Our bodies hold our feelings and emotions. Feeling joyful? You might feel a warmth in your chest and face that prompts you to smile from ear to ear.
Feeling sad? You might feel an emptiness in your chest.
Feeling anxious? You may feel your heart racing or palms become sweaty.
Feeling ashamed? Your chest may ache and feel tightness in your throat.
How feelings show up in the body vary depending on the person and situation. For one person, the feeling of hunger may manifest as a rumbling in the stomach. For another person, hunger may show up as a headache. Feelings are not concrete, so it’s hard to create a standard of how one “should feel.”
Truth is, we are all feeling something at any given time, whether we are aware of it or not. We might feel “positive” feelings such as joy, peace, and contentment. We might feel “neutral” feelings such as boredom and indifference. We might feel “negative” feelings such as depression, fear, contempt, anger, insecurity, inadequacy , or others. Some individuals may be better attuned to their feelings than others.
Lights on a Car Dashboard
Feelings in the body are similar to the dashboard in a car. If you have your license to drive, you are familiar with the “low fuel” light that turns on, alerting you that you are running low on gas. The alert signals to you that you need to pull over soon to fill the gas tank. If you fail to acknowledge the alert, you won’t take the necessary precaution, and end up on the side of the highway.
Imagine your body as the car. Your body is the vehicle that allows your soul to experience this life, that is filled with many beautiful ups and sorrowful downs, and to be in community with many wonderful people (and maybe, not so wonderful people).
For some of us, we drive our vehicles and run them to the ground. Our “dashboard” may have all its lights turned on, alerting us that we need to pull over. But we don’t. We carry on, because we need to continue with the mission. We might be feeling overwhelmed, fearful, inadequate, rage, grief, all at the time same—but we continue moving forward, completely ignoring our emotions.
1 Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are our vessels. Often, we see this verse and think about the ways that we need to fuel our bodies with proper exercise and nourishment. We can run five miles and eat salads every day to maintain our heath, but if we refuse to process our feelings, we may cause a different kind of damage to our bodies.
How to Effectively Process Feelings
When the lights on the car dashboard light up, the first thing we do is notice the light. When we notice, we are acknowledging, and/or observing. We must take the same approach to our feelings.
This happens when we remain curious and compassionate with what we’re feeling. Examples include:
- “I see that I have been smiling all day and have been feeling joyful. Could it be because of the summer vacation coming up?”
- “My heart feels heavy, and I feel so numb. Maybe I’m feeling sad? I wonder if any critical or judgmental thoughts have been running in the background to be contributing to my feelings.”
- “I’m noticing my heart is racing, and I’m feeling rather anxious. I wonder what I have been thinking or going through this past week to bring this about.”
After you have acknowledged your feelings by staying curious and compassionate with yourself, the next step is to determine the course of action.
Sometimes, our “dashboard” suggests that we are tired. We may tune into our bodies and notice that we are tired, but we must go to work because we have bills to pay. The inner dialogue of a tired person who must go to work may look like this:
Step 1: “I am noticing that my body feels very weak this morning. My eyes are so heavy. I am so tired” (Notice/Observe/Acknowledge).
Step 2: “I’m wondering if it’s because I worked out at the gym four days this week. Well, my tiredness makes sense given that context” (Stay Curious/Compassionate).
Step 3: “I know I can’t sleep in this morning, because I’ll be late to work. But I will be gentle with myself this morning. I will refrain from self-criticism/judgement, take some deep breaths, and talk to God about how I’m feeling. This weekend, I will allow myself to sleep in a few hours” (Course of Action).
Sometimes, we are rushing through our days, and we will only engage in Step 1. Then our bodies don’t feel heard and continue to send signals that we are tired. If we do this for a long period of time, it’s no surprise that our bodies may shut down to establish equilibrium.
We must slow down. We must tune in and pay attention. Our bodies will thank us for it.
If you are having a hard time slowing down to articulate and attend to your emotions, you are not alone. With the help of a counselor, you can attend to your dashboard. To reach out to our counselors, visit www.burkecommunity.com/careandcounseling.