Us Finns are great at suppressing our feelings. The Finnish "sisu", the stoic determination and resilience is highly regarded here. Falling apart, having a breakdown, being happy and loving, crying or expressing other "big" feelings is considered weak. However, feelings and emotions are there for many good reasons, and recognising them is very important. Your feelings aren't wrong nor they should be ignored.
While a constant turmoil of emotions isn't healthy either, and can increase your stress and anxiety, the stoic emotionless existence is bad as well. Suppressing feelings makes you tense and increases your stress. It can be a cause of your depression and, with the flux of stress hormones, affect your appetite. It may make you physically ill, starting with tense muscles, continuing to weakened immune system and heart diseases. Besides, suppressing feelings is harmful for your relationships. When the others can't read you, they become confused and may respond with anger. Those feelings you are suppressing are your mind and body trying to tell you something.
You don't need to become controlled by your feelings, nor it's necessarily a good idea. Instead you'll benefit from acknowledging your emotions and feelings, feeling them and knowing how to work with them. Learn to accept your feelings, and the fact that you are feeling them. Even the unpleasant and overwhelming ones.
Let's take fear as an example. Fear is a signal of distress and self-preservation. It has helped you and your ancestors to survive, so it's not something to ignore. A common advice is to learn to suppress and ignore your fear. Fear is just in your mind, it's not real. That's true, it is just in your mind and it is not fear. But, such as any other feelings and emotions, it's there for a reason. Fear is a response to perceived danger or threat, thus it can keep you alert in situations where you should keep alert. Obviously, fear can also paralyse you, in which case it's not very useful. Rather than learning to suppress your fear, you could learn to acknowledge and even review your feeling of fear.
Why are you feeling fear? What happened, is about to happen, or you think might happen, to evoke the feeling of fear? What does happen if you act against your fear? What happens if you act according to your feeling of fear? Is the feeling of fear relevant to the situation you are in?
Sometimes you feel fear about good things. You are about to start a new job or a new relationship, publish a blog post or a book, email your list, eat something new and different, wear a new lipstick for the first time in public, attend an event. And for some reason, you feel fear and anxiety. The fear in these cases is mainly a response to new things. The primal part of your brain is still wired to think that everything new is potentially dangerous. That's important for survival, so that you won't go and try everything new: "Oh, look! A strange looking mushroom! Let's eat it!"
Also the fear in those examples could be a response to your excitement. Feeling excitement and fear can cause similar physical and mental responses. Thus sometimes you aren't completely sure whether you are experiencing excitement or fear, or if those feelings are overlapping. You can think you are feeling fear, when you are really feeling excitement, and the other way around.
No feeling you feel is wrong. Uncomfortable feelings and emotions can cause you to try and reject the feeling. And sometimes you may find yourself feeling something you didn't expect or want to feel in a certain situation. You might find yourself feeling joy in a situation where you expect to feel sad. Or you can feel angry in situations where you expect to be happy. Feelings aren't that simple. We perceive our own and other people's reactions and feelings as right and wrong. Watch any crime television show and you know that the wife, who didn't respond with a huge outpour of sadness and anxiety towards hearing their husband was killed in suspicious circumstances, is the murderer. Too easy. Way too easy.
In reality people respond to different situations with many different emotions. There's no right or wrong way to feel in a situation, because you cannot control the way you feel. Have you ever experienced a belated emotion? Yes, it happens quite often. Especially when things happen fast, sometimes the feelings come afterwards. Traumatic experiences can evoke emotions years later, when it may be difficult to track down the initial reason for the feeling.
What can you do with your feelings, then? There's a simple answer to that. Accept and feel them. Learning to accept your feelings is good for you and good for the people around you. Accepting your feelings means, you don't judge your own emotional experiences. You won't try to change or control them. Your feelings and emotions cannot harm you themselves. Trying to get rid of them, that's what is harmful. Trying not to feel feelings you may resort to alcohol or drug abuse, overeating, self-harm, violent behaviour towards others, and other such behaviour. Nullifying your feelings isn't the way to go. Accept your feelings as they come and as they are. Feel how they feel.
Feel fear, feel anxiety, feel the depression. Feel the joy, the love, the whatever feeling you are feeling. Feel it. Acknowledge and accept you are having this emotional experience. If it's possible, try to review your feelings. Think why you are feeling this way, what evoked and triggered the feeling, what is it a response to, what happens if you act against this feeling and what happens if you let yourself feel this way, and so forth. In some situations this can be difficult at the moment, but usually you can reflect on your feelings afterwards. If you just give it an effort.
Accepting your emotions doesn't mean you are resigning. You aren't giving up and letting go. You are accepting the fact that you have this emotional response to this situation. And you accept the fact the emotion is fleeting. Even in long-term depression, the "worse" feelings are not permanent and will pass within minutes or hours. Welcome the knowledge of that.
Journaling, private diaries and even public social media updates, videos and blog posts are ways to reflect with your feelings. It can be easier to do the reflection in private, and public reflection is a bit advanced method. Though public reflection can be beneficial too, I've noticed. Obviously you can talk about your feelings with a friend or family, or with a professional therapist or coach. It can be a great idea, if you feel you are getting overwhelmed and stuck with your feelings. Meditation and mindfulness practices can also help with accepting your feelings.
Feeling your emotions, and accepting your emotional experiences can help with coping with your depression and anxiety. I have personally found it extremely beneficial with my depression and the burnouts I've had, when I've acknowledged the fact that I am depressed or having a burnout. I also sooth my (these days quite rare) anxiety attacks by admitting the fact that I'm having an anxiety attack, decidedly not judging myself for it, and reviewing what triggered the anxiety attack. Just by recognising and accepting my depression and anxiety attacks, I'm able to make them tolerable and, in a sense, manageable.
Accepting your own feelings makes it also easier to accept those of others. When you realise their feelings are about themselves, you'll find it easier to stop thinking that everything is about you. As well as your own emotional responses are all acceptable, so are those of others. (This doesn't mean accepting mental or physical violence, though.)
There's no point fighting against your feelings. They exist and they happen, whether you want it or not. Acknowledging and accepting your feelings makes it easier for you to deal with them.
Slow Sunday is a series about slowing down, dealing with depression and anxiety, soothing your stress, relaxing, and getting over yourself. Do let me know if you have a specific subject you'd like me to write about. And please, share your personal thoughts and feelings about the subject in the comment area of the article.
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