I used to walk through life feeling like I had a giant pool of lava always simmering just below the surface. For the longest time I had no idea how to interact with my emotions. I didn’t know how to feel them and process them in a healthy way…or any way at all.
I didn’t think I had a right to feel my emotions. Part of that was believing it was selfish to acknowledge my feelings because someone always had it worse. Who was I to be sad or hurt or angry?
Additionally, we get a lot of messages about what it’s ok to feel. We’re told to just get over it, to be happy, and get ourselves together. It can be uncomfortable for others to be with our emotions and it can seem like everyone would be more comfortable if only we could make our emotions disappear.
The thing is, shoving down those emotions doesn’t really make them go away. They get stuck and all tangled up. In my case, they were compressed until they melted into a pool of simmering lava.
Inevitably, some little thing would happen and that lava pool would boil over. I would let some emotions out by saying something I didn’t mean and instantly regretted. The person I lashed out at was likely someone I cared about who had little to do with why I was upset in the first place. Then I’d feel horrible and would probably cry about it.
All of that would release enough of my built up emotions that I could go from boiling back down to simmering and get on with life. It wasn’t a super amazing way to go through life but I didn’t know what to do about it.
Today I want to share a practice that I use to give myself some space to feel whatever I’m feeling. I do this pretty regularly, ideally about once a week…but you know how it goes. Sometimes it’s longer and if it goes too long I can tell because the lava starts rising.
About once a week, I like to set aside a little bit of time, maybe half an hour, to just let myself feel and express my emotions in some way.
One thing I do is turn on some intense, moody music and cry for a little while. I might cry about something specific or just let out all the emotional pressure that’s built up. Sometimes I’ll have a blanket or a pillow that I can squeeze or punch or scream into.
Another option is to go for a drive. I find some country roads where there are more fields or trees than houses so I can full out scream without scaring my neighbors.
There are a couple of key things to keep in mind with this practice. One, is that it’s helpful to do it regularly so things aren’t building up to that boil over point. It’s also important to take care of ourselves by putting a container around these times.
I plan an intentional endpoint to that emotional space. If I’m listening to music, I don’t just put on the radio. There’s a specific playlist that’s a specific length and when the last song is done it’s time to blow my nose, wash my face, and move on. If I’m driving, when I get home it’s time to stop screaming.
In addition to setting an end point, I plan what I’m going to do next. I choose something that will help me transition out of that emotional feeling space and back into the rest of my day. For me, some of those things are going for a walk or working out. I might take a shower to relax and rinse off all those feelings. I might reach out to a friend or switch to more upbeat, happy music.
I tried this practice for the first time after experiencing an emotional reaction I didn’t understand. I had gotten some news—the kind of news that you’re supposed to feel thrilled about. I was happy, but it was a lot more complicated than that.
I remember showing up for my session with my coach at the time and saying, I got this news. I’m supposed to be so excited and I am happy. Why have I been walking around fighting tears all week? What’s going on? What do I do?
We worked through some of the stuff that was coming up for me during our session. Then my practice for the week was to give myself time every other day to sit with my feelings. I was to literally set a timer and just sit, without anything else to do or think about, to leave space for whatever I was feeling to come up.
It was the first time I had done anything like this so there was a lot built up. I cried hard, like the am-I-going-to-be-able-to-get-back-up-off-the-floor hard, but then the timer went off. The time was up and I had a plan for what I was doing next.
I was able to stop. I was able to get up. I was able to go on with the rest of my day. It was intense but I did feel a little lighter.
When I did it again a couple of days later, I was bracing myself for a repeat of the first session. I did cry, but it wasn’t as intense. Not at all.
It was interesting to notice things that had been buried longer start making their way to the surface. Some of them seemed to have little to do with the news that had prompted this exercise. In giving myself space to feel, things that I had not let myself feel in the past finally had space to come up.
By the end of the week, I cried a little bit but I also noticed myself starting to smile. I started thinking about possibilities and getting excited. I started genuinely feeling some of that happiness that I had been previously telling myself I should feel.
Giving myself space to feel all the emotions that were coming up for me didn’t create that happiness. That was already there. It was just harder to feel when I put pressure on myself to feel nothing but happy.
It also didn’t make what felt hard about the situation go away. That was still there, but it didn’t feel so intense. I didn’t feel so stuck in it.
When I let myself feel all my emotions, I was able to be more present for the full experience.
This practice has helped me to appreciate that we can feel many different emotions at once. There’s not one right way to feel. It’s also a reminder that our emotions won’t always feel as intense, especially if we give them space to move through us instead of trying to shove them down.
Regularly giving myself space to release some emotions within the set container of this practice has helped me stay more present with what’s going on in my life and choose how I want to respond, without always worrying that my lava pool will boil over.
If this sounds helpful for you, give it a try and let me know how it goes. You also know yourself best and if it doesn’t sound like a good option for you, please skip it. Take care of yourself.
This, of course, is only one way to practice being with our feelings. What do you do to help yourself process your feelings as they come up in your life so they don’t turn into a boiling pool of lava?