We over-think as a means to under-feel.
Over-thinking helps distract from the uncomfortable ways in which emotions present as sensations in our bodies.
When we over-think, we remain at the level of the cognitive, and cannot access our emotions that lie deeper.
When we over-think we keep our nervous systems in a state of stress.
Developing an awareness about what we feel in our bodies can help us learn to process emotions in a safe and healthy way. Even the difficult ones that present with distress and discomfort.
Our minds do a fantastic job of getting us to over-think, as a means to avoid feeling. Like I discussed last week, this is a mechanism to ensure safety and that the status-quo is unchanged. But it is also a way to avoid processing feelings entirely. And therefore, keeping us stuck in a stress trap.
Being trapped in the over-thinking loop causes distress and discomfort that we experience as anxiety, fear, angst or worry (amongst other things). Body sensations are signals to tune into, and understand what you are really feeling — and not what you think you are feeling. Allowing that feeling to surface and be seen, with little judgement can be life-giving, and opens the possibility of coming out of the stress trap.
Breaking out this trap by listening to the body instead of the mind can help in building:
building a capacity to either tune in to the body and notice sensations (or notice sensations and then tune in)
noticing when an emotion bubbles up and asking your body (not mind) what you need. It could be rest, sleep, a nourishing meal, a drink of water, quiet or stillness, a conversation with someone safe, movement, etc.
witnessing the emotion without labelling it or judging it
observing how it passes through, especially when you give your body what it needs
finding ways to express and release the emotion, whether that is to have a cry, scream into a pillow, dance around by yourself, journaling, painting or writing, making music — whatever your chosen expression may be. Sometimes a combination of some of these works too.
Curiosity towards the body is a good place to begin. It is a deep and invaluable portal to our inner worlds, far more vast and rich in nuance than our minds can ever be. It’s important to remember that in developing this curiosity, the goal isn’t to “feel better”, but to just feel, for a start. Whatever it is you are feeling, just feel it.