Don’t hush your emotions

When was the last time you asked yourself, how are you today?

And if you did check in with yourself, did you listen to how you feel? Without judgement that is? Like, did you tell yourself that you should be fine, because you have nothing to worry about compared to all the other people, who are having it much worse. Or that you cannot show your emotions right now because…?

There are so many messages that we have heard all the way back from child-hood and work-cultures re-enforce these messages, because at work we tend to shun emotions as emotional.

We tend to think that we should be tough at work, and maybe even at home, so we might use critical and judgy self-questioning like; why can’t you get it together, why are you always so tired, why can’t you just start exercising and stop eating chocolate at night so you are not so… whatever it is you tell yourself that you are not doing right or being good enough about. You know what I mean I think because we all do it.

But it’s all a cover-up you know.

It’s a cover-up to not be in right relationship with our selves, because we are not used to being in touch with our own feelings and emotions. We have learned to think they are a problem, especially if we have been told that we have to hide our emotions or that we are too sensitive. But what if we have it all wrong? What if our emotions are not the problem, but rather the possibility to have better relationships, better communication? Not just with ourselves, but also with others.

For more than 15 years I have worked with people from all levels within the work-force to help them prevent burnout and take charge of their physical, emotional and mental health. What I consistently see is how important and foundational our emotional and mental health is for our physical wellbeing. We tend to think that basic self-care comes first, but really what comes first is the relationship we have with ourselves.

Our emotional wellbeing affects our physical health as well. Mind-body medicine has known the relationship between emotions and physical disease for quite a while, however just from the simple starting point of laying the foundation for healthy habits, there is an interactive relationship going on between how we feel, how we think, how we speak and what we do.

We normally think of our habits as what defines self-care. I call it the Big 3.

The big 3 of self-care 101.

  1. To fight fatigue and boost immunity: get your sleep and power pause through out the day
  2. To boost immunity, fight disease and have more energy: eat better and drink more water instead of coffee and soda, which are often the go-to energy boosters.
  3. To fight stress and anxiety, have more energy and boost immunity: move, stretch, dance and twist.

Yes we need these basic habits to give us the stability that helps us feel safe because it gives us something dependable in our lives, when things around us are unknown like what we are facing right now. It helps us feel better and manage stress, and it gives us something to feel in charge over.

However during this time of COVID most find that’s not so easy to get a routine down or have access to resource that support our self-care habits, and it’s stressing us out even more, because now we can end up feeling guilty that we are not practicing “proper” self-care. I hear so many mixed responses from finally getting some time to focus on self-care to completely abandoning self-care.

What if self-care is about communication?

When I talk about self-care with my audiences in workshops, on the stage and when coaching teams and one-on-one, the immediate reaction is “I eat pretty well most of the time and I exercise on a regular basis”. GREAT! Those are our self-care habits. However self-care is more than habits.

Self-care is a relationship we have with ourselves, which becomes the foundation for the things we do and the habits we maintain.

Stop stressing, start listening.

So what comes first when the essence of self-care is not the activities, but rather self-care is what leads to the activities? The essence of self-care is the relationship we have with ourselves and as with all relationships it starts and ends with communication.

Self-care starts with our self-talk. Well, it really starts with learning how to listen to our emotions and feelings and the words we use when we speak to ourselves, the meaning, the intention, the expectation, the judgement, the love, the understanding, the beating ourselves up. How we communication with ourselves and our emotions is the first C in Care.

Self-talk affects how we feel and how we engage with other people as well. This is why self-care is a foundational self-relationship, not a list of things to do, that we can be guilty about if we skip because we don’t have enough time on our hands. I hear people talk about self-care burnout. Seriously! We get so overwhelmed by what we should be doing to take care of ourselves that we get stressed out by it and give up on themselves completely.

Step 1 really is to pause and learn to just simply ask and listen to your feelings and emotions, without judging them or fixing them. Without making them go away and wishing they were different. They just are. There is such a relief in simply naming how you feel right now. Without go on, into the story of why and what will happen.

I call it power-pausing

Mindfulness teaches us to simply notice, observe and let be. At this time we can practice self-care, not by doing, but by pausing, noticing our breath, and simply touch base with your emotions, just like you would check in with a friend, and ask yourself, “hey… how are you in there today?”

You don’t have to do anything about your emotions, you don’t have to hush them, fix them, change them. What if you could be ok with whatever comes? See how that might shift something. You know, like that friend who you listen with CARE; curiosity, acknowledgement, respect and empathy.

It’s a core human need to feel seen, heard and belong and it starts with how we do that for ourselves. Suppressing our emotions doesn’t make them go away, it just makes them harder to be in right relationship with. Right now what we need to most is to allow our emotions to be heard so they can guide us to a deeper relationship with ourselves, because self-care is about self-knowledge. This pause that the world is on right now, is a pause to learn to listen more, care more and come into right relationship with what matters the most to us.

Care matters

Let me add to this. To care on a global, not just local level matters. Many are suffering and struggling right now. They deserve our empathy and distant caring, and all the workers and medical teams that put themselves in danger deserve all our gratitude. That doesn’t mean you can’t feel your own feelings too. It’s ok to be scared, sad, feel the collective pain and loss. It doesn’t make us less worthy of care that we are not in the heat of the fire, actually it gives us the opportunity to care more, and the more care there is in the world, the more we will all feel cared about.

It is ok to feel.