Understanding and Working with Emotions

Experiencing emotions (anger, heartache, fear, sadness) can feel painful and overwhelming at times. It’s important to remember that all the body sensations and feelings you experience are a natural part of being human, and that they serve a very important purpose.

A. Emotions are your body’s way of responding to your environment. They are a good source of information about what’s happening and what you need.

For example, if something frightens you, your eyes widen, your heartbeat increases and your muscles become tense. Anxiety is a similar feeling: You may have tightness in your stomach, feel queasy, or feel tension throughout your body. Basically your body is telling you something in your life feels dangerous and needs attention.

B. Emotions motivate you to take action/respond to what’s happening.

Feelings of fear and anxiety motivate you to get away from or resolve something negative or dangerous that’s arisen in our experience. This might mean running from an attacker, studying for a test, having a difficult conversation, or paying a bill that’s overdue. Have you ever noticed how you might be feeling very anxious about something, and then you take care of it, and the feeling goes away? If you feel angry, your body is preparing you to defend yourself from attack, or stand up for what you need.

C. Emotions help you communicate your needs and the effect other people are having on you

Human beings are social animals. We can read each others’ facial expressions and body language, and in general we want to stay connected. Which means we’re naturally inclined to want to make each other happy! When someone does something that upsets you, scares you, or makes you happy, your emotions let them know (through your facial expressions, tone of voice, and posture) the positive or negative impact they are having. For this reason, if someone is doing something hurtful it is difficult to stop feeling angry until you tell them to stop!

Knowing how to handle intense emotions while navigating your life can be challenging. Here are some helpful things to remember in learning to work with strong emotions. Many of us cope with intense feelings by choosing not to feel. Being cut off from your feelings is like being a sailboat without a rudder or sails. You don’t know who you are or where you want to go, and you can’t connect with the energy you need to get there.

It may be difficult to understand the messages our bodies are sending. Is our body telling us we should end the relationship we are in, or is it saying we didn’t get enough sleep last night? Managing and understanding all these messages requires much gentleness and perseverance, but it is well worth it. Being a person without feelings is like being a sailboat without a rudder or sails.

Depression

Depression is often a direct result of ‘putting a lid’ on our emotions. All of the physical sensations and emotions we experience are an expression of the energy of our life force. When we suppress that energy, we cut ourselves off from our own vitality and may end up feeling drained and numb. This does not mean we have to immediately express everything we feel. We need to learn how to make space for our emotional experience while managing our lives effectively.

Anxiety

Anxiety is that torturous feeling that we need to pay attention to something but don’t know what it is. Anxiety often arises when we are so uncomfortable with certain feelings or needs we block them out of our awareness. This may happen because we’ve gotten the message in relationships that some feelings are unacceptable, or that it is safer to pay attention to other people’s needs while denying our own. If we continually block out feelings or needs, the energies contained in them may erupt in explosive anger, crying fits or anxiety attacks.

Here are a few pointers to remember in order to respect your emotions and work with them in a skillful way:

Your emotions do not have to dictate your behavior. It can be helpful to acknowledge and let yourself feel an emotion and at the same time refrain from acting it out.

Sometimes emotions show up right on time, and can give us the energy to respond to difficult situations. At other times our emotional reactions may be heightened or distorted by past

Emotions Aren’t Always about What’s Happening in the Present

Our culture feeds us constant messages that discomfort is not okay. Many of us numb ourselves with a myriad of substances and behaviors, depriving ourselves of the full lives we deserve. Please don’t assume that your discomfort equals sickness. Give your body, and your emotions the benefit of the doubt. Do your best to tolerate, trust and value your feelings, even if you don’t always understand them.

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