February 1, 2023

4 Steps for Managing Emotions to Support Your Food Freedom

Melissa, a long-haired smiling woman, and text that says Dear Melissa

Your body tells you when stress and emotions are becoming too much. You feel it all as physical sensations—a lump in your throat or a stomach in knots. Learning to pinpoint the sensations and address the feelings causing them is powerful. Managing emotions isn’t always easy. But I have four steps that will help you tune into your body.

That focus on what your physical self is telling you will help in times of stress, busy schedules, and big emotions. These steps will guide you to fostering your mind-body connection to help you show up as your most energetic, grounded, present self, and continue to maintain your Food Freedom plan.

I’m not a therapist—although that would be a great place to begin this practice! But these steps for managing emotions and stress by listening to your body have helped me, and I hope they do the same for you.

Step 1: The Set-Up

The next time you notice discomfort, a negative emotion, or a craving, pause and spend a few minutes in the following exercise:

  1. Start in a comfortable seated position, either on the floor or in a chair
  2. Feet on the floor, especially barefoot and outside, can help you feel grounded
  3. Closing your eyes can help prevent distraction
  4. A few slow belly breaths (try a 5-count inhale, 5-count exhale) can help calm the nervous system before you begin
  5. Approach the exercise with curiosity, not judgment; there is no way to get it wrong

Allow yourself to sit with whatever you’re feeling without pressuring yourself to name it. Try, “I’m feeling something, and it’s big. I’m just going to acknowledge that, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.” Take a few deep breaths, using your exhales to relax even further. Allow yourself to simply exist with this sensation, and remind yourself that you’re safe.

Step 2: Get Out of Your Head

This is usually the point where we try to think or rationalize our way through the emotion, telling stories about what it means. We’re not going there, for two reasons.

First, some emotions (like anger) are SO big and overpowering that they often hide what we’re really feeling beneath them. This could be shame, fear, or loneliness.

Second, this “top-down” processing keeps us stuck on the story about what the emotion means, versus really sitting in how we feel. There is so much benefit to be found in somatic “ground-up” work. So we’re going to sidestep our brain for now, and check in with our body instead.

Do a quick scan of your body. Ask yourself where this emotion is coming up for you. Common areas for feeling stress include the head, neck and shoulders, throat, heart, stomach, and hips or pelvis. But you can feel things anywhere. You don’t have to be specific, but here are some unique sensations you might notice:

  • Heaviness
  • Tightness, closed off, or constriction
  • Frazzled or buzzing
  • Tension or stiffness
  • Pain, sharp, or dull
  • Nauseous, sick, or churning

It might be a flash; a dull sensation in a particular area; or a strong, concentrated feeling. Trust yourself. “I’m having this big emotion right now. Where is this emotion sitting in my body? I notice I feel (this way) in my (body area or part).”

Step 3: Take a Breath

Sit with that for a moment. Imagine what you’re feeling is landing in your stomach, and feels heavy, like a giant bowling ball.

Take a deep breath into your stomach. (You can’t actually breathe with your stomach, but when you take a breath, imagine pure, clean air or energy coming in, and send it down to that body part.) Feel the energy, light, or fresh air move into that space. Then breathe out, imagining darkness, smog, tension, or negativity leaving that space through the breath.

Do you still feel that in your stomach? Did it dissipate? Or did it move to another body part? How does the emotion feel now–is it just as present, did it grow stronger, or does it feel less intense? Repeat the process a few times, and notice how your body responds every time you sit deeper into that emotion.

Now, take those pieces and put them together. “I’m feeling this in my (body part). It feels like (describe in as much detail as you are able). How could what I’m feeling right now be related to this sensation in my body?”

It might even help to use the body parts to describe how you’re feeling. If you feel it in your stomach, you might say, “I feel sick that…” If you feel it in your heart, you might say, “My heart is sinking that…” If you feel it in your muscles, you might say, “I feel tense and defensive about…”

There are no right answers when you’re managing emotions in this way. Just trust that your body WANTS to help you figure out how you’re feeling, and how to process it.

Step 4: Ask Your Body What it Needs

The final step to managing emotions is to ask your body what it needs in this moment to feel heard, supported, and safe. This may feel weird if the process is new, but you may be surprised at what comes up for you.

I firmly believe your body has been begging you to ask, and is just waiting to send you helpful signals. Ask your stomach, heart, or muscles: “What do you need to feel heard, supported, and safe? What could I do or who could I bring in right now, even if it’s just in my imagination, to help you?”

Allow whatever comes up. Sit with it for as long as you need. You may feel like a huge burden has been lifted, or you may feel a bit more clarity or calmness. Regardless, trust that you have begun to reestablish that mind-body connection. And remember that your body appreciates you checking in and letting it take care of you (and vice-versa). 

With practice, the process becomes easier, more automatic, and more effective. And with time, you’ll be able to tap into this kind of communication in the moment, without having to sit down and close your eyes.

Use the Mind-Body Connection to Maintain Your Food Freedom

Checking in with your body is key to your entire Whole30 journey. That includes how you work your Food Freedom plan, too. You’re employing a brief pause, checking in with yourself to ask “Is it worth it, and do I want it?” Then you’re making the decision that serves you best in that moment.

It’s called a practice for a reason. This isn’t a skill I learned overnight, and there were plenty of times I’d sit down and think, “I don’t even know what I’m doing.” But with time and consistency, I learned to trust the signals my body was sending me. I was able to establish patterns in my feelings, and discover new ways to navigate stressful moments, negative emotions, or discomfort in a way that didn’t involve a not-worth-it food or drink. (Bonus, this practice will also help you set and hold healthy boundaries in all of your relationships, because those require you to check in with your own feelings and needs, too!)

The next time you notice excess negativity, stress, or discomfort, try managing emotions with this practice and see what comes up for you. Let me know on Instagram (@melissau) how your Food Freedom plan is going, and ask for help when you need it.

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