The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.
– Helen Keller
I often get asked in my therapy sessions about feelings and emotions. The following questions come up a lot. What do I do if I’m feeling emotionally reactive? What do I do if the feelings and emotions that are surfacing are hard for me to deal with? How do I help my kids identify their feelings and emotions? How can I better connect emotionally with my loved ones?
With adults, I like to start with paying attention to and being aware of the signs and signals your body is sending you when you first feel yourself getting upset. For example, when you are anxious and worried, where do you feel it first in your body? This is often very different from person to person. I personally feel it first as butterflies in my stomach, but for other people it might show up in your head or chest or some place in your body else first.
If these initial feelings grow in intensity and get worse, where do you feel it in your body next? You also want to pay attention to what’s going on externally that may be influencing how you’re feeling internally as well. Where are you? What time of day is it? Who is with you? What are you doing? Why do you feel like these emotions are showing up here?
Then, also pay attention throughout your day to when the opposite is true, and notice when your hard feelings are at their lowest point or even gone all together. Who is with you? What’s causing your emotions to be at a lower level? Where are you? Why do you think this is happening in this space? What time of day is it?
I also like people to do a feelings and emotions check in at the end of the day using the four primary feelings as a starting place: happy, sad, mad, scared. You can do this exercise on your own in a journal or with your spouse or with your kids out loud.
- What made your feel happy today? Try to focus on the big and small positives that happened throughout your day.
- What made you feel sad today? Was it something someone said or did (external factors)? Were you missing someone in your life (internal factors)?
- What made you feel mad today? Is there a deeper feeling underneath the anger such as sadness, fear, frustration or agitation that’s possibly at the root of your angry feelings?
- What made you feel scared today? Is it actually the fear of something that may happen in the future?
- What was the best part of your day? End your day on a positive note! Name some things your feel grateful for in your life right here and now.
This is a great exercise as a simple, end of the day check in with yourself. It’s also a great conversations starter with your partner. Kids often really like this end of the day check in as well, especially if they are having big feelings and emotions that they need to process and share with a caring adult.
This exercise can also be helpful if you’re an adult who grew up in a house where it wasn’t safe to share how you were feeling. You may have learned that being happy was the only acceptable emotion, or possibly no emotions were permitted in your household at all. This exercise goes back to the basics to help you get back in tune with your primary emotions, so you can figure out how you’re actually feeling throughout your day and why. Ideally, you’re working on your feelings and emotions for you, but also so you can model healthy emotions, as well as healthy emotional responses, to your kids and other people in your life too.