First Find Yourself
• Sit down or slow down. This is usually the last thing we want to do if overwhelming feelings are right under the surface because moving fast can keep us skipping above the water. You can slow down by simply lying down, sitting quietly for a few minutes, pausing to really listen to a song you love or taking a bath. If you want to keep up a pace, notice yourself as you run errands, use your phone or computer or exercise. Track sensation in these activities.
• Connect to yourself. First, lie down comfortably for a few moments feeling your back meet the floor, bed or ground. Next, place your hands on your heart, solar plexus or belly. Then notice the energy in your hands and find the breath, movement or energy in your body where you are making contact. Finally, find a word or two that describe what’s there such as a disconnected feeling, aching, pleasure, ease, tenderness, etc. Say aloud “Sometimes I feel _______” and notice any increase or shift in sensation.
• Receive music. Find a song (or any piece of art) that describes how you feel either in mood, lyrics or both.
• Create visual art, sing, dance or move.
How to Stay With Yourself In Deep Feeling
• When you are experiencing a strong emotion that feels scary or overwhelming, remember the last time you were in a storm. Try to engage your inner witness and see if you can take to watching your emotions like storms.
• Go somewhere high like a hill, overlook or tall building. Literally gaining perspective can help us feel more and find hope.
• Spend time in nature and appreciate the cyclical nature of life and the cosmos. Seasons, sunrise, sunset and the cycles of the moon are all great reminders that every experience is temporary, moving, cyclical and transformative.
• Connect with what reminds you of anything larger than the feelings you are experiencing, whether it’s nature, the universe, spirit, goddess or god. Remember that it can hold you and all of your sensations.
• Intentionally make time to be alone doing something you find nurturing such as walking, being in a beautiful place or doing an activity that you enjoy.
• Make a date with a friend who you really trust and can be honest with about what you’re feeling. Having company in deep grief can help remind us that we’re lovable, cared for and not alone.
• Ask for help with cooking, cleaning and running errands if needed. Set up a time to go grocery shopping and cook with a friend and do this together.
• Allow time for extra sleep in your schedule, even if it’s a nap when you have an odd hour off. Sleep is an excellent way to process strong feelings. Our psyches work through things in dreams that we may not be able to resolve in the ways we want to in our waking lives.
• When you feel like you need a break or want to come out of deep feeling for any reason, shift your environment or focus. Notice your surroundings by tuning in to each of the five senses one at a time, put gentle pressure on your thighs with your hands, wrap your arms around yourself and feel the pressure holding you, go to a different room or outside, put on different music, think of a person, animal or place you love or connect with someone who cares about you.
I’ve heard people say things like “You have to feel it to heal it” and “the only way past our feelings is through them.” My experiences with myself, friends, family and my clients tell me this is true. While there are no real detours or shortcuts from difficult feelings, I can promise you that eventually there is a lightness, freedom and hope waiting for you.
Staying with ourselves is a radical act of self-love. It is on this path that we can cultivate deep intimacy, trust and strength with ourselves. We may have felt abandoned by parents, partners or friends but we can stop abandoning ourselves starting right now in this moment. When we honor the truth of our experience by lovingly and patiently staying with ourselves we heal our deepest losses.
At the same time, we don’t have to be alone on this path of healing. Connecting with available people and learning to receive support from those who are capable of providing it is an essential part of the healing process.
Philipe L. Harrington, MFT works with queer, trans & poly individuals and couples who are longing to embody the transformation we need to create social justice.
Through somatic and expressive arts therapies, Philipe’s clients heal once useful, yet ultimately limiting, patterns of protection from trauma and social inequality. Philipe supports people to access more choices, creativity, and skills for personal wellness and collective liberation.
Thanks to Mar Ruggeri, Sabeen Shaiq, LCSW, Andrea del Moral, Sarah Jones, ourania n. tserotas, Debra St. John and Tuesday Feral for your contributions to this article.