Like almost everything healthy, emotional check-ins take some effort at first. They may feel odd or awkward, and that’s OK. New things take practice.
So, to help yourself practice, pick an activity you do daily, and connect your check-in to that. Set an alarm on your phone, or keep a sticky note nearby to serve as a reminder. Continue to practice. After a while, you’ll start to notice a difference, an increased level of awareness. And most importantly, a powerful opportunity to do something different.
1. Tune into your body. Your body often sends physical cues about how you’re feeling, long before your emotions fully register. And for a lot of people, the body is the easiest way to tune into what you’re feeling. Perhaps your shoulders are tense, you’re walking quicker than normal, or your heart is racing. Perhaps you’re sitting more slumped than normal, you’re talking less in a meeting, or your muscles feel heavy and tired. Notice these physical cues and let them serve as a prompt to check in with yourself.
2. Take a deep breath. Imagine how difficult it would be for a nurse to take your temperature if you were running circles around the exam room. It would be chaos. So why would you try to do an emotional check-in with your mind racing? A slow, mindful breath is one of the best things you can do for your health. Take a slow, deep breath, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. This helps slow your mind and reduce distractions, making it easier to focus on your emotional experience.
3. Ask the question. Use the simple question, “How am I feeling?” Make it even more specific by tacking on the phrase “right now” or “in this moment.” This will help focus your brain on the current moment, which is an awesome practice in mindfulness. This ensures that you can get as accurate a reading as possible. And don’t be afraid to ask this question out loud. It will help direct your attention and your thoughts to your emotional check-in.
4. Use descriptive words to capture how you feel. It’s critical when you’re describing your emotions to use detailed, specific, and nuanced words. Imagine if a physician just diagnosed you as “sick” or “achy.” Those generic terms wouldn’t help guide treatment. In the same way, it’s not helpful to do an emotional check-in and say, “I feel bad.” That is surface and vague. And you can do better. Maybe you’re feeling drained, depleted, worried, confused, distracted, hurt, rejected, judged or overwhelmed. Those words are more specific and detailed. And as I’ve said before, the more accurate the assessment, the more helpful the intervention. Get specific with your emotions.
5. Brainstorm what might be contributing to those emotions. When it comes to humans and our emotions, it’s rarely simple. And there’s rarely a clear cause. But we can often hypothesize about some contributing factors or potential explanations for the way we feel. By brainstorming some of the things that might be contributing to your emotions, you’re gaining greater insight into your experience, and this insight gives you the opportunity to make a choice about your emotions going forward. How do you want to respond? What is the most effective and powerful way to respond? With grace? Appreciation? Hope? Gratitude? You choose.
(Amy Trezona is a registered nurse with Community Health Centers of Lane County.)