I often encourage client to tune into their emotions. This recommendation comes up if people are consumed with one particular emotion such as anger, fear or sadness, or if they are immersed in depression or anxiety. There is a whole wide array of emotions but one or two emotions can overpower others or become, through habit, the most familiar and therefore most comfortable emotions. So, to move past that one powerful emotion and move towards greater emotional health I recommend “emotional awareness”–applying mindfulness skills to the internal world. If you have never heard of mindfulness check out the blog on it and give it a try.
The easiest way to start building emotional awareness is to use the 5 senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, sound) to focus on your external surroundings. The next step is to turn your attention inwards and focus on physical sensations occuring in your body. Emotions are also called “feelings” because there are physical effects that you can actually feel, for example the tightening of your chest or the lump in your throat. Tuning into these sensations gives you the space to avoid being caught up in the emotion and carried off to doing something you later wish you hadn’t.
As part of the experimenting with emotional awareness I tell my clients to prepare themselves for experiencing a certain emotion by identifying a setting when you know an emotion will be triggered, this could be an event in your everyday life or you could chose a movie clip
(or try out Sarah Kay’s spoken word poem from the you tube feature at the bottom of the page). Whatever setting you chose pay attention to the physical sensations in your body as they start to change ie: how is your muscle tension changing in your jaw, neck, back, stomach, arms, hands; how is your temperature changing; what is your heart rate and breathing like; are you perspiring; what else has shifted in your body? You can also experiment with intensifying or relaxing the emotion by manipulating your body (for example, clench your fists or smile) or directing your thoughts, notice what that experience is like.
These exercises are simply observations for you to make in order to get to know yourself better. They can be difficult for people who prefer to avoid certain emotions. But with the knowledge that buried emotions will find a way to the surface whether through leaking or exploding, this sort of exercise is necessary for improving your mental health as well as getting to know yourself better, experiencing life more fully, and making good decisions through maintaining emotional balance.