For the time being, here are some helpful practices which I have personally found to increase my ability to feel, cope with, and express strong emotions:
1. ANCHOR YOURSELF TO YOUR BODY
As mentioned above, emotional numbing is connected to dissociation (mental disconnection from one part of yourself). In my case, whenever I experience strong emotions, my automatic response is to either a) only feel the emotions in my body, not my mind, or b) to have a complete meltdown. In both cases, one of the best self-soothing mechanisms I’ve learned is to anchor myself to my body through mindfulness and physical contact. Similar to what a mother does with her child, I tightly but gently hold one area of my body – usually my hand or stomach. This method helps me to feel contained and grounded in my body.
I also recommend using shapewear or a pressure vest to help you in extremely emotionally turbulent periods to anchor yourself to your body (here is a good example of shapewear). Shapewear is used by women and men to keep “love handles” and other body parts slim and defined. For our purposes, shapewear is like a hug to the body that will help you feel safe and ‘held together.’ Pressure vests are a little more expensive and they are used by people with sensory integration disorders (such as autism) to relax.
2. DEEP BREATHING
Whether used alone or in conjunction with the above-mentioned technique, deep breathing is a simple and easy way to help you mindfully move through whatever you’re experiencing. This practice is particularly useful when intense feelings such as fear or rage break through. There are many books out there which talk about the importance of deep breathing (such as this one), and there are many online tutorials with breathing techniques. I recommend sticking to something simple, something you don’t have to think about too much, and something that doesn’t feel forced. The point of deep breathing isn’t to follow someone else’s technique perfectly, it is to use your breath (in whatever way suits you), to calm your mind and body. Read more about how to relax using deep breathing.
3. KEEP A JOURNAL OF SAD THOUGHTS
I realize this suggestion may sound a tad bit melancholic, but it’s a practice worthy of your time and effort, particularly if you’re wanting to feel and express your emotions.
In a physical journal or online diary, spend five to ten minutes every day writing down something which triggers even the slightest pang of sadness in you. For example, you might write down a memory of your dog who died, an issue in the world, something someone said to you, a scene from a movie, a daily struggle … or virtually anything that is upsetting (or what you imagine would be upsetting).
Creating a sad thoughts diary has two main benefits. One, it helps you express your emotions, even if in an indirect way at first. And two, it acts as a catalyst for feeling and letting out your emotions, particularly when you need momentum (I’ll elaborate more on this soon).