What happens when we “lean in” to our feelings?

“We avoid the things we fear.” – Dr. Becky Kennedy, Registered Doctoral Psychologist, Good Inside

No one likes feeling uncomfortable, certainly not for any longer than they have to. So when we are experience an uncomfortable emotion, we usually try to make that feeling disappear. Whether our discomfort stems from anxiety or stress, anger or frustration, annoyance, or fear, usually would rather avoid it then have to actively face it. As a result, when faced with “negative” emotions, one of two things can happen:

1. We get swept away by the feeling = overwhelmed and dysregulated

2. We run from the feeling = seek distraction and practicing avoidance

Unfortunately, both of these responses leave us unprepared to manage the feelings in that moment and in the ones that come up in the future.

Emotions are often a part of therapeutic work. We name them, categorize them, learn why we have them, the purpose they serve, and why they might present themselves the way that they do. Then we learn how to manage those feelings, reduce them, even try to make them go away. But in reality, we cannot get rid of our feelings, and, in fact, we shouldn’t try to.

All of our feelings hold value. Joy, jealousy, worry, disgust, surprise…each feeling under the sun offers us information into what we are experiencing internally. When we feel happy, it’s celebrated. We don’t go around telling others not to feel so happy, that there isn’t anything to be happy out, or that we can help them reduce their happiness. But when it comes to anxiety or anger for example, that’s usually our go-to approach. Why? Because those feelings don’t feel as good, can be harder to manage, and can get in the way of our daily functioning.

But what if instead of running from or getting swept away by our feelings, we learn to “lean in” to them. And not just some of them, but all of them.

Leaning in, sitting with, orbeing mindful of, are all ways of saying: accepting our feelings as they are. Leaning in is choosing to stay with a feeling, allowing it to settle in our body and mind, and letting it be recognized without taking over. Leaning in is choosing not to distract ourselves or avoid what is happening, even when that is the easy thing to do. Leaning in the idea of exercising control over how powerful the feeling is (i.e., not letting it pull us under) by standing sturdy beside it.

When we accept how we feel and acknowledge that while it might not be comfortable that it is valuable, it’s then that we can begin to develop a functional relationship with our feelings. A relationship that works WITH our feelings helps to:

Create tolerance of difficult experiences

Build resilience

Increase self-confidence

Reduce fear

Improve ability to manage challenges

Once we believe that we can safely feel all of our feelings, then we can create coping strategies to utilize when more challenging feelings arise, allowing us we can see them, accept them, and respond to them in a way that is adaptive.

So if you’re up for it, next time a less comfortable feeling presents itself, take notice, get curious about why it might there, and try to sit with it, even briefly and see what changes for you.

– Blog Post by Registered Psychologist, Megan Adams Lebell


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