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What to Do with Feelings

A comment on one of my previous blogs raised a good question: Once you know what you’re feeling, what are your options? Unfortunately, there’s no magic or singular way to handle them. Being human is very trying, in part, because of our need to deal with painful emotions. There’s only trial-and-error and some general wisdoms to guide us. Of course, you already know that eating or obsessing about food won’t help you in the long run. That said, on to effective alternatives.

When you’re slammed with emotions, you can choose from two basic reactions—either change yourself or your situation. Of course, many circumstances require that you do both. When there’s absolutely nothing you can do to alter what’s going on, you’re stuck with changing yourself, which generally means modulating feelings. This does not mean denying or minimizing them, but placing them into rational perspective and reducing their intensity so that you can get through whatever needs getting through. The process involves soothing self-talk, distraction, deep breathing and/or other relaxation techniques. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt. For example, if you’re stuck in traffic, you simply have to adjust so that you don’t blow a gasket. When you’re feeling frustrated and helpless, the goal is to calm yourself down. Self-soothing is no mean feat and takes a galactic amount of effort and practice, but it does get easier over time. Remember not to blame someone else for what you feel: your emotions are your job to manage!

Alternately, when a situation you can do something about continues to cause you grief, it’s time to take action. The process involves putting your emotions on the back burner for the moment to ensure clear thinking and donning your problem-solving hat. For example, say that for the third night in a row your spouse calls to say s/he can’t make it home for dinner and you and the kids should go ahead and eat. You’ve been sitting with feelings about your partner choosing work over family and once more feel disappointed, undervalued, and unheard. Because your feelings are justified and there is something you can do to (hopefully) remedy the situation (talk with your spouse, not make them dinner, eat later, get into counseling, etc.), in this instance, you’ll want to focus on altering your circumstances to feel better.

Of course, it’s not always obvious whether you need to change your emotions or circumstances, especially if feelings work is new to you. But, in time you’ll get a better sense of what kind of action, if any, to take and you’ll be amazed at how identifying and responding to feelings will improve your life—and your eating.