Processing emotions means literally allowing the feelings to move through your body, swelling up to a crescendo and moving the energy out of your system.
As I was talking about the importance of processing emotions as opposed to stuffing them, repressing them, coping with them at a workshop recently, one of the participants said, “But, I just don’t see how talking about how I feel is actually going to help. It just feels like I am spinning in a story and nothing really changes.”
I could see the disconnect.
Processing, digesting and metabolizing our emotions is not the same thing as just talking about them, and often just talking about them can be a way of distancing from them.
If you’re confused about how to actually process, let go and release feelings, here are some strategies, tools and tips to keep those feeling moving, changing and shifting…
Greet your feelings and emotions from a state of flow, flexibility, receptivity, presence and non-judgment.
Slow down. Follow. They have their own timing, pacing and direction.
Track your sensations. Notice the tension patterns in your body.
Watch as your sensations move and shift. Notice if or when you tighten up against them.
Pay attention to every time your body takes a deep breath, seemingly of its own accord.
Pay attention to when and how your body relaxes itself.
Express whatever is arising with wild abandon: cry, laugh, roll around on the ground, shake, tremble, yawn, growl, sing, rap, chant, scream, shout, wail, roar.
Use expressive movement that follows the desires in your body – stretch and contort in ways that express and release inner tension, put your hands up in the air Superman style, curl into a fetal position, thrash around on the floor as if you’re a 3 year old objecting to life. Sway. Rock. Walk, Get outside. Do yoga.
Use expressive art: scribble, paint, write in your messiest handwriting. Journal out of many repressed voices, follow your stream of consciousness. Work with clay, make a sculpture.
Put your hand on your heart and feel into the contact your palm makes on your chest. Notice the warmth. Notice what your body does next.
Ask yourself: What am I needing? What am I longing for?
Remember times when those longings have been fulfilled, when those needs have been met. Savor the goodness of those moments. Then come back to the present moment and feel into the sorrow, the anger, the agitation. Move gently back and forth between memories of needs being well met, to your present moment state.
Watch what happens as you play with your attention.
Get comfortable with discomfort. Allow it to amplify and follow where it wants to lead you. Notice the memories, sensations, images, and meanings that arise alongside the feelings.
Stay with them.
Do all these things in the company and presence of someone who doesn’t get freaked out by feeling themselves; someone who has learned how to stay the course.
There is a special magic that happens in the space between people when we move through our emotions with compassionate, witnessing, deeply present other people. We release things more quickly, insights arrive easily, our bodies move into a more settled state – seek out people who know how to work with emotions and can teach you how to be with yourself more compassionately too.
We are not meant to do these things alone.
You know what is NOT on this list? Judging them. Criticism them. Dismissing them. Thinking about them. Resisting them. Numbing out from them. Venting them on other people. Taking them out on others. Getting aggressive or destructive. Self harming.
While each of these may bring you temporary relief from distress, they simply kick the can down the road, as they say, and those same feelings will recycle in you until you actually feel and integrate the life-affirming messages that they have for you.
When it comes to your feelings, remember that they are simply personal data here to tell you about something that you are longing for, valuing and needing. They are an integral part of your internal GPS – pay attention to their messages, and adjust course when needed.