6 ways to manage your feelings
In this article, there are six practical ways you can help yourself with your emotions. You can think of it as working on your relationship with your feelings. After all, feelings are messages, letting you know about something that needs your attention. You could say symptoms are trying to help, it’s just their approach is outdated and, for your needs now, misguided.
These tips are ways of learning to make space for, and contain, the way you feel, so that the message can be received, and the intensity of the experience can ebb away. Not every tip will fit for everyone; the trick is experimenting and finding things that resonate for you, and then making them your own.
Your emotional state is influenced by three things
- the way you unconsciously filter information (including your values, beliefs, and communication preferences)
- the way you represent your experience to yourself internally (through your thinking, and processing in your mind and body)
- your physiology
These tips use all three of these levers to give you a range of ways to manage how you feel.
Tip 1. Change where you are looking
When you are feeling your feelings intensely, it’s often the case that you are looking down towards your body. You may even be curled up and hunched, as if you were protecting yourself. The problem is, if you look down, you make your experience of your body more intense.
Try this exercise...
1. Look down and tune into your body. Take a few moments to notice what you are feeling, the body sensations, and the emotions. Also notice what is running through your head - your self-talk.
2. Now, look up. Again taking a few moments, notice what happens when you look away from your body, up at the ceiling or the sky.
Looking up to where we tend to visualise in our mind's eye can lessen the intensity of the way you experience your body. It won't take you from ten to zero, but it may well knock the edge off and take you from ten to seven.
Tip 2. Move
This tip is a simple, physical one. Move! Your body regenerates your emotional state around about every 90 seconds. This means you have frequent opportunities to shift what you feel. One of the most direct, rapid ways to do this is through your body.
Stand up. Shake your arms and legs. Do the twist. Shake your head. Walk around the room. Have a dance. It doesn't matter so much what you do - it matters that you do something different. The change in movement is called a 'break state', and it serves the purpose of interrupting the pattern that is currently running inside you, making space for something new to begin.
Tip 3. Use your breathing
When you are feeling emotional or overwhelmed, I recommend using simple breathing approaches to help. Let’s face it - it’s hard to remember something complicated when you can't access your thinking very well.
Try this exercise...
1. Notice how you are breathing. Just pause, and get a feel for it - is it shallow or deep, rapid or slow, tight or relaxed?
2. Begin to adjust your breathing. Not all at once - nothing too drastic. Just gently increase the length of your out-breath. As you do this, you might imagine you are breathing out your emotion with each breath, letting it out of your body as you exhale.
3. Slowly, gently, allow your breathing to slow and deepen. Allowing rather than controlling, see if you can fill up your tummy as you breathe in, and have your tummy contract as you breathe out. It can help to have your out-breath be longer than your in-breath, but the most important thing is attuning to yourself and breathing the way that feels most calming to you in the moment.
Breathing is something you do every moment of every day, from birth until death. It's a profoundly important movement, energising the body with oxygen and letting out carbon dioxide and other waste gases. We can use the breath as a metaphor, taking care of what we allow into ourselves, and letting go of what we no longer need.
Tip 4. Come to your senses
Sometimes, you can become distant from your feelings, and not directly sense what is going on for you. You might feel cut off, a bit empty or distant, or even feel as if you were watching what is going on from someplace else. The clinical term for this is dissociation.
Dissociation originates as a safety device of the bodymind. If you are overwhelmed, the bodymind pops your perception to a safer place to reduce the intensity so that you can cope. This is only a problem if it becomes habit, or if you are stuck with it.
This tip is also useful for intense emotions, like during panic. When your feelings or thoughts have pulled you out of the present moment into fears about the future or a replay of the past, you can use your senses to ground yourself back into the present.
you can only experience your senses from within your body right here, right now, so coming back to your senses is a real help for managing feelings.
You might try;
- Smelling a strong (and pleasant) smell. The sense of smell is an ancient part of our sensing and can be really evocative.
- Creating an intense (and harmless) physical sensation, for example snapping a hair band on your wrist.
- Noticing three things you can see, three things you can hear, and three things you can physically feel. You can rotate around the senses for as long as you like/need.
Tip 5. Use memories
Your bodymind has an amazing capacity to remember. It files memories away, not only in date order, but also in linked chains of memories with similar emotions or other features.
Memories are a network, with the pictures stored in one part of the brain, the smells somewhere else, the emotions somewhere else, the sensations in the place they were felt... you get the picture; they are a multi-sensory experience.
This is great news if you want to change how you feel. Try the following exercise to find out why...
1. Pick an emotion that you would like to feel just now; for example, confidence.
2. Think of a time when you strongly felt just the kind of confidence you would like right now.
3. Close your eyes and then bring to mind exactly where you were. In your mind’s eye, see what you could see then and there, as if it were happening here and now.
4. Next, notice what you can hear as you associate into this time, and any smells or tastes that are present.
5. As you do this, notice the physical sensations, and the emotions that are evoked.
When you fully associate into a memory, your body will respond as if it were happening now, because in your mind’s eye, it is. This is why you see athletes with their eyes closed before a race, immersing themselves in the state they most want right now.
When you need to feel confident, you can use your positive memory to help yourself. Why stop there? You can recall memories for as many helpful states as you need to, and put them to regular use. When you open the memory network through your internal representations, your physiology will oblige and bring forward the sensations that were happening then - changing your emotional state.
Tip 6. Draw on others' wisdom
Sometimes we get stuck in our own way of experiencing things. We get hemmed into thinking our perspective is the only one, and whatever we are thinking right now must be true.
A recent study showed that you have around 70,000 thoughts a day, and only 5% of them were about what is happening here and now. It’s highly likely that not all of those 70,000 thoughts are valid, or even considered. So how can you help yourself?
One thing you can do is to bring to mind what someone you trust or value would have to say. When you notice that you are stuck in a rut of thinking that is not serving you, try...
1. Asking yourself who might have a useful perspective about this. It can be someone you know, a historical figure, someone in public life, a film/TV character, a spiritual guru, a past friend or relative... anyone, so long as they come to mind as having a credible and valuable perspective.
2. Asking yourself what they would say if they were here. If it helps, you can close your eyes and bring them to mind, imagining what they are wearing, how they look, how they hold themselves, where they stand, and then ask yourself, "what do they say about my current situation or question?".
3. Saying the words that come up to yourself, really take a moment to hear them and notice your response. If your mentor is an animal or something from nature, there may be no words; it may be communication of a different nature. If so, go with this too.
The lovely thing about this technique is that it enables you to access your own wisdom, but through the metaphor of other people that you are more likely to trust. It is sometimes easier to hear a message delivered from someone you consider wise than to listen to your own advice.
I hope these six techniques stimulate some thoughts about how you can relate to your feelings and thoughts, and help you feel more at choice about what you are experiencing.
Find the right counsellor or therapist for you
All therapists are verified professionals.