We take care of our bodies. We brush our teeth, eat when we’re hungry, and drink water when we’re thirsty. We go to see a doctor when we’re not feeling well or even when we are well. In 2020, more than 83% of adults in the U.S. saw a doctor or other health care professional.
Did you know that taking care of the mind is just as important as taking care of the body? That’s because your mental health affects your physical health, and vice versa. It’s called the mind-body connection.
So, how do you make sure you’re taking care of your mind in the same way that you’re taking care of your body? Consider the following tips on when and how to check in with your feelings and emotions.
Making self-reflection or mindfulness a practice can mean regularly checking in on and acknowledging your emotional state (how you’re feeling), psychological state (your mood), and your physical state of well-being. Pausing to practice self-reflection or mindfulness consistently has its advantages.
That’s because feeling your feelings — rather than burying them or bypassing them — can help you assess and improve your mental health. While compartmentalizing and processing your feelings at a later time may provide short-term relief and can be a healthy way to cope, frequently ignoring or being disconnected from your feelings can contribute to anxiety or depression.
Many psychotherapists recommend focusing on the physical body first when practicing self-reflection or mindfulness. This means performing a head to feet body scan and sensing for places where you’re holding emotions. You may notice patterns in your body’s physical response to emotions. For example, when you start feeling anxious, your palms may become sweaty or tingly, or the feeling may move you to tap your foot.
When you notice the first physical symptoms of your feelings and your mind is racing, you can practice a calming intervention like the HeartMath Institute’s heart-focused breathing technique. You’ll also want to ask yourself: What are or were you thinking or feeling in the moment and during the day? Was there an issue during the day that is still bothering you through a repeated thought pattern? Or are you having some unsettled feeling that you need to check into either in your physical body or your emotional body? At times we may not know exactly how we’re feeling. Or, we may know how we’re feeling but not the reason why.
Becoming familiar with a broad spectrum of feeling words and states can help you label the feeling that is surfacing during this process. Once you can identify your feelings from an emotional place and from a physical body location from day to day, you’ll start to see the benefits and have less emotional disturbances, according to Simon Rego, Psy.D., Chief Psychologist at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Rego says that after a day of frustrations, you’ll be less likely to absolutely emotionally lose it on the unsuspecting person at the grocery store. “Once you become aware of what you’re feeling, it helps create a bit of space to diminish its intensity,” he says. “Now you are observing it rather than being overwhelmed by it.”
With regular practice, being tuned in to feelings and emotions and listening to your physical body becomes easier. This increased awareness makes it more likely you won’t explode in anger or frustration in response to small issues. You’ll be more aware of how feelings of sadness about an argument with a partner or being cranky from a poor night of sleep are impacting your mind and body.
Pent up feelings and emotions are akin to a volcano waiting to erupt. Making the time to identify and acknowledge what you’re feeling puts you in a greater place of control, and less likely to “blow your top.”
Like physical activity for your body, emotional check-ins should be done regularly for you to get the most benefit. “These [emotional climate monitoring] skills work best if we learn them when our emotions aren’t so intense. Then we can apply them at times that are more [emotionally] challenging,” Dr. Rego says.
So, practice, practice, practice. Dr. Rego suggests checking in with yourself once a day to start. “The beginning of the day or around the time you begin your bedtime routine is ideal,” he says. If you can practice for just 5 to 10 minutes, it’s enough time to get a quick roundup of your thoughts and emotions.”
You can check in during your morning coffee, tea, mindfulness or meditative practice. Make a routine of monitoring both positive and negative emotions. Was there anything in your day that you would have liked to go better? How did you feel about it? Then, evaluate if you need to communicate further to clarify a situation with the person you are thinking about the next day.
Maryanna Klatt, Ph.D., a professor at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, says to ask yourself in the morning practice: How am I feeling as I approach the day? What is coming up that I want to be mindful of? How do I feel about it?
If it helps, try taking notes in a journal or on your phone’s note-taking app. The act of writing down feelings and thoughts can give you additional perspective, take the thought patterns out of your head, and provide some cognitive and emotional relief.
Emotional check-ins can assist you in evaluating if you need to do something about your feelings — like talk to someone to resolve an issue or just accept the feelings as they are. For instance, experiencing brief sadness isn’t always a cause for distress. In many cases, your emotional response may make complete sense, and feeling the sadness may move it more quickly out of your emotional landscape. You can look to your feelings like “clouds.” When they’re noticed, acknowledged, and felt, they can easily move through you and on their way out of your physical and emotional experience.
Similarly, Dr. Klatt writes, you might feel more anxious and on guard after witnessing a traumatic event, such as a car accident. By acknowledging your feelings, you can put some much-needed distance between yourself and the event.
Identifying your emotions will also help you see a connection between cause and effect, what might be causing feelings of post-traumatic stress, and allow you to direct your life toward a positive feeling state, Dr. Klatt explains. She says that if something is impacting you in a positive way, you’ll want to notice this feeling experience and increase positive feeling experiences. For example, if spending time with a good friend or family member enlivens you, then that’s a sign you need to spend more time with them. Or, if a favorite hobby provides interest, excitement, or puts you in the feel-good creative zone, then you know what makes you feel great. So, plan to spend more of your time with that person or that activity or hobby.
When you give yourself the time and space to pause, scan, and reflect on your feelings, you’re taking care of your mind and body. And if you need support and want to talk to someone, know that taking the first step to talk to a therapist can help you navigate your feelings and ensure that you’re taking care of your mind just as much as you’re taking care of your body.