Sitting with feelings like sadness or anger or anxiety might be the last thing you want to do. Because they’re uncomfortable. Because it hurts. Because you’re just so tired. Because you feel fragile and exposed. Because you feel ridiculous. Because you’re already frustrated. Because you don’t know how. In fact, many of us don’t know where to start. We don’t know what it looks like to feel a feeling because we simply haven’t done it or done it all that much.
This is when using different techniques to connect to our emotions and express them can help. The below techniques use drawing and/or writing. And they give us different options and different perspectives, depending on what we’re able to explore and feel at the time.
- List the sensations you feel.Try not to judge these sensations. Simply write down what you’re experiencing. Try to pinpoint the specific sensation as best as you can.Tightness in my chest. Buzzing in my head. Tension in my shoulders. Sweaty, shaky hands. Lump in my throat. Throbbing heart. Burning ears. If it helps, put on headphones, and turn on classical music or any song that seems to help you connect to yourself. Or scan your body, asking yourself, “What am I feeling in my head, neck, shoulders, arms, fingers, chest, stomach, legs, feet?”
- Draw an outline of your body and put an X where you feel the emotion. You also can use crayons to color in the area using a color that precisely portrays what your emotion feels like. For instance, maybe you use purple or black to depict your sadness. Maybe you use red to depict your anxiety because it feels like you’re on fire.
- Draw a landscape that illustrates how you feel. Maybe you draw a volcano exploding. Maybe you draw snow and rain and ice. Maybe you draw the evening sky with a big, bright moon. Maybe you draw a deep, deep ocean. Ask yourself, “What does my emotional landscape look like?” or “If my emotional experience were a landscape, what would it resemble?”
- Create a character that represents your emotion. Make it a multidimensional, complex character that reflects the many layers of your emotional experience.
- Write about what you’re feeling as if you’re describing it to a 5-year-old. Use simple words to reveal the barest truths.
- Talk directly to your emotion. Ask your emotion to tell you more. Ask your emotion to help you understand what’s going on. Ask your emotion, “What else?” and “What do you need?” and “What would help?” Write down your responses. It doesn’t matter if they seem silly or “stupid.” Jot down what automatically arises.
- Draw the objects that represent your feelings. An empty cup. A broken necklace. A withering flower. A torn blanket. Piles and piles of dishes in the sink.
There are times when feeling our feelings feels impossible. Because why would anyone want to connect to their discomfort and pain and heartache and rage? It’s so much easier, at least in the short term, to dismiss it, to distract ourselves with TV or a podcast. It’s so much easier to tell ourselves, “I’ll get to this later,” knowing all-too well that no, you won’t.
When they go unfelt and unprocessed, our emotions grow and evolve and shape-shift: We take our frustration out on loved ones who have zero to do with our feelings. We make decisions that aren’t true to our desires. We turn our anger inward, and don’t treat ourselves with compassion or respect. We become really tired. Our nerves become frayed, and the slightest issue can shatter us.
Plus, our emotions provide us with important information: Our anger might alert us that a boundary has been crossed. Our sadness might reveal what we truly want (or don’t want). And if we ignore our emotions or dismiss them, we miss this vital insight. We miss out on powerful opportunities to connect to ourselves.
Ultimately, you don’t have to feel every single feeling at an intensity of 100. Rather, you can carve out 10 minutes to write down the sensations that you feel, to reflect on the location of your pain, to explore what your emotion looks like. This might not be easy either, but it’s a less scary place to start.