How to own your feelings
Mental Health America sent me a massive packet of inciteful information in conjunction with Mental Health Month. Included was the URL for a website (mhanational.org/screening-tools) where one can take several online tests to evaluate your propensity for conditions such as psychosis, bipolar, eating, or post-traumatic stress disorders, depression and anxiety.
These surveys are more of prognosis than diagnosis and MHA cautions that they are no substitute for professional mental health counseling. Out of curiosity, I took the one about depression. Honestly, it wasn’t easy being honest with myself, much less the survey, because it’s ingrained in me to say I’m fine when, in fact, maybe I’m not. So, today we’re going to talk about feelings and owning them, honestly.
“It’s common to feel stressed or anxious during this time,” National Alliance on Mental Illness says. “It may be especially hard for people who already manage feelings of anxiety or emotional distress. Recognizing how you’re feeling can help you care for yourself, manage your stress, and cope with difficult situations.”
In customer service training, we teach validating emotions. The truth is that if a customer is angry, it’s better to acknowledge the anger rather than minimize or disregard it before explaining why something didn’t go according to their expectation.
What we need to be able to do is validate our own emotions. Mental Health America says, “It can be easy to get caught up in your emotions as you’re feeling them. Most people don’t think about what emotions they are dealing with, but taking the time to really identify what you’re feeling can help you better cope with challenging situations.”
Societal pressure can make us shut down. People say things that can make us feel inadequate with phrases like “man up” or “put on your big girl panties.” These outdated ideas are downright harmful.
“Everyone has emotions — they are part of the human experience — and you have every right to feel them, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic status, race, political affiliation or religion,” MHA says.
We shouldn’t bottle up these feelings. Putting a cork in a Molotov cocktail-type emotion gives it a license to explode when we least expect it. You may find that you have to control a reaction at the moment, but you should try to face it head-on as soon as possible.
How do you do that? Start by telling someone you trust how you’re feeling. “You may find people are eager to share about similar experiences they’ve had or times they have felt the way you are feeling,” MHA says. But, they add the caveat that if you don’t want to listen to someone else’s issues, you should feel comfortable saying that what you want is someone to listen, not tell you their opinions on how to fix you.
MHA also encourages building an emotional vocabulary. “At the root of ‘good, bad, sad, mad, or fine’ are many words that better describe how we feel.” The list should include positive feelings as well as negative feelings.
Are you feeling admired, affectionate, confident, excited, exhilarated, grateful, included, intrigued, joyful, peaceful, and refreshed? Or are you afraid, agitated, angry, anxious, confused, disconnected, disgusted, embarrassed, envious, helpless, pained, sad, stressed, tired, or vulnerable? A good thesaurus can give you a lot of synonyms to describe all of these feelings, and it may be a good exercise to look them up.
MHA suggests journaling. Write down two or three feelings you felt throughout the day and what triggered them. Prompts such as, “I felt bad when (blank) happened, but what I was feeling was (blank) and (blank). Then change “bad” to “sad” or “mad” or “good” or “happy.”
They also say to consider the strength of your feelings. “By thinking about how intense your emotions are, you may realize what you thought you were feeling at first could be better described by another word.”
If you can describe your feelings, but can’t deal with them, consider seeing a mental health provider. Bonner General Behavioral Health’s phone number is 208-265-1090.
My test result said that I was minimally depressed. With all that’s going on in the world, I think that’s the new normal for a lot of us. What about you?
Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at email@example.com.