The title of this post isn’t just something that therapists ask ad nauseum (although it does make me chuckle when it happens) — it’s something that we don’t often think about in the most literal terms when analyzing our emotions.
Generally, when someone asks how something makes us feel, we use adjectives such as sad, happy, angry, embarrassed, afraid, etc. We think in terms of broad emotional categories, the answers we’re used to giving in addition to saying our day was fine, our weekend was good, and our workload is busy.
But how do you really feel?
Does your chest get tight when you’re anxious about something? Do you start to sweat? Does your heart flutter in a constricting way or in a way that gives you a rush? Are you wringing your hands, shifting your weight, breathing more quickly?
These are all examples of what we’re feeling too, and although we don’t always use them to explain our emotions or reactions or decisions, they might actually be one of the most accurate ways to tell us what we really do feel about something. Body over mind and all that.
For the last couple of years, my dad has been sharing with me the idea of the somatic experiencing, a body-awareness approach to healing and therapy, most often used in treating trauma. And of course, trauma comes in all different forms, and can be experienced for years and years after the initial experience. Anyway, without going into the nitty-gritty, just recognizing that my body is telling me something, and being aware of it when I get stressed out about about something is helping me to adjust my path to a healthier, more happier me.
Example: For about a year leading up to my breakup last summer, I absolutely dreaded my parents asking me about the potential to move to be near them when they decided to start their next chapter. I literally had anxiety about conversations that would involve questions about what was next for me. My heart would pound, I would sweat everywhere, and my throat would close up. I wanted to run and hide in the corner, in a closet – I wanted to close my eyes and dissolve into nothingness, just so I wouldn’t have to answer what was next. “But no, everything’s great!” I would refute. “We’ll be together and happy and life will be wonderful and that’s why I can’t move to X State with you guys.”
But it wasn’t wonderful, and I wasn’t happy. And my body was trying to tell me that. I couldn’t sleep. I was putting on weight. I had frequent headaches, and I showed all the symptoms of a thyroid problem, on top of having what I felt like was a heart attack every time the issue of my future came up.
And it was just a couple of weeks ago, believe it or not, that I realized that these feelings, these real, intense, feelings in my body were a clue to what I was really feeling in my mind and heart — as opposed to what I was saying and telling myself. Granted, it’s now been six months since I made my decision, and there have definitely been hard days, but I don’t feel those feelings anymore. My heart no longer pounds when I think about maybe moving to be near my parents. My nightmares are fewer, my headaches less frequent. My sweating is usually reserved for workouts and really hot rides on the metro, and my throat only feels tight when I have a cold.
Pay attention to how you really feel — it may tell you something you didn’t know.