6 Ways to Make Friends with your Feelings (and why it’s a good plan)

We all have feelings, they appear, often seemingly unbidden, at any time and can wreak havoc on us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In a previous blog I mentioned that I’ve had a particularly difficult few years and had to work very hard to regulate my emotions, reduce my stress and anxiety and stay well.

Feelings have a purpose, it may seem that they appear from nowhere but they are almost always in response to something, it may take us a while to identify why they are appearing but they are not usually random. They are not likely to just disappear, so it is far better to make friends with them, that gives us a much better chance to manage them effectively and reduce the negative impact they may have on our lives. Ignoring them rarely works unless they are quite minor or transient, it may look like its working but very often they will return even more powerfully and then you will have to find an alternative way to deal with them, and we need to remember that often feelings don’t arrive singly you may experience several feelings all at once, if that’s the case pick the biggest, most obvious to deal with first.

  1. Accept without judgement

Once a feeling has landed it is best to accept that it’s there. Whatever the feeling and some are obviously more comfortable than others, if they have appeared then it usually takes a lot less effort to accept it than to try and ignore it, deny it or try to squash it down. If you feel sad, angry, frustrated, disappointed, betrayed, lonely, worried or anxious then that is how you feel. Whatever the feeling is, it is okay. Don’t beat yourself up over how you feel – it’s a total waste of energy and usually doesn’t help at all. Don’t judge the emotion just accept it without judgement, it’s there, it’s how you feel at the moment but there are things you can do to manage those feelings.

2. Name it to tame it

There is often a power in not only accepting and acknowledging the feeling but naming it too. Simply saying to yourself or someone else I feel really worried about ….. can help somehow to bring it into a better perspective. Noting down your thoughts about it can help as well and if you journal regularly it gives you the chance to look back and see that probably at least some of the worries you had were unfounded. You can think a bit about why these particular feelings keep emerging though I’d avoid over analysis. Sometimes there is some action you can take that might alleviate the feeling.

3. Sit with the feelings

It’s not wallowing to sit with a feeling for a few minutes. It’s about acknowledging how you feel – that is your reality. Sometimes we need to express sadness with tears, for example. But we all know to sit with that feeling for too long can be uncomfortable and exhausting. So, once you have sat with your feelings, done what you need to do in terms of expressing that feeling, then the next step is to manage that feeling by regulating yourself.

4. Regulate (calm) yourself

This can be very tough, it takes time and effort but the more you get used to doing it the better able you’ll be to do it effectively. In a previous blog I listed the regulating activities I include as a regular part of my routine https://attunededucation.com/2021/04/20/routine-therapy/ . By incorporating these into my daily routine I have become better at coping with moments when I’m in danger of feeling overwhelmed. We are all individuals and will all find different things that help regulate us. When I’m sad I find distracting myself with something absorbing, for me reading a book, can be helpful. If I’m feeling angry then a walk or exercise helps. If I’m worried or anxious I usually find talking to someone can help. And when you are feeling particularly overwhelmed than being with a calm adult can help (co-regulating) we may be adults but there are still times when we need this. By regularly practising your regulation strategies you’ll work out what works best for you when faced with different feelings.

5. Moving on

Once regulated however it doesn’t mean the feeling may have disappeared entirely – you may still feel anxious, worried or sad but it’s best to move on for the time being. Yes, you may have to repeat each step again before too long but if regulated and the ‘overwhelm’ of the feeling has subsided then that is usually a good time to move on. That might mean getting on with the busyness of the day or doing something else that may add to your regulation. But this is the moment when a choice needs to be made.

6. Choose what you decide to focus upon

You could decide to keep concentrating on the feeling. It’s unlikely to disappear completely but making a conscious choice to move on and then concentrating on something or someone else or even immersing yourself in a task or activity can be very helpful. You cannot help the feeling appearing but you can decide what to do with that feeling and how much focus you will give to it. You may still experience worrying or anxious thoughts but try to replace them with alternative thoughts and if they start to become overwhelming then go through the above steps again.

I understand that sometimes it seems hard to see a way ahead when the feelings seem overwhelming but honestly even at times when you feel your heart may break taking steps to calm and regulate will help. It won’t change the situation and it is something you may have to repeat many times. But it can help yo get through some of the really tough moments and days.