One time or another, we’ve all felt happy, sad, excited, stressed, angry, curious, scared, embarrassed, or proud, as well as countless other emotions and combinations thereof. For better or worse, feelings are something we all experience constantly - they shape how we view life, and life shapes the feelings we have. Sometimes we like them, other times we don’t, but without emotions, there wouldn’t be much to existence.
But in addition to being a crucial aspect of our lives, they can also be a very difficult part to deal with. This is true from childhood through old age, but especially during adolescence, and all the hormonal changes that come along with puberty, mood swings and emotions that seem either unfounded or disproportionate can be very common.
Of course, being common doesn’t mean being easy. Feelings can be incredibly confusing and hard to handle. I’ve been trying to master the art of dealing with emotions for seventeen years, and I haven’t yet even come close to finishing that project. That said, one essential life skill—and, unfortunately, one that can be remarkably difficult, or at least is for me—at dealing with these feelings is the ability to express them, as I mentioned in my earlier blog post on dealing with Mood Swings. Ultimately, bottling up feelings rarely, if ever, is an effective strategy in the long run, and it's important to be able to control your self-expression so that it can manifest itself in more positive, constructive ways (even when it comes to negative emotions), without ending up suppressing the emotions altogether.
That's easier said than done, of course, and it's something I still struggle with. But today—partly for the very reason that it's something I'm working on too, so I have a long way to go before I reach the other side of this mountain—I thought I'd talk a bit about some of the many ways that we can express our emotions in ways that are beneficial, rather than harmful.
- Identify... and accept
Okay, so this first step isn't exactly a method of self-expression in and of itself... but is often rather vital to being able to move ahead with the others, so I'd say it belongs in this article. One of the things that's hardest for me when tackling my feelings is that, half the time, I don't even know how I feel. If I don't know how I feel, how am I suppose to express it to myself, let alone to others? Emotions seldom come as isolated sensations—most of the time, you'll be feeling more than one thing at once. Sometimes, they might even seem contradictory; maybe you're simultaneously nervous and eager for something, or the same thing makes you both happy and sad at the same moment. (There's a reason for the phrase "mixed feelings"!) That is completely normal, and though it can certainly be confusing, there's nothing wrong with it either.
However, if you're able to break down exactly how you're feeling at the moment, you can accomplish two things at once. First of all, having identified how you're feeling can make it easier to know how to handle it. And secondly, just taking that step back to look objectively at your emotions and loosen their grip on you and make you better able to cope—if you can take a more detached perspective on your own emotions, you're already halfway to being able to control them.
It's okay if you aren't able to identify just how you feel (especially given that moods also tend to fluctuate fairly rapidly sometimes, particularly during puberty), but if you can make a start, that's great. Try picking out the names of the things you're feeling: Frightened, mad, ashamed, whatever it is. Just identifying and putting it down on paper can be a great idea, but I'll talk more about that later.
Most importantly—whether you find yourself able to slap a label on every facet of your current emotional state or not (in my case, it's usually "not")—try your best to accept yourself and your emotionality as you are, negative feelings and all. This doesn't mean you can't strive to develop your emotional responses for the better, but what it comes down to is that none of us are perfectly happy and kind all the time, and that's all right. Every scrap of feeling you have (no matter how unpleasant it might sometimes feel, or how illogical it might sometimes seen—speaking of which, it's also important to recognize that having slightly irrational moods or emotions is also normal, and while nobody likes it, and it's great to try and work on yourself as a person and prevent yourself from developing so many illogical feelings, it's also okay if you do) is valid, one way or another, and if you don't have that type of understanding and acceptance going into it, it can be very hard, if not outright impossible, to express it.
That was a long introduction, but now let's get onto some various methods and channels of expressing yourself and your emotions.
Obvious though this one might seem, don't "write it off"! (Okay, I know that was a truly terrible pun. I apologize. xD) One self-explanatory, straightforward, yet effective way of expressing your emotions is simply by putting them into words. Writing your feelings out can help both with the process of identifying and naming your emotions, and with getting them out of yourself. NMG is one safe, accepting platform you could use to write about your feelings (see posts such as Get It Out, and countless others!)—journaling can also be a good channel. Even if no one else is even going to be reading what you're writing, just expressing it in some way, getting it out of yourself, can be incredibly meaningful. There are also lots of other great reasons for journaling, if you want to give it a try; in fact, you can read some excellent Sister to Sister posts on NMG on journaling, written by other S2S mentors, such as this one by Alexandra, and this one by Catherine.
This is a more generic technique, but it works. Your thoughts and feelings are closely related to your body, and it's incredible the impact physical wellbeing can have on emotional wellbeing (and vice versa). Just engaging in normal physical activity can also be a great way of releasing your feelings. (Remember not to go too far, though—it's healthy and important to be active, and pushing/challenging yourself is fine to some extent, but going to extremes won't help anyone.) This can include going jogging, joining an athletic team, or spending an hour the gym, if you like, but it can also just mean biking to school or going for a walk a few times around the block. While I'd like to think I'm pretty healthy, I've never once gone to the gym or played a sport seriously, but it never ceases to amaze me how much just walking helps me cope with my feelings. The double benefit of getting exercise outdoors is that the physical exertion (getting your heart beating, your blood flowing, etc.) is good, and you can do that at one and the same time as breathing fresh air (better yet, if you have access to a nature area, there's research that shows that spending time in nature is very good for your wellbeing). It's just plain healthy, both physically and mentally/emotionally—and I'm willing to bet that, no matter who you are, there's some form of exercise that will work for you.
This one is actually not something that I necessarily can claim firsthand experience with; although I do certainly find taking time to just relax and not think of anything in particular however I've never really gotten into meditation myself in any serious form. However, I know people who have, and it's supposed to be a great technique of reducing stress and letting emotions go. Because I haven't done it myself, I won't write any more on this one, but if you're interested, here's the link to an article on WikiHow containing some simple advice for "Mindful Meditation": https://www.wikihow.com/Do-Mindful-Meditation There are lots of other resources available online as well, so if you like, I'd recommend talking to your parents and asking them to help you look of those other resources.
... Okay, I admit it, in the last two bits, I haven't really been talking entirely about expressing emotions, per se, but more just about ways of handling them. I wanted to include those points, however, because they seemed important and relevant to the topic, even if not quite literally methods of expression. This one, however, is clearly and unambiguosly a type of self-expression: Creativity. Most of you (in fact, I'd dare say, all of you) are very creative people, each in your own way. (S2S mentor Alexandra also wrote a great blog post on Expressing Yourself.) Countless artists use their imagination and talents as a channel for their thoughts and feelings. In my case, music and writing and two of my favorite ways of expressing myself and my emotions, and there are, of course, innumerable other types of artistry and creativity. I'll list just a few of them below:
- Creative writing
- ... And so many others!
Yes, here we are: The most self-explanatory way of all of expressing emotions, yet for some of us (definitely for me), also the hardest. There's something about putting your emotions into words and saying them to someone else that, at least for me, can feel a bit like making myself vulnerable. At the same time, though, it takes a lot of strength to be able to "lay yourself bare" like that—and, more importantly, sometimes there's nothing that can be quite so relieving as getting your emotions off your shoulders (without being too self-absorbed) and telling them to someone you trust who will listen. Another upside to talking about your feelings to another person is that, if you need it, they can help or offer support. And not only that; if you set the example of being open about your feelings, you might just end up giving someone else the courage to do the same, starting a chain effect.
If you're not sure how to break the ice and bring emotions up (it can definitely feel awkward at times), it's alright to be open about it; phrases such as "Hey, do you mind if I talk to you about something?" or "Would you be okay with listening to a vent?" can be helpful. One thing I would caution against is making the person you're talking to feel pressured to listen, which is why checking to see if they're comfortable talking/listening about feelings (not to mention if they're available; many people might be happy to listen in theory, but simply don't have the time right now, or are currently grappling with something going on in their own lives) is a good idea. It might also be worthwhile to clarify if you're asking for help ("If you have any advice for me, I would really appreciate that, but no pressure") or if you just want someone to lend a supportive ear ("I just need to rant"), so that the family member, friend, or whoever is listening to you doesn't think you're expecting something that you aren't.
Another route to look into, if your emotions seem to be getting out of hand or you just can't think of anyone you know whom you feel comfortable enough with talking to, would be talking to a counselor/therapist. In a way, these are people for whom much of their career simply involves being a good listener and offer whatever support they can. Many schools have counselors available, I believe and there are other counseling/therapy programs and serivices out there as well, which you and/or an adult could look into.
In the end, challenging though expressing yourself in positive ways (including negative emotions) can be, it's almost always better than trying to keep everything simmering inside you. (To use the bottle analogy, if you keep trying to "bottle up" your feelings, then it's only a matter of time before it bursts into a full-on boil and breaks through the bottle—better avoid all that broken glass in the first place.)
I hope some of the conntent of this blog post was helpful to some of you—and with any luck, I'll be able to make progress on following my own advice as well. In the meantime, if any of you ever want someone to talk to through writing, my PM Inbox is always open, and I'm always willing to listen to anything. <3
How do you feel about feelings? Do you ever have difficulty expressing yourself or your emotions, or does it come naturally to you? If you have any advice or recommendations of your own to share (or any experiences, thoughts, additions, or feedback on my tips), please share in the comments section below! :) (And if you have general comments on Sister to Sister—as opposed to a specific S2S blog post—you can also share your thoughts in the "What Do You Think?" section to the left!)
For better or worse, emotions are an essential part of what makes us who we are, and ultimately, the best thing we can do is to embrace that. <'3