When people ask how you’re doing, how do you respond? Let me guess: you say, “Fine” or maybe even, “Good.” I get it! This is how we begin most conversations. Even when things aren’t going well, we are conditioned to pretend and hide how we are really feeling.

And it’s not just in social situations. We do it at home too. I find that families talk about a lot of things, but how we are REALLY doing and how we are REALLY feeling isn’t part of the conversation. But we need (and want!) it to be.

It takes work to pretend everything is fine when it’s not. It takes a toll on us.

When what’s going on inside doesn’t match what we’re showing on the outside, we are incongruent. This actually makes our bad feelings worse, because we end up feeling isolated and exhausted from holding our difficult feelings in and trying to fake it. And the more we suppress, avoid, deny, or push down our feelings to distance ourselves from them, the more they bubble up. That’s when we can become overwhelmed, feeling like our emotions are out of control.

And to get a break from these heavy feelings, we may turn to unhealthy behaviors (maladaptive strategies like drinking, eating, drugs, or doing anything in excess) to calm ourselves, which usually ends up adding more complications to what we are already experiencing.

I remember frequently being called “sensitive” and “emotional” as a teenager. This sent the message that talking about my feelings was a problem or nuisance, and it was probably best not to talk about them. Looking back, my parents wanted to be there for me emotionally, but didn’t know how because they weren’t taught themselves. When we don’t know how to do something, we can be scared of doing it. There can be a lot of apprehension in us revealing our true feelings and emotions.

Feelings serve a purpose: they help us know what we need. But we need to really listen. They tell us when things that are happening in our world aren’t sitting right with us. Let your feelings be in the front seat. Welcome them. Sit with them. Be curious about them. Get to know them.

Good and bad, we all have them, and it’s ok.

Most important: don’t judge yourself for having them. Show yourself self compassion. Scolding ourselves for how we are feeling just makes us feel worse – but welcoming them and not fighting our feelings allows us to move through them and ultimately, experience less suffering.

I know feelings can seem so big, and at times, like there is no way out–but there is! I promise. I like to use the weather as an analogy for feelings. The weather changes: sometimes it’s beautiful blue skies, and sometimes it’s overcast with some light rain, and other times it’s a big storm. But like the weather, feelings pass, and soon we’ll move onto other ones.

How Can I Help Myself in the Moment?
Now that you have regulated your body you can better listen to your feelings.

Be curious and ask yourself:
What am I feeling?

We can be experiencing so many feelings at one time causing us to feel chaotic inside and like our feelings can sweep us away. Trying picking one and sitting with it. Explore and get to know it. Befriend it instead of fighting it. It might be a friend you don’t like, but accepting that it visits sometimes can help.

Take five minutes and write down how you are feeling. When we take our feelings from internal to external, we can feel relief. Imagine you’re dumping them out onto the page. You can even use the notes section on your phone. You don’t have to “journal” (that can make it sound overwhelming or like it will take a long time). Make it simple: write three sentences about how you are feeling everyday. There are some great apps out there if you need more guidance and structure.

Using imagery to help define your feelings can feel so satisfying and really help define how you’re feeling. For instance, my anger feels like… looks like… sounds like….

After sitting with your feelings and acknowledging them for a while, it’s ok to move on. Using good memories can be helpful in making us feel less overwhelmed and to help calm ourselves. Recall a memory of a person, place, or experience in your mind that brought you joy and comfort. Think about it and feel all the good feels you had in that moment or with that special someone. Or put on a familiar song that brings up great memories for you.

Remember when I asked you to try listening to music and notice what feelings come up? Now’s the time to take another step. If you noticed what music elevated your mood, now’s the time to use it.

How We Can Get Support From Others?
I know sharing your feelings can feel risky. Try picking one person that can be your Mental Health Ally. Make a pact to be there for each other during difficult times. Or pick a time once a week to share–with no distractions. Make sure it’s a reciprocal, trustworthy relationship: meaning you both share, and listen empathetically without judgment. And if one of you is having thoughts of suicide you both promise to seek help from a professional. Feelings of suicide should never be kept a secret.

If you don’t feel there is anyone in your life right now that feels safe to share how you’re feeling, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255 or text Crisis Text Line by texting “LIV” to 741-741. They are great listeners and are there for you!

I know when you are experiencing difficult feelings it seems like they will never go away, but like the weather they will pass. I suggest you get to know your feelings. You may even get so good at understanding them, you’ll be able to predict the forecast.

Caring about YOU and your mental health,

Susan

Read the next blog in the series: Listen: Be Attentive to Your Thoughts