When I first read this, I almost laughed. “Sit with your feelings” said the words on the page of some self-help book I cannot remember. Ew, I thought. That sounds awful. Sit? As in, just sit down and feel your feelings? Uh, no thanks.
I think I was 23 at the time, a year of my life marked by unsuccessful Tinder dates, career boredom, insecurity, debt and disordered eating. I had a lot of feelings, and most of them were not the sort you’d like to embrace on a sunny day. Instead I did what I’m sure most of us have done - I watched enough Netflix, drank enough alcohol, and edited enough pictures for social media to make it seem like I was fine.
But beneath the surface there was so much that wasn’t being dealt with. And of course it wasn’t, feelings are scary. They’re uncomfortable and inconvenient. They cast an ugly shadow on the sparkly highlight reels that we want our lives to be. I’m not lonely, because I have Netflix. I’m not depressed, because I have plans with friends. I’m not self-loathing, because I have a whole library of images I liked enough to share on Instagram.
It took me ages to realise why this person had told their readers to sit and feel their feelings. They weren’t a conspiracy theorist looking for click bait cash, they had simply just lived enough of life to figure out that feelings don’t need to be scary.
Realising this was like realising you had to get up early five days a week to earn enough money to survive adulthood. SHIT, I thought. How do I even do this without blowing my head off, because surely thats what happens when all the feelings you’ve squashed down just suddenly come out?
Fantastically, this was not the case. Your brain and your body are so incredibly smart. They’ll only bring up feelings, emotions and trauma from your past when they think you are strong enough to handle them. All you need to do is try and figure out when they are telling you to do this.
What I mean is, our bodies and our minds will tell us, one way or another, when we need to deal with a feeling or an emotion that has not yet been dealt with. I’m sure for some this might sound as realistic as a unicorn fart, but I promise it’s a thing.
For me this means noticing when I have no energy or motivation to get out of bed or leave the flat, which usually means I need a cry. Or if I can’t sleep because my mind is chattering about nothing special, it usually means I am anxious or battling self-doubt, worrying about my performance at work. And sometimes, on particularly bad days, I might obsess about conversations I’ve had with friends, convinced that I’ve done something wrong. This I think is just another face of anxiety, one that I think get’s it’s looks from a fear of loneliness (but I am not a therapist, so who knows).
I’ve learned to recognise these signals, to then think about why I might be feeling this way, and to find the thing that can make me feel even 10% better. A weepy walk through the woods, writing all my thoughts down on paper, some positive affirmations or a good chat with a friend.
The feelings may not go away, but they won’t seem so all-consuming. They’ll become more familiar, and perhaps - at a stretch - even a little bit useful. Sitting with our feelings can be a great way to find out what may or may not be good for us.