Emotions are an interesting phenomenon that each of us experiences on a daily basis. They frame the world for us and help us experience it fully. They are the overwhelming sense of joy when we welcome a new baby into the family, the swell if pride when a loved one succeeds at their goals, and the gratitude as we settle into a comfortable bed after a long day. They’re not always good, however. They are often tumultuous and uncomfortable. Anxiety, fear, anger, sadness—despite the discomfort they bring, they’re all an important part of how we interpret and respond to the world. There are techniques for responding to our emotions and feelings that help us process them in a healthy way and enjoy our lives regardless of what is going on inside us.
Feelings and emotions are similar, but not the same. For a quick reference, think of them this way: feelings are the symptoms of emotions. Emotions are typically deep and long lasting. For example, grief over the loss of a loved one, anger over a betrayal, or love for a family member would all be emotions. These emotions can cause a variety of feelings. Grief can make us anxious, sad, angry, nervous, lonely, and desperate. Love can make us happy, grateful, and benevolent. Feelings vary and are often short-lived, but the emotion remains the same.
The first step to handing our emotions and feelings well is to acknowledge them. It seems obvious, but many of us waste precious time and emotional energy denying our feelings and keeping them at bay. Feelings are a natural part of who we are. They may be uncomfortable or difficult or strange, but they’re not bad. They’re an important part of understanding others and ourselves. By acknowledging and accepting our feelings we are able to devote our energy to the things that make our lives good. Dr. Noam Shpancer likens avoiding or denying our feelings to a swimmer fighting undertow. It’s exhausting, panic inducing, will eventually result in bigger problems.
Once we acknowledge and accept our feelings, we are able to have compassion for ourselves. This is hugely important. When we are no longer fighting against the feelings, we can use that energy to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to rage, take up kickboxing or running. When we stop ignoring and denying our feelings, we can begin to help ourselves process them.
The final step is evaluating our feelings and reactions to see where we can grow. As we acknowledge our negative feelings, we can begin to generate positive ones. Practicing gratitude, surrounding ourselves with kind people, and creating an environment in which we feel at peace are all ways we can reinforce positive feelings. Remember that you are not what you feel. If you are anxious or sad or lonely, those are only feelings and not things that define you. If you need help, please feel free to contact me or call the Samaritan’s Hotline at 212-673-3000. Whatever you are feeling, it will pass as all feelings do.