The other day I began to feel tired and to develop a sinus headache relatively early in the day. By 2 p.m., I was pretty wiped out and really didn’t feel like doing anything else. Something in me, though, kept pushing on, trying to get done the things I’d planned for the day. I noticed as the day rolled on that I felt increasingly edgy and dissatisfied and disconnected from myself.
At about 4 p.m., I sat down on the couch and realized I was in a lot of resistance to what was true for me in that day, that moment.
I also realized (because I have been here so many times before!) that acknowledging and accepting what was true was actually the way to presence and freedom, not pushing against it as my mind would have me believe.
And as soon as I recognized that it was okay to feel exactly what I was feeling and be exactly where I was, the tension I was holding in my body shifted. My breathing slowed and became deeper. When I allowed what I was feeling, I felt freed up to go on with the day (and also to call it a day, if that’s what I chose), rather than locked into a “bad feeling place.”
I’ve written previously about “fighting a feeling”. In fact, a lot of times when I ask a coaching client what they are feeling, they describe to me the experience of fighting a feeling, trying to push something down because it is in some way unacceptable to them. Similar to trying to hold a beach ball under water, this takes a ton of energy and ultimately just doesn’t work! (That beach ball somehow manages to pop back up every time.) When we fight with our feelings, we use up a huge amount of energy that can be available to us for living our lives.
I notice that, for me, what sometimes keeps me from acknowledging and accepting feelings is the idea that, if I fully allow them into consciousness, I won’t be able to do what I need to do. This is the mentality that leads us to burnout. In fact, Amelia and Emily Nagoski describe this in their book Burnout as “not completing the stress cycle.”
When feelings come up, they are meant to be attended to. They’re signals to us. In my case, physical symptoms — my tiredness and sinus headache — were pointing me to a need for a certain type of self-care that had been lacking: I needed better sleep, and to take a look at how I much was pressuring myself to do in a given day or week, and to take some things off my plate. If I had persisted in pushing down my tiredness and general grumpy feeling, I wouldn’t have been able to attend to my needs (because I wouldn’t have been fully aware of them!).
Did acknowledging, accepting, and attending to my feelings prevent me from getting stuff done? No. In fact, it helped me to approach what I needed to do more mindfully and realistically. It helped me put my attention where I wanted it to be (on my clients, on the beautiful day outside, on the text my friend had sent), rather than on trying to push down the beach ball of “unwanted” feelings. Letting my feelings know they were wanted was key to hearing their message for me.
A client said to me recently, but what if when I acknowledge my feelings, their message for me is that I have to take an action I don’t want to take? Ah, I’ve definitely had that fear as well. The thing is, you are still the one running the show that is your life. Acknowledging and accepting your feelings doesn’t mean you have to do anything. What it does do is open you to information about what’s going on for you.
You may choose to do one thing, or another, or nothing at all with that information, but opening yourself to the information gives you the opportunity to understand what’s going on for you more clearly and deeply, and from there you have a range of options that will not even seem in the realm of possibility when you are pushing feelings down.
In noticing our options, our nervous system relaxes. We no longer feel trapped and confined (with the resulting stress that goes along with that). When I acknowledged and accepted my tiredness, only then could I open myself to the myriad ways I could attend to it. When it remained unacknowledged and unaccepted, I felt like I was in the dark when it came to my needs, like my needs were hovering around the periphery and I kept elbowing them away.
There is power in naming what’s happening for us. This is why I’m such an advocate of journaling. When we see, on paper, what is up for us, it’s no longer a mysterious force driving us. We bring it to light, where we can work with it. And often, what’s going on is simpler than we think. Maybe we’re tired, as I was, or lonely, or sad, but we just haven’t named those things and brought them to awareness.
As you go through your day, when you’re noticing stress, chances are there are feelings that are not being given the airtime they need. What happens if you pause for a minute or two to acknowledge, accept, and attend to whatever you’re feeling? I’d love to hear about your experience of this.
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Above cat images by Dan Gold and Aleksandar Cvetanovic on Unsplash, respectively.