I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I handle my emotions. I suppose a major heartbreak will do that for you. In full transparency, I actually called my therapist this week to ask him if I was going crazy because I seem to start feeling better and then plunge back into sadness and find myself crying in the bathroom at work. He reminded me in that kind, gentle therapy voice that losing someone comes with a grieving process and feeling sad and crying a lot are normal and actually healthy ways to grieve.
So, why was I so freaked out that I kept feeling sad? It occurred to me that managing my emotions was something I was never taught. There was no Feelings 101 class in high school. My parents never sat me down to have “the talk” about my emotions. Instead, I am learning in the typical human way, by trial and error.
After 4 years of doing meditation almost daily, I have witnessed that the practice of sitting and repeatedly bringing my mind back to the present has taught me to “see” my thoughts when they come up. Now, most of the time when I think something, I don’t automatically follow that thought down the proverbial rabbit hole. I can pause and question the thought – is that really true? And from there, I can make a decision how to act.
Here’s a case in point: I am getting bids to redo my back patio. As you can imagine, it’s expensive. Thoughts start popping up like, what if I spend all this money and then lose my job?
Old Me: you’re right, don’t do it, you are crazy and irresponsible, you should probably go eat some chips and mourn the fact that you are going to be alone, fat and in a house you hate for the rest of your life
New Me: well, right now there is no indication that will happen and if it does, we can deal with it then, you aren’t spending your life savings on this project, take a breath, chill out and call the contractor
I mean it’s embarrassing to admit but that really did used to be me. Without any ability to question the validity of my thoughts, they were just sort of a runaway train on a track to dysfunction town.
So it got me thinking, if I could act differently by learning to work with my thoughts, what if I could react differently by learning to work with my emotions?
Emotions are the genesis of reactions. Don’t believe me? Think of a 3-year old. You say a simple no; they go into full meltdown mode in the toy aisle of Target. And while we would all like to believe we have evolved extensively from the 3-year old versions of ourselves, we see examples all the time of this not being the case (see Donald Trump’s Twitter feed).
Managing our reactions to our feelings in any given moment actually takes practice. And how and what we practice is a big part of learning how.
I read articles related to health and wellness voraciously. There is a common theme that comes up around emotions that goes something like this…”it is best to give your feelings some space to just be.” Y’all, I have read that so many times and I just couldn’t understand what I was supposed to be doing. Like do I need to sublet them my guest room for the month? Are they just going to crash on my couch for the night? What kind of space are we talking about?
What I finally figured out during all this sadness I have been experiencing (I’ve come to calling it my blue period, Picasso had one, so can I) is that giving my feelings some space means actually acknowledging that they exist and then giving them a place to go.
So how do I do that? My amazing love coach, Macy Matarazzo, told me this. Emotions are e-MOTIONs. They actually have energy and need to move through us. It’s the same thing we call “ch’i” or what acupuncturists work with during their practice. Now, we in the Western world aren’t as familiar with these concepts. But they have been practiced for thousands of years in Eastern medicine. With many Eastern countries listed among the healthiest in the world and America not faring as well these days, I don’t know about you, but I’m open to trying new things, especially ones that have a track record of success dating back to years that end in B.C.
A new way I have learned to put emotions into motion is to practice tapping, or the formal name of EFT (emotional freedom technique). There is a ton of information on this online but here is a site that gives a 101 on it. As they say, it’s like acupuncture without the needles.
Please note that I am not an expert on tapping but the tapping I have practiced with my coach essentially involves saying things to myself as I tap on certain points on my body. I’m sure the whole thing looks a little ridiculous. She has had me record our video sessions doing it and I cannot bring myself to look at them! But here is essentially what I do.
Let’s go again to my patio example. I have been feeling all this anxiety around spending a large amount of money. This feeling of anxiety is really uncomfortable and I’d rather just escape it with a Netflix binge or a glass (or two) of wine. But instead I start tapping. As I tap each spot, I say things like this…
I’m really afraid. I’m afraid I shouldn’t spend this money. I’m afraid I could lose my job. I’m afraid I won’t have enough money. I could never get another job. I could end up homeless. What if this is irresponsible? I hate feeling this anxious.
Anyway, you get the point. I let everything I am feeling just come out. Some of it is really over the top and doesn’t even make realistic sense. But in the moment, I don’t judge it. I just let all my crazy hang out right on the front porch. And then I start reframing it. As I tap each spot, I say things like this…
What’s the worst thing that would happen if I lost my job? I think I’d probably be able to get another one pretty easily. And I have savings. So I could live safely for a while. And I really want this patio. I want to spend more time outside. It makes me feel better.
Again, you get the point. I’ll generally do this for 3-5 minutes. And I have to tell you, IT WORKS! Often times, I actually feel the emotion kind of move through me and pass out of me. Sometimes, I can’t let go of it in that moment and that’s okay too. Just like when I meditate, I have days when it’s easy and days when it’s not. But the power of things like meditation and tapping is the practice, the repeated doing over and over until it becomes a more habitual way of being.
To wrap it all up, here’s the truth about emotions. “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” Thanks for the wisdom, Brené Brown. So for me to feel joy and hope and love and awe and inspiration, I also have to feel anxiety and sadness and fear and loneliness and anger. And sitting with those really does require practice. That, and my big girl panties.