Let’s explore a little! Stop whatever you’re doing right this minute and draw a heart on a piece of paper. Choose different colors to represent how you are feeling at this very moment and...
COLOR YOUR HEART!
Get as creative as you’d like. Add symbols, shapes or just color it in. No art experience necessary or required. The shape of your heart doesn’t have to be perfect. All I ask is that you suspend the urge to criticize yourself while creating your art. Do you feel sad? Happy? Frustrated? Scared? Nervous? Annoyed? Elated? Content? You get the idea. Tap into the feeling and assign a name to it even if it’s “wobbly gloop” and choose a color to represent that emotion(s).
But if you’re having trouble, here’s a list that I google’d for you if you find yourself unable to come up with words to match how you are feeling:
No peeking now! Don’t read ahead until after you’ve colored your heart.
All done? Great! And if you didn’t do the little exercise, that’s fine too. I just want you to tap into how you are feeling at this moment.
How does it feel to take a moment to check in with yourself? It might have felt good and almost like second nature because you always do, right? Yepper! Or it might have been the most uncomfortable thing you’ve ever done. Well BRAVO to you for stepping out of your comfort zone! Or perhaps you felt somewhere in between. Whatever your answer, the ultimate goal for this directive was for you to check in with yourself. Now, let’s start a conversation on why it is important to check in with ourselves.
Taking a moment to be honest with yourself on how you feel might be a NEW habit that I’m hoping you will start to do more of. Why? Because, I said so! Joking! Seriously, why not? You already check in with your friends, boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, family, kids...I could go on and on and list all the folks you check in with daily. It’s a cordial conversation we have daily even with strangers...okay maybe not strangers...well, maybe sometimes semi-strangers? You know that familiar, “Good morning. How are you?” or “Hey, how’s it going?” with a co-worker or the Barista at your local coffee shop...and the usual response is “Good, and you?” or “All’s good. What about you?”. Then the mini conversation is usually somewhere along the lines of “Fine” or “Good”. Sometimes we even say “thanks for asking”. But are we really? Are we really “fine” or “good”? Often we’re not but we are conditioned to give these responses automatically. And if you ever truly answered honestly, sometimes the reaction from the person asking is amazingly A-W-K-W-A-R-D!
Seriously! I’ll use a real example. Once a boss of my boss walk up to me and ask how I’m doing. Welp, on this particular day I had a rough commute, operating on 4 hours sleep and wasn’t looking forward to open school night at my son’s school later that evening. Yes, as you can imagine, I didn’t just reply “Fine” with a smile which would be the short answer. Yes, you guessed it again, I gave an itemized list of honestly how I was feeling at that moment which included the commute, lack of sleep and mommy duties later that evening. I can still see the look on his face as I listed each item. A frozen smile and his entire body language showed he regretted asking. Let’s just say, he never asked me again how I was doing. (I’m literally laughing right now at this memory.) I find this funny now but at the time it stung a bit. My thought then was, why ask if you don’t really want to know truthfully how I’m feeling. In reality, he probably did care but wasn’t prepared for the answer because he, too, was conditioned to expect “fine” or “good” as an answer. Back then I wasn’t in the habit of checking in with myself so often I processed how I felt out loud and sort of “intellectualizing my feelings” as a way to cope---that’ll be another blog post another time. I just went about life and relied on friends to vent to and be comfortable with my unfiltered responses. Sounds familiar? Thankfully I have a tribe that speaks and understands my lingo. Unfiltered convo isn’t for everyone FYI...
So, now that I’ve asked you to “color your heart” to check in with your emotions, you are probably thinking, “Now what?”.
Knowing how you are feeling will help you make informed decisions on matters that concern you and those you interact with. This will also help you identify triggers or the source/sources behind your feelings. For example, we don’t really think about what’s behind our feelings when we are happy because we most likely already know or don’t really care because we are H-A-P-P-Y! When asked what’s behind our feelings of anger, per se, that becomes a bit trickier to identify because the emotion is so strong and we are in the midst of experiencing it so reasons behind anger takes time to process. Even if you can say the obvious you’d still need time to process the ultimate source behind your anger. Often times, when it comes to anger, we might need to see a therapist to explore where the source of this emotion resonates from especially if you become
a danger to self or others. Whoa! This sounds extreme, right? Yep, I’m over emphasizing the anger example just to bring to your attention how important it is to check in with self. Keep in mind feelings are a total body reaction. When you experience emotional stress your heart rate increases, you shake/tremble, muscles tense, you may have trouble breathing and to some it is obvious by your level of perspiration. Similar to when you experience panic attacks. And let’s not forget tummy issues arise and either increase/decrease in appetite. Our feelings are influenced by our thoughts and the way we perceive an event or situation. They can be simple or complex. They give us energy! When you are in touch with your feelings, you will feel energetic---”I’M ON TOP OF THE WORLD!” But when you are not, you may feel sluggish, lethargic, numb, tired or depressed---”I LITERALLY HAVE NO ENERGY!” Our language becomes negative and we respond accordingly. We sometimes suppress our emotions/feelings. Suppressing our feelings can lead to anxiety and depression. As we were growing up we were taught to suppress our feelings and it became an unconscious habit. Suppressing our feelings diminishes our ability to make decisions that will honor ourselves and the people we interact with. It is also important for us to keep in mind that feelings are never right or wrong, good or bad...they just are, they exist. Our perception and judgement can be wrong or right, valid or invalid but feelings are just there. Once you practice expressing your feelings, you will feel better. It sounds easier said than done. Trust, that I get that but with everything in life, it takes practice and eventually it will become second nature. Keep in mind as you practice identifying with your feelings to not evaluate yourself and others solely on “feelings” because ultimately we are entitled to have feelings---we are human, after all. Our feelings exist and just are. We are human and not perfect. To quote Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better”.
So, you get the gist of it, practice checking in with yourself. Now, you’re probably thinking, so what can I do after I identify my feelings? How do I deal with them? First STOP! That’s right...
S = Stop. T = Take a breath. O = Observe what’s going on. P = Proceed.
STOP as in take a pause from the current situation. If you are talking with someone, excuse yourself for a moment. If you feel your anger (as an example) is increasing, I know it is difficult but try to say, “I am getting really angry. I need to step away and come back” or if it is another emotion try saying, “Excuse me for a moment”. When you stop...
TAKE A BREATH.
Go outside and get some fresh air or go to another room for privacy and breathe deeply. There’s a breathing exercise I love to share with my clients called Alternate Nostril Breathing. Press gently on the left nostril, inhale slowly and deeply through the right nostril, pinch right nostril and hold your breath, release the left nostril and exhale slowly. Then
while still pressing the right nostril, inhale through the left nostril, pinch left nostril and hold breath, release right nostril exhaling slowly. This is considered one set. Try at least 3 sets at a time. Remember to inhale and exhale slowly so you don’t hyperventilate. This exercise helps balance the right and left side of your brain to promote calmness and a sense of well-being. There are other benefits to this exercise but this is the main reason I encourage doing it. Feel free to google to find out more about it. Next...
OBSERVE WHAT’S GOING ON
...ask yourself what is coming up for you with this emotion that you’re experiencing? Why do I feel this way? Where is this coming from? How long have I been feeling this way?
Acknowledging and accepting your feelings as information so you can learn more about yourselves is so valuable. Once you have gained that insight here’s what you can do to express your feelings.
...Add to your day, positive affirmations in addition to these 6 activities/coping skills.
BREATHE. Breathing gives you and your body/mind a healthy pause...a break from a stressful situation. It also provides oxygen to help you think clearly.
TALK. Talk to someone you trust like a family member, friend, therapist or join a support group. Someone that will encourage you express your feelings and they will not share with others. This person will also NOT use information against you EVER!
JOURNAL. Write it out, write a quote that speaks to you, a poem or create some art by collaging magazine/newspaper cutouts to express yourself safely on paper. Write it out so you can look at it later objectively.
MOVE THAT BODY. Dance, do yoga, swim/run/jog/walk---doing something physical releases the “feel good hormone” (endorphins).
MUSIC. Create a playlist that’s your go to music that will help you express yourself and your feelings. Heck! Play it loud and sing along!
ART. Whether you create art from scratch or you find a coloring book. Pssst, side note, this Art Therapist encourages coloring books (adults or children) as a therapeutic outlet. Keep in mind that it is not Art Therapy because you are not processing with a trained professional.
Build your list as you discover more activities you find enjoyable. This is how you create coping skills and steps towards self-care, self-love (yep, way ahead of you...that will probably another blog entry...wink, wink)...
The COLOR YOUR HEART directive can be done daily, weekly, monthly...maybe even as a journal entry! However you decide to check in with yourself, just go for it and let me know what you think about this post.