Emotions are meant to be felt – it’s just that simple. We are meant to notice them, feel them, process them, and learn from them. But processing emotions is difficult. It’s messy and uncomfortable.
Processing emotions has physical, mental, and emotional consequences. So let’s talk about about why it’s helpful and healthy to feel our emotions. I’ve also included 3 tips on how to recognize emotions.
Emotions are innate and automatic. They rise up inside of us whether we like it or not, even though we might not understand them, know where they came from or be able to name them.
I have created a download to help name emotions, which can often be difficult for people. Unless it’s happiness, sadness or anger, people can struggle with identifying their emotions.
Feelings, intuition, inner voice, conscience – call it what you want – you have been created to feel.
There are many examples of feeling emotions in the Bible. There are specific verses on anger (Ephesians 4:26), joy (Romans 12:15), fear (Psalms 34:4), and there is a whole book called Lamentations (to lament is the expression of deep regret, grief or sorrow).
We have been precisely created in the image of God and having emotions is part that perfect creation.
Cultural influences have made expressing, or feeling, emotions shameful. And sadly, the western church has been among these cultures. We have shifted from a Biblical worldview of recognizing emotions, feeling them, tending to your needs, and bringing them to God to process and learn from them, to a cultural worldview of stifling emotions, shaming them, and calling them sin.
A favourite scripture of mine is Matthew 11:28-30 where is says
28 Come to me, all who are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I find it interesting that the first step in this scripture is assessing if you are weary and burdened. Recognize your emotions, self-reflecting if you are weary and heavy burdened.
The second step is to get rest. It’s not describing self pity but compassionately tending to your needs.
The third step is to take on the perspective, or yoke, of Christ and learn from Him. Process what you are feeling in light of scripture, discovering what and who it says you are.
This method results in rest and peace described as easy and light. This process starts with self-reflection and recognition of our emotions.
How many times have you felt something but smothered it. Your gut instinct told you something, like that you’re, tired, sad or grieving, but you pushed it aside.
Silencing emotions has consequences.
We often do this in the name of strength and duty. How many times have you thought, “I don’t have time for this” or, “others are depending on me, I can’t go there right now.” Over and over we suppress our emotions which can result in exhaustion, sleepless nights, headaches, high blood pressure, conflict in relationships, anger and resentment. Months, years and even decades of silencing emotions boils over into our relationships, physical health, and mental well-being. Then we are left wondering where it all came from.
Here are 3 tips for recognizing and responding to emotions:
We often experience a physical response alongside emotions. Think butterflies in the stomach or tightening of the chest. These are just physical responses to an internal emotion. Pick a time everyday to reflect on that day’s experience. It could be during your commute or lunch break, or when you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep. Think back over the day and consider what physical responses you had. Using the Emotions Vocabulary Chart, consider what emotion might be triggering that response. Then, as Matthew 11 says, consider how you can tend to those emotions and bring them to God to process and learn.
If building your vocabulary is too big of a step try using colours. I often recommend using a simple green, yellow, and red scale. When you are in the green zone you are feeling good, like you’re back from vacation and excited about life.
Yellow is when the stress is building. You’re struggling. Deadlines, responsibilities, and pressures are building but you are able to keep all the balls in the air. As you move towards the red zone you are starting to drop the balls and heading towards a crisis. Maybe it’s in your family relationships or maybe its your health, but in the red zone you are in crisis.
Using this scale is easier to identify where you are at. In your calendar or journal, make it a habit to consider where you are at. In a single day you can be in any or all of these zones, but by reflecting on where you are at you are able to recognize the feelings that surface in each of these areas and you are able to take these to God in your time with Him.
As a counsellor, I remember going to back-to-back meetings to support people who were suffering. The weight of the work and was growing. The waitlist was long and I felt deadlines to get my paperwork in building. A strategy I began to use that allowed me micro-moments of self-reflection was deep breathing. I know it sounds cheesy but hear me out.
Every time I went to start a new task, be it a meeting, paperwork, or a counselling session, I would take a deep breath in, reflecting on my own feelings, and then a long breath out, imagining I’m giving what is inside to God. Deep breath in of reflection and long breath out giving it to God. The breathing refreshed my physical body as I often held tension in my shoulders and the reflection helped me recognize my feelings and give them to God.
Having this micro-moment of reflection at times of transition is a great way to make space for your emotions throughout your day.
For generations we have been taught to suppress and silent emotions, and as a result we’re seeing the negative impacts in our physical health, mental well-being, and even in our relationships. Use these three strategies and the free downloadable tool to recognize and respond to your emotions.
Remember, we are to:
- Assess if we are weary and heavy burdened
- Find rest and tend to our needs
- Learn from Christ as we take our emotions to him.