“I know I’m supposed to let myself feel what I feel…but whenever I try, I get depressed for days.”

It’s true that processing your emotions means allowing yourself to feel them. But here’s the thing: when you’ve been stuffing down your feelings for so long, there can be so many intense emotions trapped on the inside that feeling them all at once leads to overwhelm.

And that can make you feel stuck. Stuffing your emotions means invalidating them, and that doesn’t feel good, but then feeling your emotions means inviting a flood of them so strong you either spiral downward or shut down entirely. That doesn’t feel good either.  Where does the relief come in?

If feeling your emotions tends to do this to you, that may be a sign to take things slower. You don’t have to feel everything at once. Take it step by step. Give yourself space to feel just a little piece at a time, and as soon as you’ve had a moment to feel a little bit, take a step back. Give yourself permission to take a break, recharge, and do something you enjoy. You can go back to feeling your emotions later when you’re feeling rejuvenated and ready again.

Here are some tips for how you can feel your emotions safely:

  • Write down what each step of your downward spiral looks like. Know the signs that you’re getting too overwhelmed and need a break.
  • Create a plan for how to recharge after feeling your emotions. What’s something that truly helps your body feel better? Do you need to take a walk? Listen to some upbeat music? Watch a favorite movie?
  • Set a timer for as long as you want – a minute, 5 minutes, 15, whatever feels safest and most doable for you. While the timer is running, notice your emotions and how they feel in your body. Allow them to be there without judging them. When the time is up, take a break.
  • Visualize putting your emotions away somewhere safe. You can imagine storing them in a vase, a treasure box, or some other container that marks them as precious and important.
  • Remind yourself that you can revisit them later.

You’ll notice that with repetition, the time you can spend feeling your emotions gets longer. The more you practice, the easier it gets!