Emotional Awareness: Why its important and how to build it.
Why an awareness of emotions is important
A common difficulty that I encounter as a therapist is challenges that many individuals face when it comes to emotions. There’s often, fear of emotions, difficulty understanding emotions, not knowing what do with or how to express difficult emotions. Emotions are crucial, without awareness and understanding of emotional states, we are disconnected from key information which guides an understanding of ourselves and others. Not surprisingly, an inability to understand, express and navigate emotions can create obstacles in health, well-being and relationships. Dr McCrathy a research director at the HeartMath Institute (HMI) writes that “emotions underlie the majority of stress that we experience, influence our decisions, provide motivation for our actions…and determine our quality of life’. Having an awareness of our emotions can help us recognise their impact on our lives and the decisions we make. Emotional awareness is a skill that can be learnt and built with practice.
To Build Emotional Awareness
Practice observing how you are feeling. As you do so, try and maintain a position of curiosity. Simply noticing what you feel, without reaction, judgment or trying to fix, solve or get rid of what is there. For example, if you noticed tension and tightness in your shoulders, simply acknowledge that this is a physical symptom that you are experiencing. Noticing, rather than judging helps us develop acceptance towards our varied emotions and physical states. To notice allows us to embrace the transient nature of feelings and emotions. Mindfulness is a practice that can help you connect with your body.
Check-in with yourself regularly by asking yourself, “how am I right now?”. Our lives can be so busy, it’s like there’s a constant autopilot setting. This setting means that we get caught up in a mode of doing and often forget to check-in with ourselves. Regularly checking- in means that we are keeping an eye on varied physical and emotional states and considering our needs. After a busy morning it may be that a little break is needed, or that you could do with stretching and moving about. It’s easy to ignore your needs if you aren’t paying attention to them.
Name emotions. Rather than using words such as, “I am anxious”, see if there are words which express what you are feeling more accurately. For example, I find that “I am anxious” often means, “I feel frustrated”, “unsure”, “nervous”, “unsettled”. The shift in language provides more meaning around particular emotional states. A greater understanding of varied emotional states gives a better insight into ways of addressing unwanted emotions.
Recognise the fleeting nature emotions. Thoughts and feelings are transient. Though when you are stuck in the intensity of difficult emotions it may not feel that way. Visualising thoughts and feelings as clouds which have varied forms and intensities can be helpful. Like clouds, emotions come and go, they do not exist as fixed entities. A mantra such as, “this shall pass” can also be a helpful reminder.
Communicate your emotions with people you trust and ask them about their emotions. As mentioned, remember to try and adopt a curious approach as you do so. Social communication of emotions allows us to respond appropriately and build deeper more meaningful relationships.
Make emotional awareness part of your everyday life. Changing habits isn’t easy, if emotional literacy is new to you, then it is going to take some practice for it to come naturally. Making emotional awareness a part of your routine is a useful way of keeping a new skill alive. It could be helpful to schedule exercises into your diary and set a reminder on your phone.