Being hit by a big emotion, whether it’s anger, sadness or fear can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Most people don’t like to sit in uncomfortable feelings, and we often make sense of our feelings by internalizing them. Thoughts like “I’m never going to be happy”, or “what’s wrong with me???” reflect an inaccurate understanding of feelings. Feelings are not a reflection of our value as a person, nor our relative health or un-health. Feelings are your body’s way of trying to ask you for something. Next time you’re overwhelmed by your feelings, instead of getting upset with yourself, use the following list of questions. These questions are a quick way to decode your feelings and understand what your body is asking you for.
What am I feeling?
Anger? Sadness? Shame? Fear?
If you are having trouble naming the feeling, that’s ok! Try the steps provided in this Emotional Awareness Tip.
What did I put in my body today?
Did I eat enough today? Did I get enough protein, carbs, etc? Did I eat a lot of sugar or over-processed foods?
Did I drink enough water today?
Did I consume caffeine, alcohol or any other substances that might impact my mood?
Did I take any medication I usually take? Did I recently start any new medications?
Did I take/not take any hormones today? If I menstruate, where am I at in my menstrual cycle?
Are my body’s physical needs being met?
Have I moved around today?
Have I attended to my basic hygiene needs (i.e taken a shower or put on clean clothes) today?
Did I get enough sleep last night?
Have I masturbated or been sexual today?
Have I received physical affection today?
Did I get to spend time in sunlight today?
What’s my emotional context this week?
Has anything stressful (even if it’s small) happened within the past week?
Have I received the connection and support I wanted this week?
Have I achieved the things I wanted to this week?
Am I approaching the anniversary of any significant loss or trauma in my life (i.e. death of a loved one, onset of chronic illness, etc)
What are the contents of my thoughts?
What, if any thoughts keep popping up before and during your moment of overwhelm? Common examples might be: I suck, I can’t believe she would say that to me, etc.
As you go through the above list of questions, look for patterns in your feelings, and times you get overwhelmed. Get curious and see what repetitions you start to notice. You may find that little stresses turn into big anxiety meltdowns on the days you forget to drink water and load up on caffeine. Or you might notice that on days when you haven’t received physical affection, you tend to get really angry at your partner. What else?
Look at all the information you’ve gathered from the questions above. Put it together to start decoding your feelings and understanding what they’re asking for. The questions above are organized into category by physical and emotional needs. Look for what needs are going unmet, or which parts of you are going without support.
For example, if you notice that you’re extremely irritable, you haven’t eaten today, and had a very social day (meetings at work, lots of time with family, etc) perhaps your body is asking for some peace and quiet and some food. Or if the answers to this checklist indicate that you’re feeling worried, haven’t slept well in a few days, and keep thinking about the viability of your relationship, your body may be asking you for rest and connection.
If you’d like help decoding your feelings, book an appointment with a therapist today.