In 2015, after a little over two years of marriage, my husband and I separated. I felt abandoned and full of grief. Living in a foreign country, I felt completely alone. Often at night, I would be flooded with a complex mixture of feelings and had no one to turn to.
I had never experienced this overwhelming amount of emotions. Sometimes I could hardly breath from the amount of sadness and anger that I experienced.
Up until this point, I thought very little about my emotions. It had never occurred to me that I had never learned to express my feelings.
I was always good at expressing my opinions, but rarely expressed my emotions. Perhaps growing up in a stoic midwestern culture contributed to this habit. Not to mention the fact that expressing or managing our emotions is a skill rarely taught in schools.
Dr. Gabor Maté, a best-selling author and expert on addiction and stress, talks about the two most common ways people express their feelings in his book When the Body Says No. Most people either swallow their emotions or explode. Neither is healthy. One may cause disease in the body and the other my cause dis-ease in our relationships and environment.
Suddenly, I was faced with a situation in life where I needed to learn how to deal with my emotions. I had grown up feeling guilty about my emotions, especially those labeled as negative.
By now, through my yoga and meditation practice, I had become aware that emotions are neither good or bad, but simply physical reactions in the body.
Therefore, I knew I not only wanted to learn to deal with my emotions, but also how to embrace and accept my emotions without guilt, so that I could release them and move on in freedom.
Since then, I have developed four go-to ways to deal with my feelings without guilt.
4 guilt-free ways to embrace your emotions
1. Emotions journalling
In our culture, we are very busy. We go throughout the day focused on finishing our task list. We rarely take the time to notice the emotions we are feeling. Instead, we stuff them inside so that we move onto the next thing on our to-do list.
For this reason, we don’t spend much time actually noticing or pinpointing our emotions. When we come to do this, we have a surprisingly limited vocabulary to describe emotions.
When we decide to become more aware of our emotions, it can be very hard to even name them, much less understand the reasons these emotions arise.
At this point in my life, I began to do something I call emotions journaling. This type of journaling is different that stream of consciousness journaling where you write whatever comes to mind. Instead, journaling about our emotions has the specific aim to name the emotions we feel at the moment or felt in a specific situation and also to explore the reasons for that emotion.
The Center for Nonviolent Communication (NVC) teaches a model in which all humans share universal needs. They teach that feelings and emotions arise for an individual because one of these specific needs is either met or not met for that person.
To learn to express these needs, they recommend people practice communicating with the below format:
I feel ________________, because my need for ________________ is/is not met.
I began to use this exact sentence to journal about my emotions. Using the list of feelings and needs provided on their website, I began to name my feelings and the needs that were either met or unmet.
This method of journaling was very powerful for me, because it gave me insight into the reasons certain emotions arose. It helped me understand my needs and taught me how to communicate these needs and set boundaries in my life so that my needs could be met. It helped me reduce my feelings of guilt over certain emotions I struggled with, such as anger, because it showed me these emotions come from legitimate needs that all humans experience.
The great thing about the NVC model is that it helps dispel out cultural bias towards negative and positive emotions. Instead it labels emotions as those that you experience either when your needs are satisfied or not satisfied. For me it gave me a wider vocabulary for my emotions. No longer were emotions just happy or sad or angry, but instead I could express the whole range of emotions.
2. The phone trick
Sometimes you don’t have a lot of time to journal about your emotions and thus it is easy to avoid checking in with our emotions in this way daily. Well, luckily there is another way you can practice the same process of naming your feelings and needs that will only take 10 minutes of your day: the phone trick.
I discovered this ritual when a friend of mine shared with me this article back in 2015. At the time, I often felt pressure that I should just “get over” my sad feelings and “be ok” already. This article helped me realize it is ok not to be ok and gave practical ways to manage feelings.
My favorite was the phone trick. This process uses your phone to learn to verbally express your emotions and also to practice feeling compassion for yourself.
There are four steps to the process (Watch the video for a full tutorial):
- Set your timer for 5 minutes and use your phone to film yourself expressing your feelings at that moment. When the timer goes off, stop wherever you are.
- Take three deep breaths into your abdomen.
- Set your timer for 5 minutes and watch the video you just filmed. While watching, practice showing compassion to yourself for the feelings you are expressing.
- Take three more deep breaths into your abdomen. And when you are ready to release these emotions, press delete for the video on your phone.
Why I love this process:
- It only takes 10 minutes.
- You learn how to voice your emotions, whether they are easier ones or more difficult ones.
- You practice compassion for yourself, rather than feeling guilty for your emotions.
- You delete the video and practice letting go and moving forward. Even if these emotions and experiences come up again, you can practice letting go again using the same technique.
3. Finger holds
Finger holds are a practice for managing emotions based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In TCM, there are channels or meridians of energy that run through each finger and are connected with a different system of organs and associated with a different emotion.
By simply holding your finger, you can stimulate these meridians and balance the emotions in your body. If we don’t balance or manage our emotions, they can become stuck or repressed, creating pain or congestion in the body.
This practice helps us realize that emotions are not “good” or “bad,” but actually messages from the body that show us how we are navigating challenges in our environment. The practice of finger holds can even help us understand the emotions we are experiencing as we practice listening to the body.
In TCM, the emotions associated with each finger are:
- Thumb – Grief, sadness and tears
- Index finger – Fear, terror and panic
- Middle finger – Anger, rage and resentment
- Ring finger – Anxiety, worry and nervousness
- Little finger – Lack of self-worth
Finger holds can be practiced whenever you are feeling a specific emotion in any situation or you can practice it as a meditation. When practiced as a meditation you can understand which emotion you are dealing with at the moment by noticing which finger begins to pulse more when it is being held.
I first learned finger holds through CAPACITAR International, an organization that teaches energy-based healing practices, often in situations of trauma and conflict. I wondered why we don’t learn these practices as children. It is such a simple and powerful practice!
How I use finger holds:
- Overtime you will memorize which finger is associated with each emotion. Whenever I am in a situation where I feel overwhelmed by a particular emotion, I will hold the associated finger and breath in order to balance that emotion in my body.
- I often do this practice as a meditation as I am going to bed. It usually helps me fall asleep immediately, even before I finished holding all five fingers. It also ensures that I sleep peacefully, without pent up emotions from the day making my sleep restless.
You may start this practice not feeling like much is happening, but over time your body will become more receptive to the shifts in energy and will balance its emotions faster with the practice.
You can practice finger holds as a 7-min meditation here.
4. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is now becoming a very popular practice for releasing emotions blocked in the body. It is used in many contexts, from dealing with anxiety and stress to overcoming our limiting beliefs and finding freedom to pursue our dreams in life.
It is a practice developed by Gary Flint, Ph.D. and is based on energy field theory and meridian theory of Eastern medicine.
It consists of four steps:
- Select your target issue – perhaps a situation that is giving you anxiety, causing fear or keeping you from moving on in life.
- Create an affirmation with a brief description of the issue – a simple affirmation is “Despite the fact that I have this problem, I’m OK, I accept myself.”
- Tapping on 7 – 12 basic acupressure points.
- Repeat the process a few times.
You can use this practice in situations where you feel overwhelmed or develop a consistent practice of EFT twice a day in the morning and the evening. Check out this video to start practicing EFT today.
These days, we see more and more mindfulness, meditation and emotional intelligence practices making their way into schools. When I was younger, however, managing emotions was not something that was actively taught, so it is something I have had to learn as an adult.
If you are like me and often feel overwhelmed, it may be a sign that you are not actively managing your emotions each day. You may even been feeling guilty over certain emotions, which can add to the sense of overwhelm and make it even harder to understand the emotions underneath the guilt.
In my journey to reduce overwhelm, I’ve found it is essential to practice managing my emotions on a regular basis. These are the top 4 practices I use to regularly check-in with my emotions, so they do not get stuck in my body and cause emotional breakdowns, sickness or disease.
Practicing these four techniques on your own, will help you bring emotional awareness and harmony into your relationships.
Managing our emotions is empowering. As women, we often internalize a message that we should be silent. That we should not say too much to I. Therefore, we keep our emotions inside. Learning to name our emotions and needs on our own and in our relationships can help give a voice to our true selves.
Unblocking emotions from our bodies helps our bodies stay strong, healthy and vibrant. Finding stillness within the fluctuations of our feelings can preserve our energy to express our creativity and live our purpose with passion.
What about you?
Share in the comments below. What ways to you use to manage your emotions? Which one of these four ways will you try first?