When You Are Having Big Feelings

When I sat down to write last week’s newsletter, I thought it would be full of lightness and the fresh energy of this much-anticipated spring but that’s not what tumbled out of my heart.

I am beyond thankful for the return of the sun and the birds, for the tips of green on the trees and the snowdrops coming up from newly exposed ground. I am also thrilled to see so many of my students getting their vaccines, starting to feel a sense of hope and relief, even seeing friends and family.


… and so many are still waiting.

… and so many lives have been lost.

… and in the midst of it all, we continue to face a racial crisis as Asian people are being targeted with violence (which is going starkly under-acknowledged), not to mention that anti-black racism hasn’t disappeared since it came into sharp relief last summer.

… and then there’s the complicated feelings we each might have about things returning to ‘normal’. Will we feel safe when we’re expected to return to work? Will there be work to return to? Will what we used to enjoy, like going to the movies or yoga class, ever be the same? Did the imposed restrictions surprise us with relief at the slower pace? Do we have to give that up?

It’s a lot.

And even as hope arrives in the form of spring, a vaccine and political change, we can find that our feelings don’t abate but intensify. In crisis situations we often push aside intense emotions in order to deal with the necessities. Then, when the pressure lessens, those feelings flow and need somewhere to go.

Whether it is as a result of the current context, something deeply personal or both, if you are having big feelings right now, I want to share some strategies with you.

Things to Do When You Have Big Feelings

  1. Move Your Body. Yes, this old chestnut. Choose an activity that supports the energetic expression of your emotion. Maybe you want to run. Maybe you want to dance. Maybe you want to lift weights or roll around and stretch on the floor. Maybe you want to move those big boxes in the garage or rearrange your furniture. Maybe you want to clean your bathtub. Moving your body helps emotional energy move along.
  2. Write. Letting it all out into your journal can be a powerful way of getting that emotional energy out of your system and onto the page. Your journal can hold it all with infinite patience and zero judgment. If you don’t want to keep a record or if you worry about someone finding all you’ve released, write on scrap paper and shred it, safely burn it or find another way to let it go.
  3. Make Marks. As creatives, we know there are many ways to pour ourselves onto the page. Making marks can be a great release of energy and can be less fraught with rumination than writing. What would feel right for your current state? Scribbling with crayons? Pushing hard on a pencil across the page? The smooth glide of markers? The smush of colourful pastels? Try a few things and see what brings a sense of satisfaction or relief. (By the way, both writing and mark-making are also ways of moving your body.)
  4. Water. Water is the element of the emotions. Let it be your ally in working with your big feelings. Have a shower and imagine all that excess energy washing away and slipping down the drain. Make sure you’re staying hydrated. Drinking enough water ensures that your physical system can flush away toxins, including those brought on by tension and stress.
  5. Breathe. Each time we breathe, we bring brand new air into our system and release what we no longer require. Actively imagine all the fresh and good coming into your system and all the strain and pressure leaving. Our breath is also a natural and physical rhythm and rhythm provides a sense of predictability and relief.
  6. Savour. Slow down and allow yourself to receive the beauty and blessings of the world. Sit in the sun and feel the gift of its warmth. Put on headphones, close your eyes and be awash in music. Plump up your pillow and cozy up in bed for a nap. If you have fur babies, give yourself over to cuddles and purrs. Let it be simple and be present to enjoy it.
  7. Talk. Reach out and share your heart with a trusted friend (and when you’re able, be that trusted friend for others.) Everyone needs to share and be witnessed. Some of us, extroverts in particular, only really understand ourselves when we talk out our feelings. Find a therapist who can support you, particularly if you are having trouble coping*.
  8. Take Action. Overwhelm often shows up when we are faced with things beyond our control. Taking action on the things that we do have some agency over, no matter how small, can help. This can be as simple as getting the dishes done or as significant as taking the first step in resolving an issue. I often think of a saying I first heard from Carrie Anne Moss, “When the pressure is on, act, and the pressure is off.”

In Journal Club last week, there were a lot of big feelings. It was a gift to have a place where we could be exactly where we were, a place where the full spectrum of our human experience was welcome. You are allowed to be exactly where you are and feel exactly what you feel. It doesn’t matter if it’s out of step with others or if it’s different than you expected. What matters is that you find your way to support yourself deeply and find a way through. Spring, in all its forms, will be here again.

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