By Christina Raccuia
Such a simple question. However, it is often difficult to answer with anything other than “excellent” or “pretty good.” What is it about emotions that often makes people uncomfortable? Well, we are not always encouraged to get in touch with our emotions. We strive to turn a happy face to the world, keeping up the facade displayed on our social media pages. We often feel pressure to put on a front for “likes” so we show people the fun vacations and the pretty food, but not the crying baby or the embarrassing work meeting. It seems important to show our best selves to others and to appear strong, independent, and upbeat at all times.
But we then fall into the trap of comparing our real lives with “highlight reels” of others on social media, all the while feeling pressure to keep up our own “everything is great” exterior. Often, the images we portray to others don’t show the whole picture. We might be depressed or have a bad day or lose a job. These all lead to us feeling potentially isolated from other people. So, what is the importance of both understanding and sharing our emotions?
How to get in touch with your feelings.
You may be thinking, “OK that’s great, emotional awareness matters, but how do I become more aware?” The following are some suggestions for learning more about your feelings and how to talk about them in helpful ways.
Name the emotions you experience.
Often, we think of the easy ones, such as anger, happiness, sadness, or fear; but as we become adults, our emotions become more nuanced. Learn to identify less commonly named ones, including shock, shame, anxiety, disgust, boredom, amusement, desperation, doubt, etc. Use a thesaurus or search for a mood chart online to give you new ideas.
Learn to identify your feelings correctly.
We may automatically assume that we are angry if we yell, but it’s possible to cover up feelings of sadness or embarrassment with behavior that looks like anger in order to make us feel less vulnerable. Take the time to look below the surface symptoms and see what’s really going on underneath.
Track a particular emotion throughout the day.
Pick a feeling and follow it. Let’s say, “joyfulness.” Jot down how many times you feel joyful throughout the day. Write notes about who you’re with, what time it is, where you are, what you’re doing, and how intense the emotion is. This can be a helpful exercise in learning what to embrace or avoid in your daily life to help manage your feelings better.
Push through and seek support when it seems difficult.
If we’ve buried our emotions for a long time, it can be very painful to face them. Often it can seem like things are getting worse before we learn to deal with how we feel. Don’t give up before you receive the healing benefits of getting more in tune with yourself! Seek help from trusted friends, counselors, religious organizations, and support groups if it seems too difficult to do alone.
Express emotions in healthy ways.
Once we’ve learned to name and track emotions, we need to learn what to do with them. Understanding our emotions may lead us to have healthy conversations with loved ones. We can share what we’ve learned about ourselves with others, receiving support and providing empathy for one another. Other ways that people deal with emotions include exercising, meditating, prayer, creating or listening to music, writing poetry, painting, or journaling. Find out what helps you to process your emotions, and be as creative as you want!
Pay attention to your body.
Take a moment to pause right now. Take a deep breath. What does your body feel like right at this moment? Often, we experience physical sensations that are associated with emotions, and we can learn to recognize our feelings based on our physical symptoms. For example, anger is often felt between the chest and head, while fear is usually felt between the stomach and chest. These sensations can include tightness, numbness, agitation, and nausea. Different people will have different physical sensations, so learn what your body is telling you about your emotions.
Is emotional awareness important?
Emotional awareness is an often-neglected skill. Some studies show that only one in three of us has the ability to correctly assess our feelings. This is significant because our emotions usually point toward important truths about ourselves. Our feelings come from our deepest desires, hopes, needs, and goals. If we don’t know what we’re feeling and why, we risk leaving crucial needs and longings unmet, potentially perpetuating a cycle of anger or unhappiness. Keeping feelings hidden can also lead to emotional breakdowns. Imagine a pipe that is blocked, emotions building up like water trying to get through to the other side. Eventually the pipe will burst, causing chaos. Lack of emotional awareness can also lead to unhealthy ways of coping, such as addiction, overeating, negative relationships, and angry outbursts.
The myth about negative emotions.
A lot of people believe that it’s only healthy to have positive emotions such as happiness, joy, and contentment, but that negative emotions like fear, anxiety, or sadness are inappropriate. We need to dispel this myth if we are going to get in touch with our feelings. Anger, for example, is not inherently negative. It can show us when we have an unfulfilled need or a frustration with crossed boundaries. A person that feels angry should examine where the anger is coming from so he or she can resolve the issue. Anger becomes a problem only when it is exhibited un-checked, hurting us and those around us. If you’ve watched the Pixar movie Inside Out, you’ll have learned that sadness isn’t always negative either. It can help us be more empathetic, more sensitive to the needs of others. It’s not the emotions that cause problems for us, but the way they fester and burst if we ignore them.
How can teenagers deal with emotions?
When we’re children we experience very basic emotions without many words to express ourselves. The older we get, the more complicated our emotions become. Eventually, we are able to have multiple feelings at the same time and have a wider spectrum of emotion terms to use. When we are teenagers, we are learning how to deal with these new moods. It’s important to remember that our peers are experiencing these same changes. We’re not crazy because we don’t always immediately know why we’re crying or becoming angry. It can help to use some of the above tips—to journal our thoughts, and to talk to a trusted adult who has gone through this.
How can being in tune with my feelings help my relationships?
Talking to your partner about how each of you expresses different emotions can help you learn to recognize feelings in each other. A person could assume that his partner is happy when she talks a lot because this is how she behaves, but she may actually talk more when she is nervous and uncomfortable. Conversations about emotions can teach people to better care for each other.
We all experience emotions every day, even when we do not realize it. They are powerful indicators of our needs, goals, longings, and desires. When we are in tune with them, they can point us in directions of growth so we can reach our full potential and receive the support we need. Ignoring feelings may be easy in the moment but can have serious repercussions for our relationships and our mental health. Learning about our emotions can help us be more empathetic people, know our strengths and weaknesses, make better choices, and ask for what we need.
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