“Emotions are tunnels. You have to go all the way through the darkness to get to the light at the end.” – Emily and Amelia Nagoski
How to Self-Soothe When Your Feelings Get Too Big (and you just want to run away)
We’ve all done it—tried to escape when emotions run high. Wouldn’t life just be easier and more peaceful if we could somehow figure out how to not have feelings? Seriously—they can get so…uncomfortable!
Imagine you’ve been forced to say goodbye to a loved one sooner than expected or had yet another disorganized meeting with your egotistical, sporadic boss.
Your face turns red. You want to yell or slam a door. You get a sick feeling in your gut. It’s all just so big, and control and peace feel utterly impossible. “Let me outta here!”, your body screams.
You are Not Alone, This is a Biologically Appropriate Safety Strategy
When your emotions flood your brain, you get hijacked by the impulsive, protective, and instinctive amygdala. This crucial brain region sends fight-flight-freeze signals out to your body. And your reactions run the show—with no input from your logical brain (the prefrontal cortex.)
There is just no escaping your anatomy—and with good reason. Emotions connect us to each other. They connect us to the deepest, most joyful parts of ourselves. We NEED feelings to be fully human. (Good news, bad news, right?) So, start with acceptance and compassion for the biologically appropriate reactions you may be experiencing.
There are countless ways of reacting to triggers like the ones above, but what we all have in common is when left unchecked, the body spins out of control, keeping you from thinking clearly. Which is super uncomfortable. No wonder you just want to run away, shove those big feelings down, or pretend they don’t exist. Ugh!
Your Nervous System's Job is to Make Sure You Survive
Think about it, why would your brain need analytical ability when your nervous system is saying all you need to do is survive? All of your resources are diverted to get you to safety!
But, to live a life of calm, presence, and connection, it’s paramount that you learn to self-soothe in ways that help you reset from occasional emotional avalanches–not numb out in unhealthy ways. When you allow big feelings to move through you, you enjoy a completely human emotional range that enriches (and doesn’t restrict) your life.
And when you can learn to sit with the hard emotions, like pain, grief, and loss, you also gain even more access to the amazing ones–like joy, contentment, calm, and confidence.
Common Habits that Feel Good (but take you OUT of your feelings)
So, how do you know whether the reason you clicked on House of Dragons on Apple TV was to procrastinate on preparing a script to ask for a raise at work, or simply a way to spend time with your significant other?
Distracting yourself from emotion looks different for everyone–for you, it’s TV. For your friends, it’s eating candy. For your parents, maybe compulsive busyness is the preferred emotional escape. The key is to pause long enough to recognize yourself in a familiar pattern and ask yourself, “what’s happening here?”
Here’s how to discover if you’re unconsciously squashing your feelings (when you could experience your emotions and move through them):
- Numbing out–Netflix, scrolling through Instagram, online shopping…these fun activities seem pretty innocent. When you do them mindlessly (maybe more often than you’d like to admit), it’s possible that you’ve shut off some piece of your life instead of getting curious about it. Numbing out is the “new black” in this modern age, so it’s nothing to feel bad about. But to help reverse that go-to habit, get curious about how you feel and take a pen to paper to journal about it before you head to the couch.
- Perpetual Busyness–overcommitting to another baby shower, rushing from work to yoga filled with adrenaline from rush hour traffic. Does any of it sound familiar? Keeping busy is often seen as a badge of honor, but overscheduling yourself can get in the way of feeling painful emotions (or pleasurable emotions for that matter.) If you’re booked back-to-back without time for barely a bathroom break, you can’t allow yourself space to get in touch with all the feels. Sometime this week, replace a social gathering or an hour of overtime work for free time to do something fun for yourself. Then notice how you feel about that time. (If it’s uncomfortable or you just can’t bring yourself to rest, that’s something to explore more deeply.)
- Fixating on Others–Tricky, because codependency is insidious. Do you find yourself trying to fix or control others and make other people’s problems your own? If you find that a lot of your time is fixated on helping others, it’s possible that you avoid your own needs and problems. Set a goal to check in with yourself before you answer a text or phone call from your friend–you might uncover a thought or feeling that needs your attention.
There are other forms of pushing, suppressing, and recycling emotions. Start to get curious about what your patterns are. That is the first step to making a change. I will personally raise my hand to all 3 of these distracting behaviors at different times.
The habits above seem SO normal that it takes effort to know if you’re avoiding some hard emotions by doing them.
Shifting into more Presence with your Feelings (cold turkey is NOT necessary)
As with anything new, it’s hard to change something you’ve done probably most, if not all, of your adult life. And there is a reason it is a pattern. It worked when you first adopted it and continued to serve you, that's why it stuck.
When you’ve clocked months of overtime hours or cannot shed a tear after losing your dog of 14 years, it can seem impossible to get in touch with you.
Self-soothing can be your best friend when your go-to is to resist a big emotion. And the thing is…self-soothing can happen just as organically as numbing out.
Tuning into yourself can look a variety of ways:
- taking a walk,
- listening to that song that puts your whole body at ease, or
- adopting a calming phrase such as “I am healing” instead of snacking on a whole bag of Dorito chips.
- Check out this video for more ways to calm your nervous system.
It’s impossible to avoid challenging times and big emotions, but what you can do is show up, begin to observe yourself, and SLOWLY let the feelings in. And that IS enough. As the saying goes, "you have to FEEL it, to HEAL it." With practice, you will feel more in control and content with your life through every emotional wave. You CAN handle it. Even if you need help along the way.
Building your Self-Soothing Muscle–one day at a time
When big, sometimes overwhelming emotions fill you with dread, it's like being on an island. You’re the only one for miles.
The good news is, having intense and powerful emotions is normal. Emotions make you human. Numbing your emotions numbs you to life. When we recognize that feeling bad is temporary, we learn to accept the feelings that come up, and in turn, adopt practices that bring us out of the hard stuff more quickly and easily. When you can also recognize, by making the "bad" feeling mean that you are bad or wrong, it adds an additional layer of unnecessary suffering to your experience.
If you want a safe space to slow down and turn toward your feelings, I support clients on this very journey through private hypnotherapy sessions, clarity calls, and coaching.
Hypnotherapy can help you “rest” your emotional mind and allow your brain to “rewire” your response to large and heavy feelings. Over and over, I’ve watched my clients gain more clarity (so they don’t resort again to short-term relief, like booking themselves a solo retreat in Thailand or reaching for that wine bottle.)
I would love to share how hypnotherapy and coaching can help you live more authentically and in alignment with your emotions. Over time and with practice, you will grow more aware of the emotions you have and feel them to the max–without fear or overwhelm. Which allows you to move ahead in calm and confidence while you achieve what you *really* want in your life.
Click HERE to begin with my new 30-minute clarity call.
For a deeper dive (if you’re already a seasoned meditator or self-soother), consider my new 3-Month Private Coaching Package—Learn more HERE.