For me, the last few years held a lot of illness, but more than a few silver linings.
One of those benefits was learning more about trauma and its effects on the body.
A life changing idea I came across (I believe it was in the Primal Trust community) was that I was most likely not feeling my feelings, I was *thinking* my feelings.
It is important to your physical and mental health to feel your emotions to their resolution, in which they dissipate and you return to baseline. But if you are “thinking your feelings”, this doesn’t happen as easily.
Let me give you an example of what thinking your feelings is vs. feeling your feelings: let’s say a driver cuts you off and you are put in a momentary dangerous situation. Thinking your feelings is how you say, “What an idiot! He almost caused an accident! He could have killed me! I’m so mad! I can’t believe he did that! Bleepin, bleep bleep!” In the past, had any one asked me if I had felt my feelings in that situation, I would have said yes! See I was mad and scared and I said (or thought) so!
But in the same situation, *feeling* your feelings looks like: the guy cuts you off, and you realize your heart is pounding, you are hot, your stomach is tense, your feet hurt, your hands are tight on the steering wheel, maybe you are shaking. You take some moments or longer to experience those feelings to their fullest. Accept and notice the feelings, without judgment.
The difference is, feeling the sensations of your emotions, and sort of “leaning in” to the feeling of them, while quieting the mind of the chatter about them, helps them to be processed and released faster. In my experience, thinking about my feelings tends to rile me up to continue to be hyper aroused, as I have trouble letting go of the negative thoughts I’m having.
While I have not tried using this technique of feeling my feelings in the direct aftermath of a big ticket trauma like a recent death or accident, I have used it often in the day to day stresses of raising a family, dealing with old trauma, and living with chronic illnesses, and it has worked almost every time to bring the feelings of the moment to some kind of resolution. It feels like they “flow through me” and out. My body usually prompts me to yawn or take a deep breath, both signals that my nervous system is processing and shifting into a healthier state. My mind may bring up the stressful event multiple times, but each time I try to get out of my head and into my body and work on dissipating that feeling again and again. This is OK, and to be expected.
As highly sensitive individuals, we often stay up in our own head. We think about everything, and sometimes don’t really have a sense of what is going on in our bodies in terms of emotions, in a real and embodied way. If this is true for you, it might take some practice and some embodiment work to learn how to have a felt sense of your body in any given moment.
Try not to distract yourself from the smaller, handleable stresses, and feel those feelings. As your body learns to do this, you will be one step closer to being able to deal with the bigger things.
The usual disclaimer: This is not professional advice. If you find the actions I described too overwhelming please do not do them without medical/professional counseling advice.