All the Feels: Why Accepting Your Emotions Is Key To Well-Being

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been groomed to bottle up your feelings because it’s what mature, intelligent people do. The pervasive cultural logic of “Keep Calm and Carry On” leads us to believe that suppressing our feelings can help us reach commonly accepted milestones of happiness and success: a job promotion, marriage and children, or a new house.

But what if this isn’t working for us? What if distancing ourselves from our emotions is actually harming our physical and psychological well-being? I’m not suggesting we burst into temper tantrums when the copier doesn’t work or a traffic jam makes us late to a meeting. I’m suggesting listening to your feelings—the entire spectrum from positive to negative—simply because they are a part of what makes you you.

Emotions and Self-Compassion

An openness to acknowledging your emotions is linked to the theories of self-compassion made mainstream by researchers like Dr. Kristin Neff. She describes self-compassion as “compassion directed inwards. Just as we can feel compassion for the suffering of others, we can extend compassion towards the self when we experience suffering, regardless of whether the suffering resulted from external circumstances or our own mistakes, failures, and personal inadequacies” (2, “Self-Compassion and Psychological Well-Being”).

Practicing Self-Compassion

Neff bases her research in Theravedan Buddhist meditations, which encourage practitioners to remain mindful of emotions and thoughts when they arise during meditation and then focus on breathing as a way of consciously accepting and releasing them.

In my favorite meditation class at Wat Buddhametta in Tucson, AZ, we use a technique called “labeling” to name the thoughts and emotions that arise during meditation. This habit of acknowledging thoughts and emotions, not matter how negative or mundane, establishes an open mindset that leads to the last part of the class. Each class ends with saying a few lines out loud to send loving kindness to oneself before wishing it for others:

“May I be happy

 May I accept myself as I am

 May I know the joy of being alive”

The key to experiencing loving kindness and self-compassion is feeling those emotions that came up during meditation. Naming them is how you recognize the complex emotional landscape that constitutes your inner self. If you try to suppress them during meditation, it usually results in an ugly cry on the way home (trust me, I’ve been there).

Feeling All The Feels

Our lives are not a one-way street of joy and contentment—they’re multi-lane freeways of emotional highs and lows. Taking those highs and lows in stride, as we do during mindfulness meditation, is the difference between a healthy, balanced life and an existence that’s defined by society’s standards for what “happiness” looks like. Next time you feel your temper about to flare up, or a tide of sadness coming on, don’t distract yourself with your smartphone or force a smile. Find a place where you can take a deep breath and label what’s happening to you: “Anger” or “Sadness.” Accept that these emotions arise and need to be recognized, however temporary they are.

Irene Jagla

Irene Jagla

I'm a recovering PhD student who's new to Seattle and excited to explore everything this gorgeous city has to offer! After years of bouncing around from Illinois to India to Arizona, I think I've found my place.
Irene Jagla

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