Better Understand Your Emotions in 5 Steps

"One of the most important aspects of health are how we experience emotions. See these five steps to learn the intelligence of your emotions." - Lorelei
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One of the most important aspects of health in my opinion are emotions.

Before I get into health or talking about wealth there is one particular topic that in my opinion is more important than anything else – EMOTIONS.

Why?

Because without being able to:

  1. Know what emotions feel like in your body
  2. Label them
  3. Process and gain insight from them
  4. Regulate them
  5. Use their wisdom to make a decision

It will be harder to convey your needs and wants accurately, form authentic relationships, and ultimately make decisions.

This added stress can also lead to health problems (unprocessed and unregulated emotions can increase physical tension) which can lead to more time at the doctor and chronic health issues which lead to less money in your bank account. Emotions also form the basis of our intuition or “gut feeling” which can alert us to issues not only in our body but also in our environment.

So, if you want to grow Sustainable Wealth, you’ve got to start with emotions.

Step 1 – Interoception

This is the foundational building block of emotional regulation and it starts in infancy. It’s knowing what hunger feels like, knowing when you need to go to the bathroom, when you’re starting to get sick, when you’re tired. Knowing what those sensations *feel* like in your body is interoception.

Basic survival skills such as hunger, thirst and sleep are innate but all other sensations have to be learned through the process of developing interoception. It’s a skill that must be practiced and honed by becoming curious about our own physical sensations – sensations such as rises in heart rate, muscle tension, abdominal pain/tightness/”pit in your stomach”, heaviness in the eyes, etc.

Those sensations have intelligence – they are the body’s way of guiding us through our environment.

From Kim Armstrong’s cover story in The Association of Psychological Science, How We Understand Our Body’s Inner Sensations

“The core task of a brain working in service to the body is allostasis: regulating the body’s internal systems by anticipating needs and preparing to satisfy them before they arise. Interoception — your brain’s representation of sensations from your own body — is the sensory consequence of this activity, Barrett says, and is central to everything from thought, to emotion, to decision making, and our sense of self.”

Developing this skill takes practice which is why mindfulness is so frequently recommended by many professionals. It’s a great way of quieting one’s mind and tuning into the physical body.

This could include body scan styles of meditation where you scan your whole body and see what sensations arise, breath work, or just regularly asking yourself the question “what am I feeling right now and where am I feeling it”.

Side note for people with history of Traumatic Experiences:

For some people who have a history of trauma, asking the question: “what am I feeling right now and where am I feeling it” may feel incredibly overwhelming. The body itself may not feel safe or comfortable and sitting with it may feel like sitting with a complete stranger.

A step that I personally have found helpful is to just find one tiny spot somewhere in my body that feels okay and start sitting with that one spot. Another is to focus solely on your breath as a place of “home” and center if sitting with your body begins to feel uncomfortable or unsettling.

There are multiple therapy modalities which can help with finding comfort with your body if this is the case. (EMDR, Trauma Releasing Technique, Energy Work, Internal Family Systems, Emotional Freedom Technique, Somatic Experiencing). A well-trained Trauma Informed Therapy Professional can also be an amazing partner in helping resolve painful past experiences and bring healing to both body and mind.

So after there is comfort with tuning in and gaining awareness on physical sensations in the body and developing that sense of interoception, the next step is to begin labeling those sensations.

Step 2 – Emotional Literacy

One of the most transformative books I’ve ever read in my life was Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships. It still stands as the best book I’ve ever read and I’ve read a lot of books.

Why was is this book so powerful?

Because it shifted my entire perspective about how to be in relationship with myself and other people. It helped me understand that the only person I had control over was myself and to take radical responsibility for that understanding. I needed to get very clear on what I needed and communicate those needs from a place of personal responsibility in order to have authentic and self-respectful relationships.

What does that all mean and look like?

In his book on page 6, Marshall lays out the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) process, the dialogue examples are my own:

  1. Our observations – “I see that the dishes are still on the table even though I asked that they be cleaned up”
  2. Our feelings – “I’m really mad, disappointed and sad that the dishes have not been cleaned up”
  3. Our needs – “I need to feel respected in my own home and I need feel heard and cared for”
  4. Our requests – “I feel very mad and disrespected when the dishes are left on the table after I’ve asked you to clean them up. Having a clean table makes me feel cared for and respected. Can you please put the dishes in the sink now”

This approach really helps me gain clarity into what I am feeling and matching them with a need – the feelings and needs can then be communicated to others as an invitation for them to be met with care.

The Center for Nonviolent Communication has some great resources and information to further guide emotional literacy and implement this approach.

Another tool I have really enjoyed are GROK cards. These are individual cards with one emotion and one need listed on them. You can then peruse the cards and see which feelings and/or needs resonate the most. When I’m really not sure what I’m feeling or needing, these cards have been very helpful in bringing me a sense of clarity.

Step 3 – Regulate Them

So we have this physical sensation that’s come up. We’ve located it in the body. And we’ve used our emotional literacy to label it and identify any corresponding need that goes along with it. Now what?

Often times emotions can feel really big – anger especially. Emotions really are just energy in emotion or e-motion so if you think of them from that perspective, emotions are just energy that needs to find a pathway out of the body.

What helps regulating emotions is highly personal but one thing that I have found consistently helpful across many people is heavy work – pushing through the body. This can be something such as tensions large muscles groups (legs), change position, grip hands or even toes in shoes tightly, using hands/arms to push on thighs if in a seated position and exhaling all of the air out of your lungs.

Drinking water, especially through a straw I’ve found helpful too. Playing with liquid temperatures – hot or cold can also sometimes be calming.

The idea is to move and make space for the emotions to be in your body without any sense of control.

Fear is often a tricky emotion that can make this process of experiencing emotions a real challenge. When emotions are really big, there might be fear that they will become so overwhelming that you’ll lose control.

I absolutely LOVE the Hendricks Institute’s Fear Melters® exercises for this. By helping me process any associated fear, I’m able to much more easily ride the “emotional waves” and help “bigger” emotions work through my body versus getting stuck.

The Emotional Freedom Technique or “tapping” is another way that many have found helpful. Here’s a study on its impact on Physiological Health.

Step 4 – Gain Intelligence

After there’s some emotional peace and calm, the final step in the process is to ask “What are my emotions telling me?” “Do I need to take any action?”

In Karla McLaren’s book, The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings are Trying to Tell You she goes over fourteen different emotions and several other emotional states with the purpose of guiding you toward a greater understanding of the meaning behind various emotions.

Emotions often have different meaning to each of us and have different meanings based on the context of the situation, however, there are some similarities. Anger for instance often arises when a boundary has been crossed. It may not even be a conscious boundary but something internally is alerting that there is unease or discomfort in the situation or environment. This alert can be used to gain greater internal clarity even when no outward action is necessary (or it will alert you that you need to take actual action).

While her book is helpful and worth a read, just asking yourself the questions included in this post often yield greater clarity and provide a sense of direction and next steps.

Step 5 – Move Forward

Once emotions have been identified, experienced, processed and used to gain a greater clarity, the final step is to move forward.

This may include expressing your needs to someone else, negotiating your needs with another, engaging in a conflict to reestablish a boundary, making an important decision, or just providing you with more information about the inner workings of your own body and mind.

The idea in this final piece of the process is that there is alignment between what your body is feeling and what your mind is thinking. When there is this kind of alignment, I have found that people make decisions (they do) from a true place of authentic self – they are making decisions that are in alignment with what they (both body and mind) need.

When we make decisions from a place of real, true, authenticity, we are not worried that we are taking on more than what our body can handle and we are not allowing our thoughts to limit what our body can actually do. From this place of alignment, we commit all of ourselves to that decision which is one of the key ways in which Sustainable Wealth is grown.

Emotions are one part of health, to learn more about how they may be impacting your overall health see this post on 8 Health Metrics to Track for Overall Health.

Disclaimer: The information contained within this post is meant as educational content and none of the information contained within this post should be taken as medical advice. You should always work with a licensed Healthcare Provider to discuss and address any of your health-related questions, concerns and needs. Please read the full disclaimer linked in the footer of this website for more information.

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Disclaimer: The information contained within this page is educational in nature and nothing within this page should be taken as medical or financial advice, as it is not medical or financial advice. You should always work directly with a licensed Healthcare Provider or a Certified Financial Professional to discuss and address any of your health-related or financial-related questions, concerns and needs. Please read the full disclaimer in the footer of this website for more information.

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