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Acknowledge when you’re not feeling great.
Emotional awareness is the process of recognizing and acknowledging your feelings. Having emotional awareness can equip you to properly manage and improve your mental hygiene. When humans feel a certain emotion, generally, there is a physical or mental reaction that accompanies it. Paying attention to your own physical and mental cues can help you identify when you are experiencing specific emotions.
- For example, you are sitting in a restaurant. A friend is meeting you for lunch. She is already 10 minutes late. You think “Geez, she always has me waiting.” And, you notice yourself tapping your straw repeatedly against your water glass. Both the resulting thought and action help you realize that you are feeling impatient.
- Spend a day or 2 observing your thoughts and actions. How do they clue you in to your emotional state? Record these observations in a journal as a first step towards greater emotional awareness.
Allow yourself to feel your emotions.
People often do things to try to feel better when they’re sad, angry, anxious, embarrassed, or otherwise in pain. While this might be a natural reaction, it’s important to let yourself feel your emotions as they arise rather than trying to change them. Take some time to recognize your emotions and just sit with your feelings. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s an important step for working through them.
- Don’t judge yourself or your emotions. Just feel them and accept them so you can move past them.
- This doesn’t mean that you should let yourself be angry or devastated for days on end. If you are feeling this way and aren’t able to let go of your emotions or work through them, seek help from a therapist.
Express your emotions in a healthy way.
After you have learned to spot the mental and physical cues of your emotions, you can then find positive ways of expressing them. Emotional expression is necessary because withholding or suppressing your emotions can lead to unhealthy outcomes like depression or anxiety. There are many ways you can express your feelings in a constructive and helpful way.
- Talking to others is one of the best methods to getting your feelings out. Just be sure that whoever you are sharing with is supportive and non-judgmental. Consider a best friend, a sibling, or a counselor.
- Writing about your feelings is also helpful. Jot down your thoughts into a journal. Over time, you can look back on these entries to see if any patterns emerge. Journal writing is naturally good for mental health, especially when it is used not just for venting, but for problem-solving, too.
- Cry if you need to. When people feel sad, they may withhold this emotion out of guilt or shame. Other times, you may feel sadness, but be unable to cry. Watch a movie, read literature, or listen to music that speaks to your emotional state to help you shed those tears.
- Release the tension. Anger can be one of the most difficult emotions to express because what you do when you are angry may not be socially acceptable. For example, it may not be a good idea to shout at your loved ones, break things, or punch walls. Instead, you can use some of the same stress management techniques to conquer anger. Try completing a vigorous workout or screaming into a pillow.
- Be mindful of how you express your emotions to others. If you’re talking with someone and get upset, take a break and come back to the conversation when you can express yourself appropriately. Use “I feel” statements to take ownership of your anger or other feelings and avoid accusations. For instance, say “I feel hurt and angry when you speak to me that way” instead of “You make me so angry. You’re such a jerk!”
Understand that both negative and positive emotions are essential.
Humans like to express joy, excitement, and love. But, it may seem like the right thing to push away negative emotions. You may have been raised on the idea that showing anger, shame, or frustration was a no-no, so you push away these feelings. Bottling up your emotions won’t make them go away—in fact, they will most likely only get worse. Suppressed emotions can contribute to mental health conditions like anxiety or depression.
- Resist the temptation to hide or withhold your negative emotions. Negative emotions like sadness or anger are as equally significant to your mental health as are positive feelings—they give you information about what’s important to you and what you might need to change about yourself or your environment.