Throughout our lives, many of us learn that feelings are useless, dramatic, or weak. As a consequence, we may repress our feelings to the point that they're not there when we need them. But what we've been taught is a lie: Getting in touch with your emotions makes you a better decision-maker, a better judge of character, and a warmer person.
"In today’s world, it is easy to become stuck in our heads and rely only on our minds as we go through life," Personal Development Coach Lisa Philyaw tells Bustle. "However, a holistic approach — one that also encompasses your heart and how you are feeling — allows for a more comprehensive perspective."
In fact, research suggests that people who are in touch with their feelings make better choices. One study in Psychological Science found that people who listened to changes in their heart rate were more likely to win a card game. Our bodies and minds really are connected, and the things we think of as "gut feelings" are just our minds figuring things out before we even know.
How do you get in touch with your emotions after a lifetime of pushing them down, though? Here are some ways to figure out how you're feeling.
Pay Attention To Your Body
"Feelings have physical origin," psychotherapist Sheri Heller, LCSW tells Bustle. "Often, we get so caught up in ritualistic tasks and pursuits that we operate in a disconnected way, numb to our genuine feelings and thoughts. In order to identify and relate to our emotions, we need to know what it means to be deeply grounded and in touch with our sensorial sensations." One way to do this is to do a "body scan": Starting from your head and going down to your toes, take note of every sensation you're feeling, from your heartbeat to any lumps in your throat. These are all clues into how you're feeling.
Talk About It
Even if you're not sure exactly what you're feeling, try to put words to it. The more you do, the easier it'll get. "Simply giving expression to one’s feelings through mindful authentic communication with loved ones establishes a habituated connection to one’s feelings," says Heller. "Deeper exploration and processing of one’s emotional world can also occur with a psychodynamic therapist."
Give Yourself Three Options
An open-ended question like "How am I feeling?" can be overwhelming, so instead, Winters suggests asking yourself if you feel good, bad, or neutral about something. "That can be a starting point and can help you narrow down the specific feeling or feelings you may have on this particular topic," she says. "Be mindful that you may feel a combination of emotions. Some may range from good to bad or neutral to bad. That's OK."
Your fingertips might know how you're thinking before your mind does. To get it out, try writing in a journal or even just on your computer. "Write whatever comes to your mind," says Winter. "It doesn't have to be organized in any way, so don't worry about it making sense or being in complete sentences. When you're done, look back at what you wrote and see what feelings or thoughts come up for you."
Set An Alarm
Checking in with your feelings is a habit you may have to get used to. Philyaw recommends setting a reminder on your phone that will go off a few times a day. When you hear it, ask yourself, "What am I feeling right now?" You can also ask yourself this question when your alarm goes off in the morning.
Put Up A "Feeling Wheel"
Philyaw suggests printing out a feeling wheel like this one and put it somewhere in your home where you'll see it a lot. "Whenever your eye catches it, take a moment to label the specific feeling you are having," she says. You might be surprised by how many feelings you have at any given moment.
Feeling your feelings won't necessarily be comfortable, because you'll have to accept the bad ones with the good. But the more you can sit with them, the more control you'll have over them and the less they'll control you.