This exercise can help reduce unpleasant feelings
Source: Sean Kong / Unsplash
Several times a day ask yourself, “How are you feeling?” Then see where in your body you feel it.
This is the assignment that my advisor recently gave me. She gave me this mission a few months ago, but I forgot about it. I’m generally pretty good at homework. I am more lively at heart, really. But it was only a few weeks ago that I resumed this practice.
I remember going to 12 step groups decades ago. There was a saying I heard frequently: “The longest journey is from your head to your heart. I would change that now to “from your mind to your body”. Or, if I want to stick with the alliteration, as my aspiring inner poet desires, “from your brain to your body”, but “the mind” is a better descriptor, I think.
Switching from a negative feedback loop to a positive feedback loop
Until I applied the suggested exercise, I didn’t realize how much of my anxiety was due to living in my head and not in my body. Chains of frightening thoughts create a negative feedback loop that can continue to build if I don’t somehow interrupt it. It’s my “sort of.” At least for now. Hey, my aspiring inner poet just got a dopamine kick with that cheesy little rhyme. Yay for the small wins! Recognizing and celebrating small wins is another tip I use if I get caught in a negative feedback loop. But that’s a topic for another post.
The only thing that is in the present moment is our body. It is in the “here and now” that I have the good fortune to find some peace, however brief it may be. The more I practice his technique, the more frequently and easily I discover immobility.
My mind has the wonderful ability to think, plan, dream, imagine. All the things that can be very useful. But left on its own or when I’m unconsciously triggered (i.e. a memory buried in the body is triggered), my mind can be inundated with fears of the future or pains of the past.
How to anchor yourself in your body
When I anchor myself in my body with this kind of recording, I have a chance to calm down.
- Start by identifying the emotion.
- Identify the area (s) where you feel it in your body.
- Find out what sensations accompany it.
The key is to do it frequently over the course of a day (8-12 times / day) and make it a daily habit. It doesn’t take more than 30-60 seconds. Also essential: do it with curiosity and kindness, without judgment.
Multiple recordings increase the chances that I will experience both pleasant and unpleasant emotions, as well as different sensations. Even on days when my baseline is 90% anxiety, I will have at least a moment of relief, hope, even happiness. I promise you that if you are plagued with relentless anxiety (as I have been during this year) you will will be find at least one moment that not anxiety. It may be fleeting, but it will happen. It can fan the flames of hope and can be the starting spark for a positive feedback loop.
Questions to consider when registering
These are questions I ask myself (and the ones you need to consider):
- What are you feeling right now? Research shows that naming our emotions (what Matthew Lieberman of UCLA calls “affect labeling”1) reduces emotional activity in our brain and can decrease its intensity, even momentarily. It helps us to disengage ourselves slightly from the feeling, which can be welcome if it is negative and uncomfortable.
- Where does this emotion occur in your body?
- How do you know it’s sadness, joy, anger, etc. ?
- What are your thoughts when you feel these emotions? Is there a thought pattern guiding these usual emotions and sensations?
- How do you feel when you move your attention around your body?
- What happens to your thinking when you focus on your body?
There are no right or wrong answers. You may not even have an answer for some. I certainly don’t sometimes.
Intentionally starting to notice pleasant emotions
I recently came out of an intense anxiety attack. When I say “intense” I mean “Fight club-film-gut-punching-kinda “anxiety. I made a sustained effort to notice any moment of good feelings. And sometimes the blips were all I had. Nanoseconds of relief.”
I was walking around my apartment, my mind was pissing with stress; I turned on a light, and for no reason, a tiny bit of relief popped into my consciousness, like Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day. Then, as quickly as he disappears after seeing or not seeing his shadow, so too does this much desired emotion that I have.
But the more I intend to notice pleasant emotions, where and how they are in my body, the more frequently they started to occur. Or maybe they’ve been happening all along, and I’m just listening to them more and more. It is probably a combination of the two.
The wonderful thing? These (sometimes fleeting) feelings of happiness, contentment, and satisfaction are usually unrelated to an event or an object. They bubble spontaneously. Other times, the vertigo gurgles connect to something specific. Like when I feel a soothing calm as I cook my dinner and childlike excitement when I’m about to eat it.
These observations give me important information. Observing when I have pleasant feelings, however fleeting they may be, helps me discover activities that bring joy to me, to use Marie Kondo’s overused phrase. It offers a glimpse of where to direct my energy in order to find more joy and experience it more often and for longer.
This simple exercise in awareness can help you more fully embody your joy.
Steps for an embodied recording
A few times a day, take a spontaneous break, show curiosity and kindness, and ask yourself:
- What emotion do you feel?
- Where is it in your body? It can be in several places.
- What are his feelings? For example, tingling, tightness, sharp pain, heat, coolness?
- Notice what, if anything, is changing now that you have shifted your awareness through your body and become mindful.
- Go back to your previous activity.
Do this regularly and notice if your daily experiences become more positive and if you feel more present. I have on both plans.
© Victoria Maxwell