Ah, feelings! Feelings are intense emotional responses we have all day every day. They are messengers; they give us valuable information so we can make decisions, understand ourselves and others, and get our needs met.
Feelings naturally come and go if we give them space to exist, sort of like clouds passing through the sky. If we notice and accept our feelings and listen to the messages they’ve brought us, they will serve their purpose and we can use the information for our benefit.
However, we don’t want to over-identify our feelings. We want to accept our feelings and remember that they don’t define us.
Notice the subtle, but important, the difference between feeling sad and being sad. When you start to think of yourself as a sad person (rather than a person who sometimes feels sad), you’re holding onto the feeling well beyond its usefulness. Your feelings are important, but they are only part of who you are. Feelings come and go.
Emotions are absorbed in the body in about six seconds.
Each burst of emotional chemicals, from the time it’s produced in the hypothalamus to the time it’s completely broken down and absorbed, lasts about six seconds, according to researcher Anabel Jensen.
If we’re feeling something for longer than six seconds, we are—at some level—choosing to re-create and refuel those feelings. Sometimes that’s good—if the tiger is still chasing you, those fear chemicals are helping save your life.
Sometimes it’s not. But recognizing what emotion we are feeling, evaluating its purpose relative to our circumstances, and deciding whether to re-create it is what emotional intelligence is all about. I love to use acronyms to decide what feelings to hold on to and let go of. Here are my two favorites.
Hallmarks of overwhelming feelings include negative self-talk, reacting in the heat of the moment, over-explaining yourself, and obsessive attention to overanalyzing decisions. Before you act on your feelings, ask yourself the following:
Is it Truthful?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Insightful?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?
R – Recognize what is happening
A – Allow life to be just as it is
I – Investigate inner experience with kindness
N – Non-identification
Recognizing means consciously acknowledging your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Allowing means letting your thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations simply be there. You don’t have to change, fix, or act upon anything. Rather, you acknowledge and accept that psychological pain is a part of life.
Investigating means calling on your natural curiosity—the desire for truth—and directing focused attention to your present experience. Asking, “What is happening inside me?” can initiate recognition, but the investigation is a more intentional process.
Natural loving awareness occurs when you don’t over-identify with your feelings. This practice of non-identification means that your sense of self is not fused with any limiting emotions, sensations, or stories. You are not your mind, and you are not your emotions.
Feelings and emotions can be contagious and spread too. Another tip is to be mindful of the energy and people that you surround yourself with. We are social creatures. And because of that, we tend to pick up on each other’s emotional states.
Ultimately, feelings can guide us toward many paths that we get to choose! So make sure you stay aware and be curious. Being mindful of your feelings is key to making sure you see that your feelings are real and they can be fleeting.
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Erica Spiegelman is a wellness specialist, recovery counselor, and author of the new book The Rewired Life (2018) as well as Rewired: A Bold New Approach to Addiction & Recovery(2015), the Rewired Workbook (2017), the Rewired Coloring Book (2017), all published by Hatherleigh Press. Erica holds a bachelor’s degree in literature from the University of Arizona and is a California State Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor (CADAC)-II from UCLA. For more information, visit Erica’s website or follow @Erica Spiegelman on Instagram.
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