When clients are driven to therapy by unwanted, overwhelming, negative emotions, I frequently ask clients how these emotions feel in their body. I would guess that 7 out of 10 struggle to describe physical sensations related to emotion. ‘It’s more in my head, my thoughts’ or ‘it’s not physical, it’s just that I know’. But how do you know you are experiencing an emotion?
Emotions are physical. The first sign that we are feeling anxious is in our bodies: It may be a sudden surge in pulse, the drop of our stomach, or tension in our throat. The next time you become aware that you are experiencing an emotion, pause and observe what is going on your body. Ask yourself how you know you are feeling the way you are feeling.
Enhancing our awareness of the physical aspects of emotions, can help us recognize earlier when feelings begin to build up. In fact, those individuals who are very attentive to their body may detect the first symptoms of a change in emotion. This gives us the power to make necessary changes before we are completely immersed and overwhelmed by negativity. It can also help us to begin seeing patterns of our emotional responses, and identify what triggers these.
Greater awareness of our bodies also has other benefits: We may detect health changes in our body earlier, resulting in earlier check-ups and faster treatment. We may become more sensitive to parts of our body that are becoming run-down and tired, giving us a chance to rest them before they become inflamed. We may feel more connected with our bodies and experience more compassion toward them, rather than merely expecting them to function at our will.
Recognizing emotions in our bodies as they begin to arise is a means to understanding not only our emotional reactions and the stressors that evoke these, but also being able to manage our negative feelings rather than letting them manage us.