Do you know which emotions are your most common feelings in the course of any given day?
Creating that awareness allows you to tap into one of your most awesome super powers. That’s because it’s your feelings that drive your behavior. And it’s your behavior that creates your results in life.
So it’s pretty important to recognize your emotional “weather” and how you respond.
Last week, I wrote all about how your thoughts create your feelings. I explained how your feelings drive your behavior.
It’s as simple as this: your feelings either hold you back and undermine your efforts to achieve your goals or they give you the energy, motivation, and willingness to try to new things and keep going when the going gets tough.
You can empower yourself on your weight loss journey by allowing your emotions to surface so you can better understand their impact on your life.
Once you understand the importance of allowing any and all feelings that arise, as opposed to resisting or avoiding them, then you can gain power and control over your life. Observing your emotional life, the highs and lows, the positive and the negative, is key to weight loss success.
You will discover that it is within your power to lose weight for the last time.
Let’s talk about difficult emotions and buffering.
I’ve had clients who turn to food whenever they feel an extreme emotion, either happy or sad. But most people I work with have a much harder time with the urges and cravings that surface when they feel unpleasant or difficult emotions. So for this discussion, that’s where I’ll shine the spot light.
We all experience unpleasant emotions like heartache, frustration, anxiety, resentment and sadness. For many of us, our default reaction to these emotions is to resist or avoid them. To escape them, we indulge in other behaviors to distract from the discomfort. We eat, we drink, we Netflix, we work, we shop, we gamble, we rationalize, minimize, and we judge — anything to subdue the uncomfortable feelings.
I call this avoidance behavior buffering.
Yet, when we interrupt the uncomfortable feelings by substituting another, we often end up with unintended negative consequence. And that then layers suffering on top of the pain.
Savoring that pint of ice cream, instead of recognizing and sitting with the loneliness we might feel that evening, gives us a brief dopamine hit of pleasure to distract us from our discomfort. But that pint of ice cream also adds unwanted fat to our hips. It doesn’t make the loneliness go away. Emotional eating, anyone?
Resisting or avoiding an emotion saps your energy.
You can only do it for so long before it comes roaring back to haunt you.
It’s good to remind yourself that while some emotions can feel so awful you think you’re going to die, the truth is they can not kill you. You will survive.
And survival is so much easier when you decide to process the emotions that arise rather than buffer against them.
So how do we survive unpleasant emotions?
What is the opposite of resisting or avoiding those emotions?
Allow those emotions to enter your consciousness without judgement. Invite them in. Allow them to take a seat beside you. Get curious. Open yourself to their message.
Your feelings are actually your allies. They’re there to give you messages, to teach, to motivate, to warn you, to guide you. That is why you must open the door, invite them in, and listen to whatever it is they have to say.
I know, it seems counterintuitive to welcome painful emotions into your consciousness.
But, remember the Motivational Triad? Seek pleasure, avoid pain, conserve energy. It’s hardly surprising that our natural instinct is to try to avoid painful emotions. Avoiding pain was an ancestral strategy for survival.
But also remember this: What we resist persists.
Use the Expansion Technique to process an emotion all the way through.
Taught by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) practioners, the Expansion Technique helps us open up and make room for difficult feelings, urges, and sensations.
By opening up to them, you can allow them to “flow through” you without struggle. You don’t have to like or want these feelings. You just have to make room for them and allow them to be there in all their unpleasantness.
Allowing feelings does not in any way imply accepting that the thoughts that caused them are true or helpful.
Once you learn the skill of allowing emotions, if/when these uncomfortable feelings resurface, you have a tool to cope with themn without buffering.
Prepare your mind and body for this expansion process.
Here is an exercise that can help you relax your mind before you use the Expansion Technique. Any time you’re feeling overwhelmed by negative emotions, just pause long enough to remember that you can use this exercise to shift back to the present moment.
- Activate your senses.
- Look around. Notice five things you can SEE in your current environment. Look for small details. Things that you might not notice if you weren’t intentionally looking. Notice textures, colors, shapes, sizes.
- Next, close your eyes and LISTEN. Notice five things you can HEAR.
- Then shift your awareness to five things you can FEEL at this very moment. The firm floor beneath your feat, the soft cushion of your chair, your dog’s bristly fur as you stroke his head, your glasses resting on your nose.
- Breathe deeply.
- Close your eyes and take ten deep, focused breaths.
- Your sole intention is to focus on the physical sensations and experience of each breath.
- Inhale slowly until your lungs are full. Then exhale until they are empty.
- Concentrate on what the air feels like as it moves in and out of your nose. As it moves into your lungs and expands your rib cage and your stomach.
- Notice the rise and fall of your shoulders, your chest., your belly.
- Observe what it feels like to hold your breath for a few seconds and slowly release it.
- Become aware of any detail about the physical experience that you can tune into.
As you do these exercises, you can count on your brain trying to distract you with chatter. That’s okay. Just keep coming back to your breathing and awareness of your body.
Begin the Expansion Technique.
Now that you’re more engaged with your body and your senses and less in your head, here’s how to practice the Expansion Technique.
This process will help you allow and experience your feelings.
The purpose of expansion is to experience the emotions directly, as they actually show up in your body.
To practice and become familiar with this technique, start small. Begin with a minor worry, discomfort or disappointment.
Allowing emotions instead of resisting or avoiding them by buffering is a new skill. Give it time. Be patient with the process.
Step 1: Observe the sensation that accompanies the emotion.
Scan your body from head to toe. Notice any uncomfortable sensations you feel. Pick one to focus on. Maybe it’s an aching in your throat or chest, or a churning in your stomach, or a tightness in your shoulders or jaw.
Observe the sensation that accompanies the emotion objectively, like a scientist taking notes on her clipboard. Answer these questions:
- How big is it?
- Is it still or is it moving?
- Is it fast or slow?
- If it had a color, what color would it be?
- What texture is it? Bumpy, smooth, slimy, fluffy, spiky?
- Is it on the surface or deep inside your body?
- Is it heavy or light?
- What temperature is it?
Ask these questions and any more you can think of to really get a clear picture of what the emotion looks and feels like.
Step 2: Breathe slowly and deeply.
Imagine your breath going in and around and through the sensation. Deep breathing helps relieve the tension in your body and centers your focus.
Step 3: Create space around the sensation.
Imagine yourself expanding to accommodate the feeling. Instead of tensing up against the emotion, you want to imagine opening to it, relaxing into it, making room for it.
Step 4: Allow the sensation to settle in and just be there.
You probably don’t like this feeling and just want it to disappear. Your brain may be trying to fight against it or push it away. That’s not a problem.
This is when you gently reassure your brain, “It’s okay. Let it be.”
Keep breathing and focusing on the sensations. Keep reminding your brain it’s okay. It may take a few seconds or a few minutes, but you will eventually feel the struggle with the sensations subside.
Once you have expanded your awareness of this sensation, you can move onto another sensation you have related to this emotion.
It’s possible for the emotion to subside within minutes.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll never feel it again. It just means that for now, you have processed the emotion and it’s attendant sensations and the struggle has dissipated.
When and if the feelings arise again, remind yourself to regard them as messengers with important information to share.
Allow them in. Welcome them. Listen to what they have to say.
If you want more information on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, check out The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.
Feeling all the feels without fear ALWAYS makes sustainable weight loss easier.
Life is one big emotional jumble. But you can make sense of all it, especially the part emotional eating plays in your life.
So take me up on my offer for your FREE Strategy Call. Then you can see for yourself how it’s possible to jump start weight loss by delving into how you might be using food as buffer against feeling your emotions.
Learn how to make weight loss easier by allowing negative or unpleasant feelings. Learn how to dissolve the threatening emotions so you can reach your weight loss goals with a lot less stress and drama.
It’s totally possible to make 2022 your year to create the healthiest you. No matter your age, stage or past disappointments.
Jump start your fresh start. A year from now you will thank yourself you reached out to me today.
I’m looking forward to meeting you soon.
It’s Never Too Late to make your weight loss journey easier. Let’s go!