideas about how to get in touch with your feelings. So you have some tools to combat whatever COVID-depression you’re in …
Trudging toward Expression …
It’s maddening! We enter this world with a full cacophony of feelings and a voice of many decibels and tones. And are societally trained to suppress and invalidate them and pare our voices down to a monotone. So that we’re BARELY expressive by adulthood. Unless, of course, we were BORN to be expressive.
It WAS maddening when I started my own path toward expression. Because even with a talent and a sensitivity, we actors all had to combat this societal emotion-blunting and vocal-squashing to relearn that broad expression that we were born with.
We universally are taught to hide our feelings … to be judged and punished for them. Which causes a potential failure to cope, and a possible descent into addiction, mental illness, and physical disability. So it’s vitally important that we reclaim and nurture them. NOW!
We All Have Feelings … and They Need to be Acknowledged
The bottom line is that we all have emotions. They’re absolutely necessary for our overall well-being. And there’s no guidebook or right or wrong way to feel.
So, whether we’re using them for our art or just living life, we have to learn that emotions are OK. And that they’re unique to us depending upon our culture and life-long conditioning.
Also … let’s learn to exercise them the way we exercise our muscles. Because the more we practice the more comfortable and accomplished we become.
I’m here to tell you as one who as honed and exercised my emotions all my life that the well-being rewards are tremendous. At 74, I may have put on a couple of pounds, but I’m the healthiest person I know.
And I attribute that more to allowing and accepting my emotions. And stopping to honor them … than taking all those supplements, getting on the stairmaster, or eating that huge salad.
Some Emotional Truths
Before you even begin to cultivate some emotional comfort, here are some absolute truths about them to embrace. Because, once you open that Pandora’s box, the results CAN be scary.
Working with Lee Strasberg, I spent many, many years dredging up layers of anger I didn’t know existed. But I got through it … and now only get angry in the moment when I perceive things or people to be unfair.
In other words, I’m not reacting from something traumatic that happened when I was two. So the first truth is:
Feeling emotions can heal you … and support your immunity …
Here are some others:
- When you judge or invalidate your emotions (i.e. “I shouldn’t feel that way!”), you give away your power
- When you judge or invalidate your emotions (i.e. “Crying is stupid!”), you give away the lesson they’re trying to teach you
- When you judge or invalidate your emotions they will make themselves known in some other way (i.e. addiction, overeating, phobias … you name it)
- When you judge or invalidate your emotions you create erroneous fantasies about your very existence!
The bottom line … feeling emotions is an overall GOOD thing!
So where do we start?
The journey is to live in the moment, like I learned when I was acting. Without emotional baggage or stories that you tell yourself to avoid feelings that can harken back to when you were born. ]
Recently, I too had to face the fact that the story I’ve told myself my whole life about being a mistake was wrong! Oh … did I also say that feeling emotions can also upend beliefs and stories you’ve created about yourself that aren’t true?
So where DO we start? Well … the words “mindfulness” and “meditation” seem to be on many people’s lips these days.
And that’s a wonderful thing, because something that was once lunatic fringe, like alternative medicine, is now becoming respected and … even better … part of our culture. As a matter of fact, all the nutrition experts are touting mindfulness as a way to lose weight.
So where do you start? With focus. Here’s the basic exercise I give my clients day one.
Because, in order to be able to connect with feelings in the safest way I know, you first need to quiet your mind and observe your own process. And … a hint … try not to judge this process. If you haven’t done things like this before your mind is going to rebel against it … I guarantee it … but just do it!
Find a quiet place to sit or lie down, lower your eyes (you don’t have to totally close them but can if you want). breathe in and out slowly for a count of five, and allow thoughts to drift in and out of your consciousness like a lazy sailboat on the horizon. Then take in what you touch, hear, smell, and see.
Now notice what your body touches. Notice your clothing and how it feels on your body … where it’s smooth and soothing and where it’s rubbing/irritating. Feel the surface on which you’re sitting/lying and how your body sinks into it. Take one hand and rub it slowly over the surface right under it. Relax.
Then notice the sounds around you. What do you hear? Take some time to really take in the sounds. Right now I hear the soothing music I’ve turned on, the cars passing in the street, my cat meowing for his dinner. Then take a moment to notice even more subtle sounds … the whir of the refrigerator, the air conditioner/heater, the tick of a clock. Just take it in.
Then see if you can detect any smells in your space. Is anything cooking? Are there flowers? The fragrance of soap/perfume/lotion on your skin. Even the smell of your breath. Relax and take it in.
Open your eyes and immediately notice what you see. Look all around you. Notice not only what you expect, but what you don’t, like a crack in the ceiling above you. Or some dust on the floor (I’m looking at hair shed from my cat there right now). Take it all in.
Continue in this way as long as you like. Then stretch your body, beginning with your fingers and toes, (don’t forget your face), shake out, and go about your day.
OK … there’s your first exercise to open the window to the rainbow of your emotions. Do me a favor … leave me a comment below and tell me how it went!
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold (or unfelt) story inside you ~ Maya Angelou (and me)