You might have heard that it’s important to feel your emotions and that you shouldn’t stuff them down. That doing so can contribute to using food as a coping mechanism (a.k.a. Binge eating). I say this all the time and it’s all good and dandy in theory, but maybe you’ve realized you have no clue how to actually feel your emotions or where to start. My intention with this post is to give you some guidance in where to start and take some of the pressure off. I mean, you’ve likely been stuffing your emotions down for years, so you’re not going to immediately be able to feel them overnight.
First of all most of us numb the uncomfortable emotions, but unknowingly when we do this we can also end up numbing our other emotions like joy, peace, happiness, and pleasure. We can’t fully have one without the other. The first step is always awareness, because once we have awareness we can start to do something about it. Awareness alone won’t help us stop using food to numb though. Awareness after the fact is what I’m talking about here.
Once you realize that, “Oh I’m doing this,” you can start to work on mindfulness to increase that awareness. Mindfulness is a buzz word these days, but it truly is a piece to the feeling your emotions puzzle. Mindfulness can look different for everyone, but the important part is that you are connecting to yourself each day and creating space. I like to create space in the morning to do some intentional mindfulness work as it’s a great way to start the day and sets the tone for the rest of the day. I enjoy some sort of meditation, journaling, breathing and even sometimes walking in nature to go within. The important part is that you start practicing and have compassion for yourself if it feels hard or you struggle to commit each day.
Now, with the activities I mentioned above it’s totally possible to do them disconnected or stuck up in your head. Mindfulness, as my yoga teacher Michele Theoret of Empowered Yoga says, is the ability to be with your experiences in the moment in a non-judgemental and depersonalized way. So the key to practicing mindfulness is to gently bring the mind back each time it wanders into the past or future, starts attaching to the emotions you’re feeling or creates stories about the experience. Easier said than done and something I continue to work on and frankly will always be working on.
Starting anything new and trying to create a habit out of it takes work and time. This is one of the reasons I love practicing yoga and attending classes as it’s basically a scheduled time in the day, where I have no other distractions, to just be in my body and notice how I’m feeling. That being said I rarely make it to a class once a week these days, so I do have to find simple and quick ways to connect. Since mindfulness is about being present in the moment and noticing all the sensations and emotions in your body, one thing you can do is ask yourself where in your body you feel your emotions.
For example, if you are noticing yourself feeling anxious see if you can locate in your body where you feel the anxiety. Is it your stomach? Your chest, throat or head? We don’t have to know where the emotion is coming from. This is our logical mind that always wants to try to figure things out. If we can stay out of our head and not attach to the emotion and have to make meaning or create stories around it, the emotions will be able to move much more quickly through our body. Our minds can make things more painful for us. This concept is called non-attachment and something I also learned about in my yoga teacher training.
Our bodies won’t give us more than we can handle when it comes to emotions. This is something my mentor, Samantha Skelly from Hungry For Happiness says all the time. Often, it is fear of the pain that leads to us numbing ourselves with food. We can trust our bodies, that they won’t give us more than we can handle if we feel those emotions in our body and not attach to them. And yes, it’s not just as simple as that. You’ve been attaching to emotions for so long and letting your mind run wild creating stories that dwell and create more pain and suffering for you. As with everything it’s a practice and the more you do it the easier it will become. You will start to notice yourself being able to create a pause before reaching for food. When we can create that pause and stay conscious, we can make better choices for ourselves that will support where we want to be.
As you become more mindful, you may catch yourself in the act of numbing or reacting to your emotions and you can make the choice to find a quiet place and sit. Just be with what you’re feeling and breath. If you need to express that anger in some way do it. Have a pity party, punch a pillow, scream. Let it out. Release it. Once you have, intentionally move out of that space and provide yourself with some self-care. You may need to come back to that emotion numerous times and that’s okay.
Breathing is one of the quickest ways to drop into the body. Focusing on deep, diaphragmatic breath, which I also learned in yoga teacher training, calms our stress response down. This was actually one of the reasons I started practicing yoga to help me recover from Adrenal Dysfunction and Amenorrhea. I knew that stress from excessive exercise, restriction, bingeing, and negative thoughts about my body lead me to this place with my health.
I attended a talk this weekend with Michele Theoret called, Empowered Body. She was talking about how when we do deep diaphragmatic breathing, this moves our diaphragm up and down.The vagus nerve runs through the diaphragm and is connected to our parasympathetic nervous system. This is our rest and digest nervous system and when we tap into it, we can’t also be in our sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight or freeze) so it shuts off the stress response. When we shut off our stress response it is so much easier to drop into our body and be mindful.
I hope that this post gives you a better idea of how to actually practice feeling your emotions, so you can work towards not numbing anymore. To summarize, awareness is the first step to change, which I’m guessing you have or you likely wouldn’t be reading this. Once you have the awareness, practicing mindfulness, non-attachment and breathing are all going to help you get a place where you can feel emotions in your body. I also hope that you feel less pressure to start feeling all your emotions now and take it one day at a time as you build that connection to feeling your emotions.