This last week, we experienced a snowstorm in our area that quickly went south. Fluffy snowflakes turned into ice shards falling from the sky, coating everything in no less than an inch of ice. Cars, tree limbs, leaves, powerlines, all blanketed in ice. 

Unfortunately, an inch+ of ice was heavy, especially for tree branches, which promptly fell with startling pops and crashes onto roofs and powerlines. Power in our area was out for up to seven days, with temperatures plunging into the low 20s. 

It was one more crisis in a year of challenges, global and personal. While I have struggled – as many have – through this year, I’ve learned a lot about how feelings rise up and get bigger and make a mess and are hard (that’s what she said). 

I have asked these two questions so much this year that I like to think I have achieved Expert Level in the Dealing with Feelings part of life. I made that all up, but I like it. Welcome to what I consider the two most important questions in the history of Earth to ask yourself in any situation. 

Question #1 – How Do You Feel?

If you cannot immediately recognize and identify your feelings, do not worry – you are not alone. After all, there are an estimated 34,000 feelings – that’s a lot to process. Fortunately, processing feelings is a set of skills, like processing any other kind of information, and skills transfer

We feel emotions in our bodies first. Our bodies know everything first. I promise. Pay attention to what your body feels at any given time, and there is usually an associated emotion, if not several associated emotions.

Here are some helpful questions when noticing feelings bubbling up:

  • Where do you feel the feelings in your body?
  • What are the physical sensations?
  • What does this sensation remind you of? Another time with similar feelings? When did the physical sensation start?

Once noticed, it’s time to identify those feelings. I generally ask myself,
What is the name of this feeling? This can be a tough one. Fortunately, I use a writing exercise to remember that there are four main categories of emotions: happy, sad, scared, and mad. That narrows down the choices considerably and helps me choose the closest broad category.

To get more specific with the feelings that have bubbled up, I use a helpful downloadable tool called The Feelings Wheel, offered by The Gottman Institute. There are many kinds of feeling wheels out there, along with lists and posters to hang on the wall, like the feelings periodic table I have hanging on my kitchen door. Choose one that you like to look at, because you will be looking at it often.

Question #2 – What Do You Need?

Once the feelings are identified, they need to be processed. Acknowledged by name. A simple statement – out loud or silently – that states, “I feel ______________.” Talking about feelings out loud is better due to how intertwined language and feeling are in brain development. Use the statement as many times as necessary, as feelings can travel in packs. In fact, it is possible to feel opposite feelings at the same time

We think that ignoring feelings keeps them at bay, which works for awhile…until it doesn’t. Acknowledging feelings brings distance from what can feel like a coming storm, which is not disconnection, just shelter from the rain. This distance also keeps us feeling safe, allowing the feelings to move through, providing us a way to be a witness. To feel safe and validated. Feelings pass, sometimes really quickly; As Rainer Maria Rilke said, “No feeling is final.” 

Once you acknowledge your feelings, the next vital question is, “What do you need?” As I read on an Instagram post in the last couple of weeks, do you need comfort or solutions? Do you need physical movement, food, water, or fresh air? Do you need to ask for help? Do you need to cry? Do you need to talk? Practice creativity? 

Nobody knows your needs better than you. Once you know what you need, you can make statements regarding how you will be solving your problem.

Because this is your problem. I am coming to terms with the idea that when I feel snappy or weepy or confused or overstimulated, I am in charge of figuring out the root of these feelings and what I need. This process can be confusing and it can take awhile, but it is possible and worth the investment of time and effort in yourself. This is the definition of self care. 

When things get hard (that’s what she said), remember to ask yourself these two vital questions: How do you feel and What do you need?

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