Have you ever found yourself deep in a good old fashion sobfest for reasons you can’t articulate? Or maybe you’ve literally felt your blood boil for too many reasons to pinpoint. Perhaps you’ve been caught in the crossfire of emotions and feelings at work.
Most therapists will tell you that emotions are natural and very human, but it’s sometimes a choice to actually feel your feelings.
Wait, aren’t emotions and feelings the same thing?
Nope. And this next bit of information might actually save that last box of tissues before those tears set in again.
Before we can get to why it’s important to feel your feelings, we have to clear up what makes these two things — emotions and feelings — different, although they are often used interchangeably.
The Difference Between Emotions and Feelings
While both feelings and emotions are responses to outside stimuli, they originate in different parts of our bodies. Emotions are physical changes in our bodies, while feelings formulate in our minds. We feel excitement, shame, sadness etc., only after our bodies respond to stimuli and subsequently making our minds aware of how we are feeling.
For an example of this, imagine walking down the street and as you turn the corner, you nearly collide into the ex you haven’t seen since the day you broke up. Instantly, your heart rate accelerates, your mouth goes dry, and your mind starts racing. These shifts in your physical being are an emotional response.
While your body is sending out messages signaling fear and surprise as you stand on that street corner, your brain is busy using the data to determine how you’ll respond. Are you experiencing fear because your mind recalls how this hurt you? Or, because this person represents a failure and you’re afraid of failing again? They’ve certainly surprised you, but whether you feel embarrassed, shocked, or mortified will depend on what experiences you associate with this person and your past. Ultimately, this response gives us our feelings.
Unlike feelings, which are highly personal, basic emotions are universal to nearly all people. While we all experience nearly the same physiological changes that emotion can trigger (change in heart rate, blushing or going pale, sweating, and sudden stomach issues, to name a few), feelings vary from person-to-person based on learned experiences and memories. Emotions make us human and our feelings make us unique! Together, they shape our responses to the vast spectrum of experiences throughout life.
Why You Have To Feel Your Feelings
Beyond making you who you are, emotions and feelings have some pretty important jobs when it comes to health. Here are three reasons it’s important to embrace emotions and feel your feelings.
We can’t be happy without the sad
Unfortunately, we can’t always pick and choose the feelings we feel. While it would be super convenient to numb all the yucky ones, we’d never get to know the continuum that helps us to know the good ones, too. Without sadness, our joys would be so much less joyful! It’s this very range of emotions that colors every human experience we have — it’s an essential part of being who are are!
Aside from the fact that it’s not healthy to numb our feelings (we have them for a reason), suppressing feelings that are triggered by negative experiences can have a serious impact on our mental health. Risk of challenges such as anxiety and depression are known to increase with suppressed emotions, along with a litany of physiological changes, too. If coping with your emotions and the feelings associated with them is proving to be stressful, working through them with a trusted individual, such as a licensed professional, is a great place to start. A therapist can help you to uncover and understand the root causes of your emotions in a healthy and constructive manner.
Feelings help us make smarter decisions
It’s essential to tune into your feelings — your life may literally depend on it! You might not be consciously thinking about it, but emotions help inform all of our decisions. From little risks, like running across the street when the light is about to turn red, to bigger things like whether or not to put an offer in on the house you want, they spur feelings that allow us to think about how the choices might affect our lives.
Over time and with practice, you’ll be able to better understand what is causing you to feel a certain way. Pausing, reflecting, and taking stock of sensations throughout your body during an intense situation will allow you to start making cognitive connections to the feelings you have in response to them. Some people find writing in a journal or another artistic practice to be effective ways to start recognizing their emotions, the circumstances that have triggered them, and how it’s left them feeling.
Ultimately, our emotions serve as messengers to our brain, alerting us that it’s time to pay attention. As you develop this skill, you’ll be able to use your intuition and learned experience to better navigate life’s challenges.
Feelings help us connect with others
Exposing ourselves to vulnerability opens us up to a great number of things, not the least of which is the opportunity to strengthen human connections. Unpacking our emotions and sharing what they have taught us with others can feel uncomfortable or scary, but over time and with people we trust, this process allows us to connect on a deeper, more human level with those around us.
Feeling our feelings, and drawing on past experiences to remember how they made us feel, gives us the power to relate to others. It also allows us to develop empathy, increased awareness, and compassion. These traits make us more relatable and allow others to feel safe trusting us in return.
A key component in learning to feel your feelings is getting comfortable with self-compassion — that is, extending the golden rule to yourself. In making a habit of extending kindness and patience to ourselves and those around us, we subsequently improve our relational abilities. It is often tempting to think we can handle things alone, but it’s essential to have supportive friends and family when working through painful experiences. A strong community and support system can provide strength in challenging times and joy in times deserving of celebration.
Ready to start feeling your feelings, but not sure where to start? There are many healthy ways to process your emotions and a licensed therapist can help you come up with a plan.
Experiencing emotions, especially when tied to painful memories, can be a scary thing. Finding someone you can talk to and trust is an essential part of healing. For many, online therapy is a convenient place to start that allows people to talk with a therapist only hours after signing up and the majority of clients report feeling better after 3 months.