As closures and restrictions become a reality for us, I notice that I am feeling angry but also relieved.
I’m angry because I want to be at work, at curling, going out for dinner, and hanging out with my sister but can’t. I’m also equally content because my hectic schedule got wiped out in a matter of days and I’m looking at a blank calendar, feeling so happy about that. I’m so worn out — the thought of abundant rest thrills me.
Acknowledging these two big feelings led me to think about a question I used to ask clients while I was a practicing psychotherapist: What two feelings do you notice the most right now?
This question got people (and me!) thinking about the possibility that two or more intense feelings can happen at the same time and that they are all OK. It’s OK to feel scared and relieved at the same time. Or happy and frustrated. Our feelings matter and they are important. It also helps us to understand when an “icing” feeling like anger, which is often tied to another feeling like fear or sadness is distracting us from what is really going on in our hearts. An icing feeling is one that is a surface feeling but underneath lies the important one driving our main thoughts, body sensations, and emotions.
Noticing our feelings is a great first step and doing so actually makes things better! Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. (authors of the Whole-Brain Child books) say "name it to tame it," which I’m a big believer in. When we take time to sit in and acknowledge our feelings, we’re well on the way to processing them.
Not sure how to do that? Here are five suggestions for sitting with and naming feelings:
1. Allow yourself to feel the feelings before jumping to problem-solving, distraction, or numbing mode.
Make it OK to feel uncomfortable. If the feelings feel too huge to keep yourself safe, please immediately reach out for help to make sure that everyone is unharmed.
For those feelings that feel intense but handle-able, sit, walk, or lie where you can be quiet to breathe and pay attention to what you notice. I like to do this with my journal, in the shower, or when walking my dog early in the morning. If you are able to say what you are feeling out loud, go for it.
Remember to notice how those feelings affect your body. I tend to chronically hold a few muscles tightly when I feel angry so paying attention to that helps reduce my body aches, too.
2. Find a thing, place, or person to tell your feelings to.
Make sure this is a trusted person if you are talking to someone. I also suggest taking time with your feelings before sharing with them someone to prevent the possibility of flooding them -- telling them more than they are able to hear.
I like writing my feelings down on paper then going outside to burn that paper in our outdoor fire pit! I also tell my dog a lot on our morning walks. She knows all my deepest thoughts and feelings and just keeps being excited to be with me.
3. If you are having trouble naming your feelings, look for a resource to help you identify them.
Sometimes it can help to look through feelings words to pick that one that stands out for you. The cards I’m holding in the photo are from our www.IFeelLikeABear.com feelings flashcards. Putting the words “emotion faces” into a search engine will also lead you to resources from trusted mental health sources.
4. Remind yourself that all feelings are allowed and none are “good” or “bad.”
I encourage you to not judge your feelings or feel bad for having them. It’s OK to feel some happiness in this time of great uncertainty. Or feel angry that you have to spend the next three weeks stressed about what to do with your children because you have to work. Some people might be offended by our feelings but I’ll stick with the philosophy of “Your opinion of me is none of my business” while I’m trying to feel okay in my own skin.
5. Try hard to not be hurtful.
In the I Feel Like A Bear! flashcards I wrote this line, which I’ve been using for a decade with my parenting clients and the in the school I run: It’s okay to be mad, but it’s not OK to be mean.
While you are sitting in your big feelings, please remember to do no harm. If you need space from others before being able to use “thinking words” rather than lashing out, please take that space.