Caring for yourself
Slow down and feel your feelings: Lean into the Suck
None of us want to be sad, angry, or scared. But research shows that letting yourself fully experience your emotions can help you start to heal.
We all have experiences that leave us feeling devastated and overwhelmed. In these moments, “Go ahead and feel awful” isn’t generally considered good advice.
In fact, you’ve probably got people encouraging you to do the opposite, saying things like, “Put it out of your mind,” “Don’t dwell on it,” or “Keep a stiff upper lip.” You may even be telling yourself those same things. If so, you should stop.
It’s natural to want to deal with sadness and get rid of painful thoughts and feelings as quickly as possible. But research tells us that avoidance and denial actually put you on a slower track to moving forward.1 When you avoid painful thoughts and feelings, they rebound with more intensity than before you tried to push them away. Over time, people who don’t slow down to feel what they feel end up feeling more sad and anxious than those who don’t.2
It might seem counterintuitive, but to move forward, you’ve got to do the exact thing you don’t want to do. You’ve got to lean into the suck.
- Tip #1Let your feelings be
People push hard feelings away for many reasons. On top of not wanting to feel awful (no one does!), you might be thinking:
- “I can’t afford to break down, I have to stay productive.”
- “I ought to feel better by now.”
- “I have to stay strong for other people”
- “I don’t want my feelings to make people uncomfortable.”
- How to do it
Giving yourself permission to feel your feelings can look like:
- Venting to a friend about how hard things have been.
- Naming your emotions and acknowledging their power.
- Accepting that you can’t always control when a hard feeling comes up. If you need to turn off your Zoom camera or cry in the bathroom at work, so be it.
- Tip #2Turn toward, not away
Instead of trying to push away your feelings, get relief by turning toward something else.
- When pain feels all-encompassing, broaden your lens. Noticing everything you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch makes pain part of your experience, rather than your whole experience.
- Focus on self-soothing. Breathe. Stretch. Take a hot bath or shower. Imagine being in your favorite place. Get a hug or give yourself one. Snuggle with a pet. Listen to music.
- If a wave of emotion feels overwhelming, turn toward something that will keep your brain busy while the wave passes. Watch a show, call a friend, or do a hobby. If those things aren’t possible, you can distract yourself by saying the alphabet backward or counting all of the blue things you can see.
- Tip #3Don’t hide your emotions from others
Pretending to be fine is emotionally and physically draining at a time you probably don’t have any energy to spare. Hiding your feelings can also keep you from getting the support you need. Research shows that friends and family are more likely to offer help when they have a window into your feelings.3
- How to do it
- Give yourself permission to be a bit messy. Real emotions are raw and can pop up at inconvenient times. The people who love you will want to support you, not judge you. Remember, you’re not a burden—you’re a human being.
- Everyone has a different comfort level with sharing emotions. You get to choose the level and style that is right for you, whether that’s crying with a group of friends or texting one person you trust.
- Sharing your pain can make the suckiness start to feel a bit lighter or more manageable. People who want to help often don’t know how to open the door to hard conversations. When you’re ready, here are some ways you can open up and ask for help.
Leaning into the suck is like flowing with a thrashing wave instead of fighting against it. The wave is still powerful, but if you let yourself accept your feelings, that wave won’t push you around quite so roughly.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 2 of 10
Focus On The Basics: Breathe, Eat, Sleep, Move
- During life’s hardest moments, it’s critical to focus on the self-care basics: sleeping, eating, breathing, and moving. Learn more today.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 3 of 10
It’s Not Your Fault & It Won’t Always Feel Like This
- During difficult times, it’s easy to fall into mental traps, such as the “3 P’s.” Remember that it’s not your fault, & this feeling won’t last forever. Learn more.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 4 of 10
How To Be Practice Self-Compassion
- Self-compassion can help you get through hard times with less pain. Learn how to practice self-compassion & be kind to yourself.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 5 of 10
How To Ask For Help: Kick the Elephant out of the Room
- Don’t ignore the elephant in the room — kick it out. Learn how to open up, have difficult conversations & ask for the help you need.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 6 of 10
Avoid Avoidance & Accept Negative Emotions
- The battle to push bad feelings away will make your life smaller over time. Learn how to accept & embrace negative emotions during life’s hardest moments.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 7 of 10
How To Practice Gratitude & Spread it to Others
- During hard times, practicing gratitude may not feel natural or intuitive, but it can make a difference. Learn more.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 8 of 10
How To Build Your Support System
- During hard times, everyone needs extra support. Learn how to build your support system of friends, family, & other loved ones.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 9 of 10
Struggle, Grief & Joy Can Co-Exist
- Positive & negative emotions don’t cancel each other out, & you don’t have to be done with pain to make space for joy. Learn how grief & joy can co-exist.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 10 of 10
Post-Traumatic Growth: Build a meaningful new normal
- Learn more about post-traumatic growth & creating a more meaningful life after hardship.
Supporting others: Lesson 1 of 4
Mobilize their Support Team: Find Support For Others
- In life’s hardest moments, people often need more support than any one person can give. Learn how to find & mobilize support for a loved one facing adversity.
Supporting others: Lesson 2 of 4
Show up and Support in Specific, Concrete Ways
- When someone is going through a hard time, even the smallest acts of support can be significant. Learn about specific, concrete ways you can support others.
Supporting others: Lesson 3 of 4
Help people cope: Be There for the Long Haul
- Grief and hardship can long outlast the initial waves of support. Show your loved ones that you’re there to provide long-term support.
Supporting others: Lesson 4 of 4
How to Talk about Stress, Trauma, & Loss
- Instead of avoiding hard topics, become part of a culture that avoids avoidance. Learn how to discuss stress, trauma, loss, & other hard topics with loved ones.
The psychological health benefits of accepting negative emotions and thoughts: Laboratory, diary, and longitudinal evidence December 2018; Emotion Regulatory Strategies in Complicated Grief: A Systematic Review January 2021; Acceptance alone is a better predictor of psychopathology and well-being than emotional competence, emotion regulation and mindfulness 2018; Negative Emotions are Key to Well-Being
Wang, D., Hagger, M. S., & Chatzisarantis, N. L. (2020). Ironic effects of thought suppression: A meta-analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(3), 778-793.; The psychological health benefits of accepting negative emotions and thoughts: Laboratory, diary, and longitudinal evidence December 2018.