Practice: An alternative to “sitting with your emotions”
Alyssa has been a busy body all her life. Lately, she finds she's juggling all the things (full-time WFH, parenting, school, exercise, her pets, shopping for her parents during COVID). She feels like she's constantly behind and panics when she looks at her to-do list. Usually, when she's overwhelmed, Alyssa locks her jaw, swallows her emotions and tries to willpower her way through.
This reflex isn't working anymore and Alyssa feels on the edge of burnout.
In a coaching session, we discussed that swallowing her emotions was adding fuel to her panic and burnout. The alternative approach of sitting and feeling her emotions sounded impossible (also totally incomprehensible). So we did the exercise below in real time together.
It is helpful to partner up in this exercise as someone's voice can help ground and anchor you. Alyssa and I did this over the phone and with no video.
Confusion and feeling utterly overwhelmed was swirling in Alyssa when we did this practice. I asked her to identify where in her body she felt the overwhelm. She said she could feel it in her heart. I asked her to describe the sensation. She replied that her heart felt a combination of constriction and overflow at the same time. Her heart was tight but she could also feel like there was a hole - bottom left corner to be exact.
I suggested she put her hand on her heart and keep it there until the body sensation passed. After a minute or two, Alyssa said the tightness was gone.
She couldn’t feel anything next. Just numbness. I told her to wait it out. Numbness was her body’s way of resisting this exploration. After a couple of minutes, Alyssa said she could feel some constriction in her chest. She placed her hand there and we waited until the sensation passed.
The emotion moved to her vocal chords. She put her hands on the sides of her neck and felt the urge to take some “cleansing exhales”.
After 15 minutes of doing this practice, Alyssa felt her body sink into a state of deep peace and exhaustion. She felt hungry which was shocking to her. She realized she couldn't remember the last time she'd felt hunger.
When asked if she could translate her body sensations into a message, she took a moment and responded with, “You are enough. You are enough. You don’t need to over-speak, over-share and over-communicate to get attention and garner self worth. You are loved. You deserve love. You are proud... Dude, I don’t know what voodoo shit you just did but holy hell, I’ve never felt this way in my entire life”.
This practice usually takes 10-20 minutes. As emotions process, it’ll travel around the body - physical sensation to sensation. By placing a hand on that body part and giving attention each time, you’re showing acceptance. Instead of meeting emotions with resistance and repression, you are letting it naturally flow through and then dissipate.
*Note: This experience will be subtly different each time and with different people. Sometimes, you can see strong colors or lights overlaying your body. For example, I often see a faint blue light hovering behind my heart like a sunset. Sometimes, you will see actual images and visualizations. This is all normal and just let it be. Sometimes, you’ll be able to discern clear meaning and sometimes, it won’t make sense. This is ok, your brain is doing its best to construct mental associations as it attempts to process and categorize your experience.