How To “Sit With Your Feelings”

My mom passed away in 2018 and today is the anniversary of her death. I’m usually hyper-aware of the date approaching because her birthday is the 19th and from that point on, it’s on my mind. This year was different. It kind of snuck up on me a few days ago and when I found myself crying at the tv for the third day in a row for no reason, I knew I was going to be in my feelings today.

So I’m sitting with my feelings.

In the past, I would do anything to block these feelings from existing. In my days of Depression, I would have spent all day eating and playing videos in an attempt to forget what I was feeling. Eight years ago, I would have insisted that everything was fine because I thought that being sad meant that I was failing at being not-depressed so I would have put on a happy face while pretending that everything was okay.

When you sit with your feelings it means you allow them to exist.

I’m not running from them or ignoring them. I’m making space to feel them and telling them “You belong here today.” Because those feelings do belong here. It’s okay to have sad days and to feel things that are uncomfortable or that we wish we didn’t have to feel.

It’s not about wallowing in the feelings, which happens when we focus only on those uncomfortable feelings and nothing else. When we sit with our feelings we’re allowing them to exist alongside all of our other feelings.

Recognize When Those Feelings Want Attention

Pay attention when your mind and body are telling you that there are feelings that want attention. Emotionally, you might feel frustrated, anxious, or cranky and not really understand why. You might feel the physical symptoms of repressing emotions, like being on the verge of tears, having a queasy tummy, or headaches.

Identify the Emotion

Then we identify what we feeling and why we’re feeling it. We give ourselves permission to be okay with it. “I am feeling angry because… I am feeling grief because… I am feeling sad because…” It can help to say it out loud or to write it down in your journal. I also created these Feelings Wheel Worksheets to help you identify difficult emotions.

Accept the Emotion

You give it space to exist without judgment and without trying to change it. Let go of the need to control it. “I am sad, it’s okay to be sad, and I feel like crying right now.” Validate what you’re feeling. Don’t pass judgment on your emotions. You’re not stupid for feeling how you feel. It’s not “bad” to be angry or upset. You don’t have to be “over” a feeling after a certain period of time.

Let Them Exist

Accepting your feelings means letting them exist and not trying to cover up the emotion with substances, shopping, eating, or anything else that temporarily relieves those feelings but that doesn’t help you actually deal with them.

Feelings won’t last forever, even if they feel like they will. This is where the “sitting with it” happens. It took me a while to learn that we can feel things simultaneously. We can be sad and still have a good day. We can feel grief and still be happy.

I’ve had an okay day with my grief.

I am grieving but I feel loved and supported by the people around me. I am grieving but I got to watch a really good tv show and take a walk in the fresh air. We’ve existed alongside each other today.

Practice Self-Soothing

To sit with your feelings doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything to make ourselves feel better. Some of our feelings are strong and overwhelming. Practice self-soothing or coping skills that help you process rather than block/ignore.

Journaling is a good one. Talking to a friend/partner/therapist is another one. Breathing exercises, meditation (There are some really good guided meditations here), and yoga are all awesome tools that help us stay present or mindful.

And you can cry. Sitting with your feelings can be messy, and that’s okay.

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