Two words get repeated as I work with clients throughout the coronavirus pandemic:
- “I’m so stressed.”
- “I feel anxious all the time.”
“Stressed” and “anxious” are the descriptions we are using most often to talk about our emotional state. That seems to describe what’s going on inside.
But does it really?
When I ask a client to slow down for a minute and feel what’s beneath that first thought — “I’m stressed” — most folk discover there are other feelings too. Feeling like: “I’m scared.” “I’m sad.” “I feel overwhelmed by the world.” Or, “I am just tired of this going on and on without knowing what’s next.”
A world of feelings is bubbling along. And then many clients ask, “Why does it matter if I call it stress or talk about all these other emotions?”
These distinctions are important for two reasons.
1) Pausing allows feelings to be processed
When we stop for a second and become aware that we are using the generic words “stress” or “anxious,” the pause itself gives us space to feel. Slowing down and allowing feelings to be is what helps feelings move on and through us.
It is tempting (and often habitual) to assume that if I don’t feel something, it will go away. But, in fact, the opposite is true. The more we try to glide over our feelings, the more they deepen and persist.
Pausing to notice what we are feeling gives room for movement and change.
2) Distinguishing feelings can provide acceptance and sometimes control
The second reason it helps to notice and identify what we are actually feeling is that it can give us a sense of acceptance and sometimes control. “Oh, so what I’m feeling is frustration — of course I am. This is a challenging situation. “
Or, “I’m angry and disappointed, but not stressed. I have been angry before and I know what works for me when I am.”
Accurately labeling our feelings gives us power and space. And who doesn’t need that right now?
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