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Feeling all the feelings

Tools to help you identify, track, and ultimately deal with uncomfortable feelings

It’s okay to feel how you feel right now. In our COVID-19 world, many of us are experiencing feelings that we haven’t encountered before – sadness, anger, helplessness, frustration, confusion. Or, maybe it’s not that we haven’t encountered those feelings before, but we had ways of dealing with those feelings. Through activities like going out to dinner, or grabbing drinks with a friend, or hitting the gym, we could distract ourselves from feeling a certain way. But now, we just have to experience feelings.

I’m putting this idea out there because I’ve had dozens of conversations over the past weeks in which people apologize for how they feel, saying that they “shouldn’t” feel that way. A sentiment I’ve heard a lot is, “I get frustrated [about various aspects of the COVID-19 experience], but then I realize that other people have it a lot worse.” Yes, it is important to keep things in perspective and to be grateful for what you have, but you can hold that idea while still feeling whatever you feel right now.

You can be grateful for your health and your family’s health while still being frustrated that you can’t walk through your favorite store during the day. You can be grateful to have a roof over your head, yet still be sad that you can’t meet your friend for a movie. You can be grateful that you have a job, yet still feel unchallenged in your current role. All of these feelings are okay – hold space for them.

In fact, I think that experiencing our feelings is one of the gifts of this moment, especially when it comes to our professional lives. This is an opportunity to check-in with ourselves and better understand which parts of our jobs are energizing, which are frustrating; essentially what we want more and less of in our work lives. I use my experience in my most recent corporate role as an example of how to use the tools I outline.

Three things strike me as being most helpful in this moment: learning to identify our feelings, tracking our feelings to see trends and perhaps make changes, and sitting with our intense feelings.

It may sound strange, but a lot of people struggle to identify exactly what they’re feeling in a moment. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of feeling off or generally bad. If you’re struggling to pinpoint what you’re feeling, use a tool like a feelings wheel to help.

For instance, in the final year of my most recent corporate role, I felt “off” a lot, even though my job was objectively incredibly positive and rewarding. If anyone asked me how I felt, I always answered, “Good!” or “Great!” but those answers rung hollow. After taking some time to consult the feelings wheel and work with a coach, the words I most identified with were “anxious,” “frustrated,” and “lonely.” Working toward the inside of the wheel, those words connected with the feelings of “fear,” “anger,” and “sadness.”

What I wanted to dive deeper into was what parts of my day were making me feel fearful, angry, or sad and what parts of my day led to more positive emotions. I created a feelings tracker to capture data on my feelings. For a full week, I set an alarm on my phone so I could track my feelings several times a day and determine if there were trends. What I learned was revealing.

My feelings were most positive during times of day I had reserved for coaching conversations with clients and personal time with friends and family. My feelings were least positive during times of day I had reserved for team meetings, administrative tasks/projects, or after my long commute home. I worked with my coach to better understand how I could gain more of the stuff that left me feeling happier and how to better approach parts of my day that made me feel angry or sad. This eventually led to me leaving my corporate role and starting my coaching practice.

I also learned a mindfulness exercise to help me sit with negative feelings. The “Handshake” from the Greater Good Science Center of UC Berkeley taught me how to notice a feeling and how it was presenting in my body, disconnect the feeling from whatever triggered it, and experience the feeling until it eventually reduced or went away completely. This was very opposite to how I was raised to experience bad feelings (try to ignore it, have a snack, or both).

Exercises like the “Handshake” are important, especially in our COVID-19 world. We are currently in a state of pause where many of the things that are frustrating aren’t able to be changed immediately. For instance, you might feel angry when it comes to trying to balance your children’s home learning with your work, but with schools and childcare facilities closed, there’s not much opportunity to change this. So, try doing the Handshake exercise to address your anger and see if you can reduce or manage that feeling until the school year ends in a few weeks.

Also, take note of that feeling so you can remember it. One day, maybe months or years from now, when you’re feeling guilty about not being able to be everything to your child while simultaneously being everything to your employer, you’ll recall this time and how trying to do both didn’t feel so good.

If your job is feeling unfulfilling, use the feelings tracker to determine which parts of your job give you joy and which are draining, the Handshake to deal with the less favorable feelings, and meet with a coach to help you think about ways to make your current role more fulfilling or other jobs that might be a better fit. Whether you’re able to job search now or have to delay that for when the economy is better, you’ll feel like you’re taking steps, which is empowering.

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

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