How do I know what I am feeling? Your simple guide to emotional check-ins.
Hi friends! It's been a while since I have posted on this blog and I apologise for that - I've somewhat got out of the habit of blogging and there's been a lot going on in my life during the last few months! Life is like that though, peaks and troughs and constant change which makes resilience the ability to go with the flow and let yourself off of the hook when things don't go to plan. You know I am always harping on about self compassion and I do always try to practise what I preach and that has looked like not giving myself a hard time about not showing up here as much as I would have liked during the first quarter of 2021. Here in the UK it feels like we are in the middle of a transitional phase, spring has certainly arrived and slowly things are beginning to open up again post winter Lockdown, so it feels like an appropriate time to return to this blog with some guidance for the current times (although hopefully this topic will help you even if you are reading many months or years into the future!).
We've all experienced changes in circumstances, difficulties & challenges over the last 12 months with ongoing Lockdowns and anxiety caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. You might expect to be feeling better now that we are moving forwards with a plan to get 'back to normal' (whatever that means!) but I know that many people aren't feeling the reassurance and relief that they thought they would and instead are still feeling anxious, low, moody and frustrated. This is an understandable response and there is no wrong or right way to respond in this situation. The Lockdown at least gave some certainty to our lives and the opening up of things brings about uncertainty again which is what causes those feelings of unease and anxiety. It's important you don't rush yourself or others to get back to your pre-Covid life, giving yourself time to adjust at your own pace is a beautiful act of self care so I encourage you to take the pressure off.
What is an emotional check in & how can it help us now?
During the last year whilst everything has been paused we've all been forced into spending more time at home than ever before. Many of us have reflected on our previous busy lives full of hustle & rushing around and have considered how going forwards we may want to do things differently. This is our opportunity to create a life full of the activities & people we choose and want in our lives. We don't want to mindlessly say yes to everyone and everything and end up back in a state of disconnection from what is meaningful to us and out of touch with our emotions. That is why I believe it is so important to learn how to check in with our emotions and for it to become a daily habit. When we have this skill in our wellbeing toolkit we can make choices & decisions that will benefit us and learn to put boundaries in place to protect our wellbeing & energy.
Why do an emotional check in?
Most people I speak to have a vague sense of wanting to feel better, they want relief from their emotions or they have a nagging sensation that things aren't as they should be however many people find it difficult to answer simple questions about how they feel. The reason it's important to be able to pinpoint & understand your emotions is because it's impossible to work out what might help or improve your situation & emotional responses if you don't know what's going on inside of you right now. Every person is unique and every treatment & path to recovery is individual to each person, it's not a one size fits all situation. Therefore it's essential to understand how you are feeling right now so you can begin to notice patterns in how you feel and respond and make changes to improve your future emotional wellbeing.
An emotional check in is simple but that doesn't mean it is easy.
We live in a world that encourages us to be distracted, to constantly be thinking about the future and to be in our own heads 24/7 or staring at a screen. I am going to break down how to do an emotional check in into 5 steps, but please know that this takes practise, it's about developing the ability to be in the present moment and it's normal for that to be difficult when first learning this skill.
How to do an emotional check in?
1. do a body scan & notice sensations
Your body can tell you a lot about how you are feeling sometimes before you've become aware of the emotion yourself, so if you struggle to know how you feel the perfect place to start is with a body scan. Close your eyes and take your focus down your body from head to toe, pause and reflect about each area of your body and notice what is going on there. Do you have a headache? Are your shoulders tense? What is your heart rate like? Do you have butterflies in your stomach? Sweaty hands? The more you check in with yourself and your emotions the more you will notice patterns & connections between certain physical sensations and your emotional experience. This will be unique to you as we all feel our emotions differently.
2. relax - take a deep breath
Often our minds are racing and full of chatter when we need to do an emotional check in therefore Step 2 is to help you calm your mind and help you to focus on your emotional experience. As you all know you can't just tell your mind to empty and it complies (oh if only it was this easy!) so I find the best way to calm your mind is to take a long, slow deliberate breath in and out. This stimulates the vagus nerve telling your brain & body to calm down: try breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 7 and then breathing out for 8. You can do this a few times until you feel physically calmer and able to focus on your emotions.
3. reflect - how am I feeling right now?
This is your chance to practise curiosity over judgement, this isn't about whether what you are feeling is right or wrong but about reflecting and noticing what you are experiencing. If it helps ask the question out loud "how am I feeling right now?" Remember this is all helping you to develop and practise mindfulness, this is about how you are feeling in this exact moment.
4. name & describe your emotions
It is likely you will begin with a vague sense of feeling low or unhappy so treat this as a starting point, the more accurately you can name and describe your emotions the more relief you will feel from this exercise. When we haven't been taught how to process or reflect on our emotions we sometimes struggle to pinpoint exactly how we feel and we can't seem to find the names for the exact emotion. If this is something you struggle with then I encourage you to use this fabulous resource The Feelings Wheel - in the centre of the wheel you will find the names of some broad emotion categories you recognise (bad, fearful, angry, disgusted, sad, happy, surprised), you can then move towards the outer edge of the wheel and find some more words to accurately name & describe your emotions, helping you to understand the nuance of each experience.
5. consider contributing factors
This is where you can begin to reflect and consider what may be affecting the way you feel or contributing to it. Life is complex so there often isn't a straightforward answer of cause & effect, however the more we emotionally check in with ourselves the more we can spot patterns and correlations. And by naming & understanding our emotions we have the power to decide whether to accept how we feel (not everything needs fixing!) or reflecting on how we can do things differently next time in a similar scenario. We can't change things outside of our awareness and so developing this emotional awareness helps you to consider how you want your life to look and what you can do about it.
Emotional check ins aren't easy because becoming aware of our uncomfortable feelings isn't exactly a walk in the park, it can feel awkward and we are often resistant to it. However the more we practise this skill the easier it becomes so I recommend trying to incorporate this into your daily life and see how it helps you to understand yourself better. Maybe set an alarm and try checking in with yourself every morning, or maybe in the evening before you go to bed and use it as a way of reflecting on the day.
I hope you have found this guide helpful and that you can see how understanding your emotions could help you make positive changes in your life. If this has got you thinking about your own emotions and you would like to know how therapy could help you explore this subject further please get in touch to book a free consultation where we can discuss how working with me may help.
In addition to working 1-1 with me, I would also love to help you through my monthly email The Nudge. This is a monthly email of self care reminders & reflection prompts to help you check in with yourself at the beginning of each month. If that sounds helpful and you would like to be added to my list please fill out your email address here.
I am an Integrative Therapist who works remotely online with millennials who are anxious, lost, and overwhelmed. I work collaboratively with people to support them in their emotional wellbeing, to develop skills in self-care and to foster a deeper understanding of themselves. If you would like to find out how I can help you to understand your emotions better, please book a free consultation to see if we are well suited to work together.
Alternatively, please come connect with me over on Instagram - I would love to get to know you further.