Do you prefer a bath, a shower or a dry shampoo bodge job?
Well, when it comes to our feelings I feel like there are three types of people. There are those who shower in their feelings. They spend a healthy amount of time feeling and connecting with themselves and then they are done. They get out their hair-dryer and they are ready for the day.
There are then those who like to bath. They like to sit in their feelings for hours, for days, for weeks. There is comfort to be found in the wallowing. But sometimes getting back out of the warm womblike embrace of a bath into the cold air can be difficult. It is sometimes just easier to stay in the water.
And then there are the people who think dry shampoo is a valid alternative to washing your hair *spoiler it is not*. Dry shampoo doesn’t clean your hair, it masks the grease with talcum powder until your hair looks presentable to the world. It looks fine, but it is itchy, full of dry shampoo dandruff and the rest of your body still smells.
I was a dry-shampoo girl through and through, both in my showering routine and with my emotions. Why bother with the real thing when the quick fix is so handy?
Well the thing is that dry shampoo damaged my hair in the long run. It made my hair dry and my scalp mega irritated. And uhh…. doing the dry shampoo routine with my emotions really wasn’t working for me either. Much like my hair was not really clean, my emotions were never really dealt with. They had been pushed to the side and ignored, until they came back to bite. If you feel like you might be a dry shampoo-er with your emotions, this is the article for you.
The Mind-Body Connection
We live in a society in which we have an inherent lack of connection to ourselves. We are encouraged to push through the pain when we exercise, to put a brave face on, to shove those emotions way down.
It is easier to feel when our body does not want to do something. When we exercise we can feel that there is a stark difference between a muscle that just needs to be warmed up and a muscle that is exhausted and depleted of its glycogen stores.
A cold muscle may feel stiff, or a little underperforming at first. But after the first couple of minutes this gives way and the movement feels easy and natural. We are able to run without thinking about our legs. Our bodies feel energized and ready to carry on. In essence this ease, is our bodies telling us ‘yes’.
Compare this to trying to exercise when you are exhausted. When even doing the most basic activities like walking or sitting up feels difficult. Maybe you haven’t eaten enough that day, your muscles haven’t recovered from your previous workout, or you had a very poor nights sleep. Your body is not prepared for what you are trying to do. It is like trying to run a car with very little fuel. It may perform, but it will be poor. And you can feel the difference.
This happened to me the other day when I set off for a run. It usually takes me about 30 seconds to hit my stride, but I just couldn’t get into my groove. And by the 2 minute mark I felt exhausted. My quads felts fatigued and I could feel my abductor muscles aching with each step. I continued to stop and start again and again hoping it would get easier, but it only got worse. My body was putting its foot down and saying no.
When our bodies want to carry on we can feel it. Like when we step off the dance floor for a water and a breahter, then hear the next song and think ‘wheey what a banger!’ and we are off dancing again.
With a body that has reached its limits it becomes painful, extremely difficult and like we are running out of fuel. When we stop we think ‘Ok I am done for the day let’s eat a banana’.
Once you have reached both points a few times listening to our bodies becomes easier. We can begin to interpret between a ‘let’s take a breather’ and an ‘absolutely stop now’.
And the results are much more immediate. If we ignore our bodies saying no, we injure ourselves. If we push past our limits our body will force us to stop. I remember talking to a friend who was running on slippery grass and fell over into the splits. She was not a gymnast by any means so unsurprisingly this was massively painful. She has unintentionally forced her body beyond its means. For days afterwards even walking was a struggle. Her body had put its foot down.
And as we listen to our bodies more and more we understand our limits. For example someone who is lactose intolerant will feel intense stomach cramps, nausea and experience some very unpleasant side effects if they eat cheese. These symptoms are our body simply relaying information to us. In this case, that the lactose in the cheese cannot be properly ingested. So even though pizza is really delicious, that slice of pizza is not worth the pain that it will cause. In effect, we must listen to what our body is telling us, in order for it to run properly.
Understanding that listening to our body in order to avoid physical pain or injury is simple. Our body saying no will manifest into something physical that is usually pretty hard to ignore. But our minds are a bit more tricky. It is a lot easier to ignore emotional feelings of distress than it is to ignore an achy knee or a massive hangover. And it is a lot easier to explain away. When we feel unpleasant emotions like anger or sadness sometimes we make excuses like ‘I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning’ or ‘I am just hormonal’.
Much like physical pain, emotional distress serves a sign that something is wrong. When we feel anger it is because something is making us angry. When we feel sad, it because something is making us upset. Novel idea I know.
However, unpleasant emotions are….unpleasant. It’s not nice to feel disappointed, betrayed or let-down. Our bodies do not enjoy feeling these emotions and want to try and stop this emotional distress. For example crying makes us lose our breath to enable deep breathing that calms us.
However, sometimes our mind is a bit more sneaky. We enter denial. Perhaps someone has made you angry, but instead of reacting or taking action it is easier to say ‘no actually you are not angry at all you are cool as a cucumber’ as that emotions gets squashed down like gum on a pavement. The issue here is that emotions don’t just go away when we push them aside. They don’t evaporate into the ether as we breathe. This negativity remains in our body like another drop of water in a bucket. And as we get angry again and again this bucket becomes more and more full until one day it literally cannot take anymore.
We shout at someone we shouldn’t have shouted at, or say something we never wanted to say. Our emotions have bubbled over and we feel out of control. We feel angry at ourselves. Why did I pop off like that?
But this is those emotions have to go somewhere. We cannot deny our feelings and expect nothing to happen. Repressed feelings might emerge in the form of emotional outbursts, crying for no apparent reasons, or even psychosomatic illnesses. A psychosomatic illness is an illness that is caused, or aggravated, by our emotional states.
For example, someone who is chronically stressed at work may be suffering from terrible migraines that are making it difficult to function. They may then go to the doctor to look at the root of the problem only to discover there is no physical ailment or condition that is causing these terrible migraines. The cause of the migraines is the stress. Put simply, the unrest in their mind is manifesting itself into physical sensations in the body.
We have ignored the small stress signals in our brain and so the body has created a great big flashing light that is saying ‘Something is wrong here!’. Our brains and body have created a protest so that we can no longer ignore what it is saying.
(if you find this idea particularilly interesting I recommend the programme Diagnosis Detectives on BBC1, in particular the story of Andrew’s mysterious seizures).
If we do not listen to or mind, our bodies will force us to. But sometimes listening to our mind can be difficult. Feelings are fuzzy and difficult to define, and sometimes we can be unaware we are even feeling something if we are far enough in denial. Speaking personally I used to say I was someone who ‘never got stressed’. So when I did feel moments of stress I unintentionally pushed this down. I didn’t even realise I was doing this until I was taking academic exams. I would say ‘I am calm’ but then I would suddenly have a mouth full of ulcers and a period that had stopped.
At this point three things became clear
- I was stressed to the point it was affecting my health. My body was forcing me to stop.
- It was clear that I needed to find techniques to deal with the stress I was facing.
- I needed to become better at labelling and navigating my emotions. I had to learn to listen to my mind and body.
Listening to my mind and body has been a real learning curve for me. It feels like something we should do inherently, I mean we are living in our bodies after all. However, when we live in a society full of toxic positivity, where the only ‘acceptable’ emotions are happiness, where we wake up and say ‘rise and grind’ because our productivity is paramount, it is not surprising that we repress emotions. Negative emotions time time to deal with. And why waste time working out why you are sad when you could just supress it and do overtime at work am I right????
Listening to our body and mindfulness.
A really useful mindfulness technique used to understand our emotions is to listen through our physical sensations. Its something I had never really realised until last year, but our emotions do present in physical sensations if we pay close enough attention. When we feel heart-broken our heart physically aches, when I feel nervous my feet feel jittery like I want to run, when I feel angry I feel a burning sensation in my heart and my hands feel activated like I am ready to fight. These are things I had never noticed before and might have pushed aside. But now even before my mind has registered an emotion I can feel the same pattern of bodily sensations and I think ‘Oh I am pissed’.
Step 1- Recognising our feelings
Above is a composition of where people felt each different emotion in their body. The red colours signify action whereas the blue signifies inaction. For example the blue legs on sadness show the heavy lolloping walk we feel when we are sad.
Step 2-naming and owning our feelings
Fore example just saying ‘I know these physical sensations mean I am angry. Ok I am angry’. This sounds simple and maybe stupid but so often we tell ourselves we are not allowed to feel certain emotions. For example, maybe we feel bad for feeling angry. We could feel angry at a loved one, but feel guilty for harbering these negative emotions toward them, so it is easier to pretend we are not angry at all. But as shown above it essential we own these feelings and allow ourselves to feel this way.
Step 3- Why?
So we have recognised what we are feeling and what this means. We have acknolowedged the symptom, but step number 3 is finding the cause. When we see a weed in our garden we do not assume it appeared out of nowhere. We understand that deep within the soil there is a root. There is a reason we are feeling this way. I heard a lovely saying the other day that realigned my feelings towards anger. It was that ‘anger isn’t a bad thing. It is simply a sign. Anger is a sign that your boundaries have been crossed’.
Negative emotions appear to show us something has happened that we do not like. Maybe it could be a comment someone has made, or treatment that you feel you do not deserve. As we become more and more aware of how we are feeling, the ‘why’s‘ become easier to find.
Step 4- Dealing With It
I find dealing with emotions is like a big train. It passes through our mind, and it stops and then it leaves when it is ready. We can’t burst into the operator room, hijack the steering wheel and force the train to move faster. The train will leave the station when it is scheduled to leave.
Of course, we must acknowledge the train… I mean it’s a big fuck off train in your brain, it would be difficult not to. And then we need to work out what the train needs to be ready to leave. Maybe it is a cargo train and needs to be filled.
Filling the train with cargo could mean a lot of things. Some emotions are small. Maybe we feel a bit offended because someone has made an off-hand comment. To load this cargo it could just mean mean acknowledging the emotion, investigating why you feel hurt/angry/betrayed at the comment and deciding that you will move on because you don’t value their opinion/ it’s not that big a deal/ you simply don’t feel offended anymore.
Some emotions are much larger and require more work. The train may be in the station for a while whilst you work out what cargo it needs, and how on earth you can lift it. Dealing with the heavy stuff is difficult and not something I can address in a couple of sentences with justice. But just know half of the battle is accepting that the train is there and deciding to do something about it. It is acknowledging what our body is telling us and deciding action needs to be taken.
Sometimes what our body and mind tells us can go against what we ‘want’. We want to run but our bodies will not carry us, we want to just carry on and pretend like everything is fine. I spent years of my life ignoring the what my body was telling me like it was an inconvenience. But as I have got older and I’ve looked back I realise it wasn’t my mind being annoying. It was my intuition trying to tell me something important.
I spent all this time thinking there was something wrong with the way I felt. But as I look back on these situations, I realise my body knew what was up, it was trying to protect me. So nowadays I don’t take my body aches, or emotions, as an inconvenience. I listen to them like a warning system, they are there to help me. Or bodies are always telling us something, sometimes we just need to open our ears and listen.
Todays song of the day is ‘The Night Me and Your Mama Met’ by Childish Gambino, for no other reason than that I really like it 🌒
If you enjoyed this blog and would like to read more why not check out some more 🌙