We are in a global crisis, and many of us feel overwhelmed. Perhaps now more than ever, it is important to understand emotion and how to process it.
When emotions get stuck in our bodies, our immune systems weaken, increasing the possibility of getting sick. Stuck emotions can also lead us to do harmful, irrational things. Pausing to listen to emotions, saying them out loud and then validating them are important steps in understanding them and keeping them unstuck. The longer they are inside us, the bigger and more powerful they become. The sooner we process them, the more manageable they are. Processing emotions effectively helps make us healthier, more functional and better versions of ourselves!
Here are some essential truths to remember now and in the weeks to come:
Emotions happen to you. You do not choose them, vote for them or ask for them. They are not a reflection of your character, faith, Identity or intentions.
Emotions mean you are human and alive. They are a healthy biological response and have the power to connect us more than any other human experience.
Emotions are signals- they serve a purpose. The purpose is to get us to pay attention. It is our responsibility to listen to our emotions and then respond in an appropriate way.
Fear is a core emotion, as are loneliness and sadness. I have experienced all three of those a lot this week.
For me, fear feels like a tightness in my throat and chest and a rush of adrenaline through my limbs. It whispers: danger, beware, there’s a problem, a threat. Then I start thinking: Things are not going to be ok; they will not work out. Run and hide- do whatever you have to do to keep your people safe.
Sadness feels like a pressure of tears behind my eyes and a lump in my throat. It whispers: Something isn’t right; something feels painful. Then I start thinking: I regret how things are now- I feel an emptiness. I wish we could go back to when things were safe, happy and protected.
Loneliness feels like a dull, physical ache throughout my body. It whispers: You’re alone- you need help; you need others. Then I start thinking: no one understands, no one cares, no one will help me.
I don't want to feel or think those things. They create uncomfortable, sometimes even painful sensations in my body and soul.
So here is what we must do when emotion is triggered within us:
1. When you feel an emotion, pause and tune in to what is happening in your body. What physical sensations are you experiencing? What thoughts are being triggered? If you are in a conversation with someone when the emotion is triggered, ask them to slow down with you, or step away for a moment alone.
2. Once you identify the emotion, name it. Say it out loud, ideally to someone trustworthy, as soon as possible. Sometimes this may be a phone call or text, sometimes in person. Occasionally, if needed, I just say it to myself or write it down and then later I will tell someone. When I can name it, I will say something like, "I'm feeling a lot of sadness right now." Or, "Whew I'm flooded with sadness." And when I can't name it, I just say something like, "I'm flooded." Or, "I'm feeling emotion right now."
3. After you say the emotion out loud, try to understand what message the emotion is telling you. It helps if you can do this with someone trustworthy- it’s easier that way. But if not, or if not yet, write it out or focus your attention on it and ask, “What is this emotion trying to tell me?” For me, the answer usually becomes clear pretty quickly. But even when it doesn't, by speaking the emotion, I am able to get a little calmness, clarity and distance from the emotion so I can respond to myself and others with wisdom and compassion.
Practice this whenever you notice emotion, numerous times a day, starting today. Teach your people to practice it too. Always respond to emotion (your own and another’s) with some version of “Oooo,” which just means an audible response conveying that you hear what’s happening for them. Don’t try to talk yourself or anyone else out of emotion. (You won’t be able to.) Just process it.
Pause, tune in, name, speak, share, validate, repeat.