As we know, managing illness involves many parts of our lives. Disease management usually includes medication for the disease itself, medication for symptoms, nutritional support, exercise, and much more. There is an important part of disease management that is often overlooked: A well rounded approach to health and wellness should include mental health along with medical treatment. I could write chapters on this but for today, I just want to share one example of how feeling our feelings plays a role in disease management. I had a very moving session with a client a few weeks ago that is a great example of just how important it is to be in touch with our feelings as part of harnessing wellness.
My client, we’ll call her Dawn, has multiple sclerosis (MS). She has been doing one-on-one coaching sessions with me and has experienced a lot of improvement and relief. However, she is still experiencing some pain and limited mobility so we are going deeper.
During our session last week some deep emotions came up, and I guided her to stay with what she was feeling. I encouraged her to allow herself to fully feel them. I find that sometimes people come to me as a coach rather than a therapist (I am both) because they think they can bypass the therapeutic process of feeling our feelings. She expressed that doing therapy in that moment felt trite and pointless. She did not want to spend the session “feeling.” But in that moment, my job was very clearly to guide her through her feelings. And she again expressed that she just felt it would be a waste of time. The truth is, many people share this sentiment. I spent years feeling that way myself and not understanding how or why feeling my feelings was important. (Make sure you read to the end to learn just how important it is!)
Even once I became a therapist, I did not realize that there was a much deeper layer of emotions that I was not addressing. To be completely transparent, many therapists and even psychologists are not trained to help our clients feel emotions in a way that moves emotion through the system. Many people find that when they start to experience their feelings, it feels overwhelming or like a spiral that just gets worse. That’s understandable when we lack the proper tools to feel our feelings in a way that feels safe and that is both healthy and cathartic. When done right, feeling our feelings is transformative and very powerful. I want to show you just how powerful it is to feel emotions by returning to my story about Dawn. Feeling our feelings is so important, especially when doing so with the right guidance.
At this point in the session, Dawn had expressed that she felt going into the emotion she was feeling would be a “waste of time.” Nonetheless, I asked her to trust me, to dig deep, and find the courage to face this emotion. Using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or “tapping”), I guided her to fully feel the emotion. She started crying and we stayed with it, alternating between tapping and deep breathing. I asked her where she felt the emotion in her body – her hips. Dawn has had severe pain in her hips pretty much since her diagnosis over five years ago. We started to focus attention on the physical pain also by using tapping. As we tapped, we alternated focus on the physical pain and the intense painful emotions she was facing. Less than fifteen minutes later, her pain, which had started at a level 10+, was at a 1. She was crying tears of joy from feeling pain relief for the first time in years.
I checked on Dawn yesterday and she has not had any pain in her hips since that session. Needless to say, she’s overjoyed and extremely grateful. I am not sharing that to toot my own horn. She did the work, she was the brave one who faced her feelings. You see, our bodies store any emotion we do not properly process. This is the case for everyone, even healthy people. For anyone living with chronic illness, we are always looking for ways to manage disease and help the body. Just like taking medication to manage disease, and supplements to nourish the body, feeling our feelings is an important part of wellness. That does not mean you have to walk around crying! It simply means that it is essential to have an outlet for your emotions- this can be with a therapist or coach, with friends, a support group or therapy group, or even on your own through journaling or other self help practices.
Imagine that the key to reducing your pain could simply be opening yourself up to the idea of sharing your emotions with someone else? Dawn has been out of pain for a month now after years of consistent pain. I bet she’d tell you it was worth facing that emotion, especially in under fifteen minutes. It can take time to feel safe feeling our feelings and to even become aware of them. Of course, seeking professional support will enhance the process. However you approach it, be patient with the process and stick with it as a part of your health management. You and your body will thank you. Here’s to a physically and emotionally healthy 2021!