I have aways been an “emotional” person. I not only feel very deeply through my own experiences, but I also tend to empathetically take on the sensations of others. I love people so much and seek out connection. But, it can also be quite overwhelming to feel the strong vibrations of emotion constantly pulsing through my body.
This is part of the reason that I spent most of my young years either reacting to or hiding from my feelings. I thrived on feeling what we label as “positive” emotions and sensations: pleasure, fun, excitement, passion, love, and joy. And when the “negative” ones would inevitably creep in, I would find a way to avoid them— whether it was with alcohol, gossip, codependency, shopping, reading… I could go on.
And although some of my buffers, or distractions, look different now (ahem- phones…), I still do this, sometimes with intention and other times through default patterns of behavior. I am guessing you also have your go-tos to ignore negative emotions. For some of you reading this, training might even be one of your vices.
One of my favorite gifts I have ever received is the message that feeling is part of a full human experience. I can feel all of my emotions, even the “negative” ones. And I will be okay.
This gift, from various teachers and mentors, has impacted me in all all parts of my life. I can better honor my needs. I can sit longer in moments of discomfort. I can be present with people in their hard times, instead of urging them to “look on the bright side.”
I can be more grounded as an athlete. I can take more risks. I can teach and lead my athletes to do the same.
I started on this journey for personal reasons that have little to do with my athletic or professional career. I was frankly tired of the consequences of reacting to my feelings. I was tired of running and hiding from parts of who I am. I wanted to allow myself to honestly feel it all, so that I had more energy to love.
The work is worth it. I have learned that my resistance to negative emotion only made it worse. That through incorporating many culturally accepted buffers like socially drinking, over exercising, people pleasing, time spent on social media, constant busy-ness… I would think that I had it all under control. That I could hide from negative feelings forever. Well, long story short— I couldn’t, and I still cannot. I eventually lose it, and then react in big ways that would often yield less than desirable consequences (and a lot of apologizing).
Although it wasn’t why I started seeking out this gift, it has had an enormous impact on my athletic and coaching career. I have witnessed and coached some pretty amazing athletes who have performed quite well through their ability to disconnect from their physical and emotional vibrations in their bodies. Their outward success made me think for a long time that “pushing things down” is the only way to get through an endurance event to the best of my ability.
But, I also knew all along that I personally could not shove my big feelings aside for long periods of time. I had to learn how to let them be present, even in the midst of tackling hard things. I had to practice this throughout all parts of my life in order to regain self trust. To believe that I can feel sadness, anger, frustration, hurt, fear, pain, and discomfort and still show up fully to each challenge. That what my body is telling me is not bad or wrong, and there is power in choosing how I want to outwardly react to the emotion.
Through my coaching career, I have learned that most amateur athletes also use endurance sports to connect to themselves and others on a deeper level. They want more out of the human experience. They want to fully feel the entire journey, not just cross the finish line in the shortest amount of time possible.
They want the struggle, and the joy, of feeling it all.
Do you want to start the process? Here are some thoughts on how to give yourself the great gift of feeling. To stop hiding. To not miss one more minute of this one messy, amazing life.
How to practice feeling it all:
- Slow down. Spend some intentional time alone each day or week.
- Practice connecting with your physical body. Find awareness in how your body moves, looks, and feels. Find time for pleasure. Look at yourself naked. Consider how certain foods, drinks, exercises, and time with specific people react in your body. (In other words.. be curious.)
- Identify the specific emotions that you are feeling in your body (I highly recommend Brene Brown’s book or HBO MAX special, Atlas of the Heart).
- When emotions surface, acknowledge and validate them. Sit quietly for 5-10 minutes, without judging or seeking out a distraction. Curiously inspect your body for changes at you experience the emotion. When you do this you will not only start to realize that you can feel all emotions and be okay, but you will also likely become very aware of your go-to buffers.
- Intentionally express the emotion, rather than blindly reacting. You can do this by journalling, crying, laughing, going for a walk (or other form of gentle exercise), listening to comforting music and/or dancing, taking a bath, creating something, or talking to a compassionate family member or friend (one who is a thoughtful, safe listener).
- Keep in mind: emotions are not permanent. They may last for shorter or longer than you prefer, but they are not supposed to last forever. Although we like to call emotions “positive” and “negative,” (and surely some feel better than others in our bodies), there are no “wrong” or “bad” emotions. They are all part of the human experience.
- And more than anything, be patient with yourself and this process. Learning to feel and express your emotions takes a lot of practice, and none of us will reach perfection.
But, I can tell you from experience—this gift will expand all of your life.
*Don’t miss Gift #4 on Saturday this week!