As a life coach, I try to help people be kinder to themselves, to notice patterns in their thinking or behaviour, and to brainstorm solutions to obstacles or challenges they are facing. I am not, however, a mental health professional. I want to be clear about the kind of guidance I am able to offer and I am doing my best to avoid doing any harm to anyone who needs support that goes beyond reframing and encouragement.
In this post, I’m talking about solutions and workarounds for emotional obstacles or challenges that might be annoying or frustrating to you.
I usually refer to these these kind of emotional challenges as ‘garden-variety’ feelings – things that are very much part of our day-to-day range of feelings. They may cause frustration, may upset you in the moment/for a short period of time, or they may lead you to choose to avoid some activities sometimes but they don’t generally cause intense distress. They may be recurring issues, they may cause some anxiety, anger, sadness or stress but the feelings I’m referring to aren’t generally overwhelming and they don’t linger for extended periods or cause a cavalcade of other emotions. If you are experiencing something above and beyond what I describe here, please see the ‘Intense/Adverse Emotions’ section below.
So, now that I have done the extended remix explanation, let’s talk about some of those garden-variety feelings that can emerge when building fitness or well-being habits.
Whenever you are building new habits of any kind, your emotions are going to get churned up. This is perfectly normal and it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or that you are doing something wrong. It just means that you are adding new things into an established routine and you are making some adjustments as you go.
And, as usual when annoying or frustrating things are just part of a process, the key thing is figuring out how to sit with them until they pass or accept them while you get used to them.
I’m not saying that that either of those things are easy to do, so please don’t be hard on yourself if you struggle to accept them/wait for them to pass/adjust to them. The effort you put in to be kind to yourself and to try to accept those feelings will make things easier in the long run.
Since I am assuming that you don’t need a lot of support through any happy emotions that your practice generates, let’s have a look at some of the other garden-variety feelings that might emerge as you build your habits.
You might be frustrated – with your progress, with your body’s unwillingness to do certain things, with advice you have been given, with the challenges around making time or space for your habit.
You might be angry – maybe your movements are stirring up bad memories or an injury is keeping you from doing things the way you want to.
You might be sad – maybe you are mourning the things you used to be able to do, or you are adjusting to some change in your body, or you are missing someone you used to work on this habit with.
You might be anxious – perhaps you are carrying a lot of ambient anxiety about the world around you and your meditation or exercise time is when it seeps out or you might be concerned about how well you will able to do certain aspects of the program you have chosen.
All of those feelings are normal. You do not need to judge yourself for feeling them and you don’t have to try and push them away.*
Instead you can work your way toward accepting them as part of the process of building your habit. Here are some of the things I do as part of the process of learning to accept those feelings.
It sounds a bit weird but when I have an emotion float up out of nowhere when I am practicing a new habit, I find it helps just to call the feeling what it is. “Hmm, I feel angry right now.” I try not to even explore why, I just put the right label on it and keep going.
Go ahead and cry
When I mentioned this to Nicole, one of the other Fit is a Feminist Issue bloggers, she reminded me about the important role tears play in dealing with the emotional side of exercise/wellness. If I get that ‘about to cry’ feeling when I am exercising or meditation, I try to just let the tears flow and let the feeling wash away. Trying NOT to cry can really just make things harder.
Breathe through it
If a wave of emotion overtakes you while you are doing your practice, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to take some slow deep breaths. I know that deep breathing is touted as the solution to everything but that’s because there are so many times when it is genuinely helpful. Dealing with a wave of emotion is definitely one of those times. You don’t need to focus on dismissing the feeling, or exploring what it is rooted in, you can just breathe. I find it especially helpful to count as I inhale and exhale. (I like 4 in and 8 out but you do what works for you.)
When I feel frustrated, stuck, or annoyed during my practice, it is often because I am looking toward the results I want instead of focusing on where I am (or on how far I have come.) If I keep my focus on specific results, my impatience grows, I get frustrated, and I feel worse. Coming back to something like ‘I’m on my yoga mat in downward dog, am pushing away from the mat with my hands.’ can really help my frustration to fade. (Focusing on the results instead of the process is one of the best ways to make your practice harder. I advise against it!)
Take it easy/Go a bit harder
Depending on the emotion, it can be helpful to either take things down a notch or amp them up a bit. It’s hard to predict which one will help with any given emotion but that’s where a little experimenting will come in handy. Generally, I find that I can let anger run its course by pushing harder but sometimes slowing right down and breathing through the feeling serves me better.
Of course, there will be times when these emotions are too much to handle on a given day. If that’s the case for you, go ahead and adjust your workout or practice to give yourself the emotional space you need. If running makes you feel anxious (as it does for me), and today has been a stressful day, there is no need to add to that stress. You can so something else instead and leave the running (and the acceptance of the resulting emotions) for another time. Knowing your capacity is not the same as avoiding things and it is always a good idea to treat yourself with compassion, especially when you are building new habits.
Today, I am inviting you to be kind to yourself about any emotions your practice might be stirring up for you. And I am inviting you to choose a response/approach that serves you best.
Perhaps today is a time to change your focus or to try breathing or to adjust your workout. You know what will help you the most right now.
As always, here your gold star for your efforts, no matter what those efforts involve today. Whether you are zipping along on your cross country skis or lying in bed breathing through a wave of emotion, your efforts matter.
Please be kind to yourself in the process.
Intense /Adverse Feelings or Overwhelming Emotions
If the emotional challenges you are facing cause you intense distress or if they persist, the advice I am offering here will be inadequate.
As I mentioned above and, in my post yesterday, I am not a mental health professional and I don’t have the training or expertise to provide appropriate and structured support for anyone who is dealing with a mental illness or trauma. I don’t want to imply otherwise and I don’t want to cause you further harm or distress.
Here are some links with more detailed information about connections between exercise and emotional distress of various kinds. These links aren’t intended as solutions, just as information you might be able to use to feel less alone or to have some vocabulary to use when seeking help from a mental health professional.
I’m not sure if these are the kinds of things that can be triggering, so please proceed with caution.
*According to Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, any given emotional wave only lasts for about 90 seconds and once that time passes, the emotions are being fueled by our thoughts, stories, and reactions around them. So if we can learn (and practice) to observe our emotions and not fuel them, they can pass quite quickly. It’s not an easy thing to learn to observe feelings (or maybe unlearn fueling them) but it would definitely be worthwhile.
About these Go Team posts:
For the second year in a row, I’ll be posting a Go Team! message every day in January to encourage us as we build new habits or maintain existing ones. It’s cumbersome to try to include every possibility in every sentence so please assume that I am offering you kindness, understanding, and encouragement for your efforts right now. You matter, your needs matter, and your efforts count, no matter where you are applying them. You are doing the best you can, with the resources you have, in all kinds of difficult situations and I wish you ease. ⭐💚 PS – Some of the posts for this year may be similar to posts from last year but I think we can roll with it.