What to Do When You Have a Feeling

Can we take a moment and acknowledge how hard it is to be alive? And in particular to be alive right now? I keep thinking about this New York Times article detailing how in the retail world, adults are acting like children because they are unable to cope with the stress of life. Grown men are screaming because the grocery store is out of the cheese they want. Women are becoming inconsolable because their packages are delayed. In the U.S., and likely other parts of the world, we are not doing well, emotionally speaking.

Many of us don’t know how to handle our feelings and instead turn to something external to cope. For instance, at the start of the pandemic, Forbes posted an article about how people are consuming more alcohol, smoking weed, playing video games, eating a lot of junk food, binge-watching Netflix and adult films more than ever before. But that trend hasn’t stopped. More recently in September 2021, USA Today shared that nearly 1 in 5 Americans are heavily drinking. Heavy drinking is defined as four or more drinks per day for women and five or more drinks per day for men, twice in a single week.

When life feels hard, give us something to feel better. And I get it, I really do. I’m an addict in recovery. I know all about turning to something external to feel better because I did it for years. But does repressing or suppressing emotion work? Ever? For anyone? Or instead are people turning into small children because they’re no longer able to be instantly gratified?

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These eggs! So expressive. Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Emotions are meant to be felt. They are a form of energy in our bodies that must be moved, must be expressed. When there’s a loss, the best thing to do is to cry, not get drunk. Tears literally make you feel better because they release the chemicals oxytocin and endorphins. If you’re angry, don’t scream at a grocery store clerk, express it in a safe way by yelling at an empty cup that represents the person who crossed a boundary, or writing a letter you never send, or whatever. Taking out your anger on someone as collateral damage is not OK.

We’ve forgotten how to feel our feelings in this culture because we have so many quick fixes at our disposal. But this pandemic is doing away with those quick fixes, at least some of them. Are we crying about that? Are we weeping for our losses, not only deaths, but the loss of certainty, connection, freedom, normalcy, and more? I know for some people it’s hard to cry or it may not feel safe to cry. If that’s you, you’re not alone. I highly recommend checking out the Westfeldt Institute for Emotional Hygiene because this is what they specialize in – emotional regulation. You can also listen to season one of the podcast “The Healing Feeling Shit Show.”

Feeling your feelings not only helps you, but it helps others. The world needs more adults. We’re witnessing what happens when inner children are at the helm and it’s not pretty. Being an adult is not only about making money, it’s also knowing what to do when you feel scared, angry, or sad. I have zero interest in being screamed at because I looked at someone funny and I have zero interest in retail clerks consoling a customer because the shop ran out of dish soap. Can we not? Can we instead feel our feelings? It’s not always easy but it’s worth it.

I dream of a world where we practice emotional regulation in healthy ways. A world where we feel our feelings as they arise. A world where we take care of ourselves and each other by acting like adults when life gets challenging. A world where we know what to do when we have a feeling.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.


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