Why we all need to get better at sitting with uncomfortable emotions
When it comes to uncomfortable emotions, the desire to avoid any emotional pain can be STRONG. The last thing many of us want to do is sit in discomfort and pain. We fear getting stuck in that pain forever. However, as human beings, sitting with uncomfortable emotions is a necessary step in our healing process. While it may be tempting to completely avoid them altogether, here are some reasons why these uncomfortable emotions deserve your time and attention:
Emotional Processing: Allowing yourself to experience uncomfortable emotions helps you process and work through them. When you ignore or avoid these emotions, it can lead to emotional repression. Emotional repression can negatively impact your mental and physical health.
Understanding Yourself: Uncomfortable emotions often carry valuable information about unmet needs, desires, and boundaries. By sitting with these emotions, you can gain insight into your inner world and develop a deeper understanding of yourself.
Building Emotional Resilience: When you confront and handle uncomfortable emotions, you build emotional resilience. This enables you to cope better with challenging situations and bounce back from adversity more effectively.
Embracing Your Wholeness: Emotions are an integral part of being human, and experiencing discomfort is a natural aspect of life. When we make time to sit with uncomfortable feelings, we are able to embrace the fullness of our human experience.
Preventing Escalation: Avoiding uncomfortable emotions can lead to a build up of unresolved feelings. Over time these ignored emotions tend to intensify and can lead to anxiety, depression, emotional outbursts or other negative coping mechanisms.
Reducing Anxiety: Acknowledging and accepting uncomfortable emotions can help reduce anxiety. The fear of experiencing certain emotions can often be more distressing than the actual emotions themselves.
Enhancing Self-Awareness: Sitting with uncomfortable emotions requires self-awareness and mindfulness. This practice fosters a deeper understanding of your emotional patterns and triggers.
Improving Relationships: Understanding and processing your emotions can positively impact your relationships. It enables you to act and communicate more authentically and connect with others on a deeper emotional level.
Personal Growth: Embracing discomfort and suffering is a stepping stone to personal growth. It allows you to confront challenges, learn from them, and develop new coping strategies.
Empathy and Compassion: Going through uncomfortable emotions yourself can make you more empathetic and compassionate toward others who you sense are experiencing similar feelings.
Sitting with uncomfortable emotions doesn’t mean wallowing in negativity. Instead, it involves acknowledging and accepting your emotions exactly as they are while also taking steps to address and manage them constructively.
What It Means to Sit with Your Feelings
To sit with your feelings means to consciously and willingly experience your emotions without avoiding or suppressing them. It involves allowing yourself to fully acknowledge and accept your feelings, even if they are uncomfortable and you don’t like them. Rather than trying to escape from these emotions or distract yourself, you choose to be present with them, observing and experiencing them without judgment or shame.
How to sit with your feelings
Well that’s all well and good, but how do I actually do sit with uncomfortable feelings? In my work as a therapist, I’ve found a variety of strategies that are helpful in sitting with difficult emotions. Below I share some of my favorites, as with any thing I share, take what you need and leave the rest.
Create a safe space
Dealing with emotional pain can be an extremely vulnerable process. Creating a safe space when processing emotions is vital. Find a space in your home that’s private and where you won’t be disturbed. If you live with others let them know that you are taking some time for yourself. Get comfy and cozy. Maybe settle in with a blanket and warm drink. Grab anything else that you might want with you as you sit with your feelings.
Identify, Recognize and Acknowledge Emotions
For many of us it can be difficult to even identify what emotion we are experiencing in any given moment. I have a free resource that has a list of different emotions that you can download for free if you need help with this. Once you identify the specific emotion you are experiencing, name it. Say to yourself “I’m feeling sad.” If you need help with building your emotional intelligence, it can be a great practice to write down three different emotions each day that you experienced.
Once you’ve learned to identify what emotion you are experiencing you can move on to identifying any physical sensation in the body that might accompany your feelings. Emotions can sometimes manifest as various physical sensations, such as tightness in the chest or throat, a knot in the stomach, headings, a racing heart, etc…
It can be hard to refrain from judging ourselves when we experience uncomfortable emotions. This idea that we should feel neutral or happy all the time, can make us feel crappy when we experience anything outside that range. Allowing yourself to feel the emotions without judging them as good or bad can be a liberating experience. If you notice judgment starting to pop up, remind yourself that it is normal to experience a wide range of emotions, and you are not weak or flawed for feeling uncomfortable.
Breathwork and grounding exercises
Using breathwork or grounding exercises can help you stay centered and calm while experiencing uncomfortable emotions. Deep breathing exercises can help calm your nervous system and reduce the intensity of emotions. I have a whole blog post on breathwork for anxiety that you might find helpful.
Practicing self-compassion is a huge part of dealing with emotional pain, and yet it’s also the most challenging to be compassionate with ourselves when we are experiencing uncomfortable emotions. Being kind and compassionate toward yourself as you navigate uncomfortable emotions can make a huge impact the healing process and your overall mental health.
Allowing the emotions to naturally run their course while recognizing that they will eventually pass on their own is key to sitting with uncomfortable feelings. When uncomfortable feelings arise, if you have the time give yourself the time and space to experience them exactly as they are. If it becomes too overwhelming, come back to some grounding practices or engage in a distracting activity.
Mindfulness has so many amazing benefits. It involves observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment. When sorting through negative thoughts or difficult emotions, it can be helpful to practice mindfulness. The key to this is acting as an observer in your mind. In doing this, you are able to witness your experience without becoming to attached to it.
Journaling can be an amazing activity to help with processing emotions. I know journaling can feel daunting at times, but if you struggle to sit with uncomfortable emotions, it’s an amazing tool for sorting out how you feel. Putting your emotions into words on paper can help you gain clarity and a deeper understanding of what you’re experiencing and allow you to move through these uncomfortable feelings more quickly.
Self-care is vital for mental health. Carve out time to engage in activities that bring you comfort and joy. Some of my favorite ways to do this are spending time with family members, being in nature, doing yoga, reading, or taking a bath. Whatever brings you joy and helps you in feeling like your best self counts.
Focus on Feelings As Temporary
This is key for navigating uncomfortable feelings. Remind yourself that feelings are temporary. Despite how it might feel in the moment, no feeling will last forever. Holding this reminder in your brain can help keep things in perspective and lead to less feelings of fear.
Set a timer
If you’ve gone a lifetime avoiding uncomfortable feelings, starting to address them can feel really scary. If you are worried about getting stuck in the uncomfortable emotions, setting a timer is a great way to give yourself the time and space to acknowledge your feelings while also giving you a hard out when the timer goes off. I recommend 15 minutes as a good starting point but if that feels too overwhelming start with 5 or 10. When the timer goes off, go for a walk or do something else to bring your attention away from how you’re feeling.
Talking to family or loved ones if that feels safe and comfortable can be a great way to cope with unwanted emotions. If you find that you struggle to sit with your feelings and it’s having a negative impact on your mental health seeking professional support from a therapist can be a healthy way to cope.
Remember that sitting with uncomfortable feelings doesn’t mean you have to dwell on them indefinitely. It’s about acknowledging and processing them in a healthy way so you realize that you can eventually work through them and move forward. Emotions are temporary, and with time and implementing some of the above strategies, you can learn to embrace all your feelings. If you liked what you read, feel free to share it.
As a therapist, I love helping my clients learn how to sit with uncomfortable emotions. My practice is located in Elk Grove, California but I see clients virtually throughout the state of California as well. You can learn more about me and my services here!
Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as legal, financial, or medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional advice of your own attorney, accountant, physician, or financial advisor. Always check with your own physician, attorney, financial advisor, accountant, or other business or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.