276: Permission to Feel (and why it is so very good for your health)
Humans are really good at glorifying certain emotions and demonizing others, which of course causes us to do things that deplete health rather than fortify it.
How might our health improve if we dropped the labels, accepted all emotion as a normal part of the human experience and even practiced pursuing discomfort on purpose?
That is precisely what I help you to explore in this week’s episode of the Grace & Grit podcast.
Have a listen and if it lands, share it with another human who might benefit too:)
Welcome to the Grace and Grit Podcast made for women who want their healthiest years to be ahead of them. Not behind them. Join your host Courtney Townley right now. As she breaks down the fairy tale health story, you have been chasing all of your life, indispensable action steps and lasting change.
Hello, and welcome to the Grace & Grit Podcast. This is your host, Courtney Townley. As always I’m so grateful you’re here. Now, last week, we talked a lot about integrity pain. And just to kind of catch you up to speed for those of you who missed that episode. Integrity pain is the very real physical and mental pain that shows up as a byproduct of living your life out of alignment with who you want to be, and the life that you feel called to create for yourself. In essence, integrity is the state of being whole, entire, undiminished, undivided.
A big part of being a whole human is allowing yourself to feel the full spectrum of human emotion. In other words, allowing all emotions, a seat at the table. But we aren’t so great at allowing emotions, a seat at the table, at least not all emotions. Instead, we resist emotion, we avoid emotion. We react to our emotions, we judge our emotions. And we even make up really dramatic storylines, about our emotions.
And so today, I really want to dive into this topic of permission to feel, permission to feel emotion and why it is so very, very good for your health.
Resisting emotion is a lot like trying to hold a beach ball underwater, you might be successful in that endeavor, for a little bit. But eventually, that ball is going to pop up from out from underneath you and potentially hit you in the face or someone nearby.
Another image that comes to mind, I don’t know, some of you listening if you have seen the movie unbroken, which is about a World War Two, that former Olympic track star who survived a plane crash. And he spent 47 days drifting on a raft and then survived more than two and a half years as a prisoner of war in three different Japanese camps.
And there’s a scene in that movie. It’s a fabulous movie, by the way, but there’s a scene in the movie where he’s holding a plank over his head, as kind of a form of torture. And he holds it there for an insane amount of time. Like it’s really remarkable, the endurance that this man has, especially given all that he’s been through. But of course, we can’t hold the plank over our head forever. Right, there comes a point where the body breaks down.
And this is kind of how I think of resisting emotion is we can do it. But it’s exhausting. It’s incredibly taxing, specifically to our nervous system. And our nervous system. innervates literally every system in the human body. So when our nervous system is dysregulated our immune function suffers, our digestion suffers. Our hormones suffer. Emotion needs motion, we have to allow emotion to move through us.
Otherwise, we’re creating a tremendous amount of unnecessary work that will actually harm us rather than help us. So let’s talk a little bit about what avoiding emotion looks like.
Avoiding emotion is distracting ourselves from the truth of our life. So it looks like pouring a glass of wine to avoid feeling stressed. Eating when you’re not hungry, because you’re feeling lonely. And avoiding emotion also looks like avoiding discomfort. Right.
And when we don’t lean into discomfort when we avoid discomfort, we don’t develop new skills. We don’t do the work that we are calling ourselves to do. And we move in the opposite direction that we intended to go. So I’ll give you a really clear example of this avoiding emotion, specifically avoiding discomfort.
I think I’ve shared this on the Podcast before. But this story always comes to mind when I think of avoiding emotion.
I had a client who was really committed to moving her body more regularly. And she had gone as far as to buy a gym membership, she had researched gyms and really picked one out that she felt really comfortable in, you know, she had done all the things she’d packed a gym bag, she had her gym clothes ready. And when it came time for her to lean into the discomfort of following through on that promise that she made to herself, you know what she did, she decided to paint our bathroom. And a lot of people will hear that and think, well, painting your bathroom is a lot of work. It is a lot of work. And there is a level of discomfort. But that level of discomfort clearly felt better to her than actually going to the gym. So avoiding a motion can look like doing more work.
Rather than going for the walk that you promised yourself that you would go on. Anything out of routine is going to feel uncomfortable. And of course, when we consistently avoid discomfort, it can be detrimental to our health. Because improving health requires that we lean into discomfort that we pursue discomfort on purpose. Now, please don’t hear me saying suffering. It’s not what I’m saying. But it is uncomfortable to do anything that is not a part of your regular routine. Something that you don’t feel super capable in. So avoiding emotion can definitely cause a lot of detriment to our health, because we aren’t doing the things that will move our health to higher ground.
Let’s talk about what reacting to emotion looks like. I’m sure I’m sure you all be everyone listening has experience with reacting to our emotions. So reacting to an emotion looks like taking action immediately. Because you feel something. And often that action is very out of alignment with who we want to be in the world. So it’s lashing out. Right? When we don’t pause to consider how we want to respond. And often of course, this is instigated by some kind of trigger.
I always think of like arguments with my husband. We’ve been married for so long, we’re going on 20 years. And we’ve been together of course many years before that. And so it’s really easy for us to have the same types of arguments and react in the exact same way that we always have. Which is so unhelpful. You know, it’s almost like I know how he’s gonna respond or react before he even reacts. And then of course, I react accordingly.
And all that does is it keeps us in this spin cycle of not being able to grow and evolve as a couple. So taking a beat, taking a moment when you feel really emotionally charged to consider the message the emotion has for you. And how you want to respond to that message. is a really powerful practice. And of course we massively dive into this work inside my Rumble & Rise community. And we start from the perspective that most of your emotional charge is coming from the way you’re perceiving your life, the way you’re perceiving another person, the way you’re choosing to think about these things.
So often for me when anger shows up. And I really am willing to look at the message that anger has, for me. What’s underneath the anger is actually something else. It’s usually insecurity, uncertainty, lack of feeling safe. And so I react with anger because I feel more protected with anger. Anger just pushes everything away. And so I have to really be willing to examine the emotion that I’m feeling, what might be under it? And how am I creating it? Through the way that I’m thinking, I know that when self doubt shows up, for me, it’s really clear, I’ve done so many exercises on examining self doubt. And it has become so clear to me that when self doubt shows up, it clearly reflects the quality of my thinking, in that I’m focusing on my weaknesses, rather than my strengths. So of course, I feel self doubt. But if I spend 90 seconds, focusing on why I can figure this out why I’m perfectly capable, to reminding myself of all the resources I have at my disposal, I don’t feel self doubt, I feel something quite different.
So I like to remind my students and myself, that emotions are indicators, not dictators. And what I mean by that is, if you are very reactive to emotion all the time, you are allowing emotions to dictate your life. But if you can start to build a practice of pausing, when emotions show up, and consider them for a moment, why they’re there, how you are generating them. Emotions can be amazing lenses to look through in terms of how you’re choosing to think about your life.
Again, emotions are indicators, kind of identifying and showing you how you’re showing up in your life, versus dictators. They only get to rule our life, if we give them permission to do so. And, you know, I’ll say this also about reacting to emotions. I come from a very long line of Irish folks. And I’ve always said, in in jest, that oh, you know, I’m Irish. So of course, I’m reactive. Or of course, I have big emotion. But really, I have big emotion. Because I never learned how to regulate emotion. I never learned how to be with emotion. I never learned how to be curious about emotion until I was almost in my late 30s.
So something to consider. Do you react to emotion? Are you allowing emotion to govern your life? And if so, I just want to offer you that you don’t have to live that way. Is it serving your health to live that way?
Let’s talk about these last two pieces here in terms of what we do with emotion, we also judge emotion. We say things to ourselves like this shouldn’t be happening. I should be happy. I should be grateful. I should be fill in the blank. And there is kind of this pervading message in our culture that we should be happy all the time. We deserve that. But the truth is that’s not really the human experience.
Once the human experience is that we feel all the emotions throughout our life. We feel, you know, really feel good emotions, like happiness and optimism and joy. And we also feel disappointment and frustration, and sadness. And when we really hyper focus on these labels of good and bad. And then combine that with living at a time, where pleasure is at every corner, you can see how things would go horribly wrong with our health. Right?
If I’m always chasing pleasure, if I’m always chasing this idea that I deserve pleasure, or that I should feel good all of the time. We do things consistently, that compounded over time are massively detrimental to our health. So if every time I feel stressed, I drink to not feel stress. Or I eat so I feel something better than stress. That does not bode well for my physiology. So we have to drop the goal of being happy all the time. If you dropped that idea that you are supposed to be happy all of the time.
How might that change your relationship to certain things like food and alcohol? It would change. Okay, finally, I want to say this about what we do with emotion, we make up really dramatic storylines, about emotion. So we feel bad about feeling bad. And this kind of ties into what I was just saying about sort of feeling entitled to be happy all the time. If I’m anything but happy.
Let’s just say that I’m feeling frustrated, I’m feeling a little self doubt, I’m feeling disappointed. It doesn’t end there. What we start doing when we feel anything but happy or pleasure or good is we have more thoughts about the bad emotions that make us feel even worse. So we feel guilty about our guilt. We feel disappointed about our disappointment. We feel angry about our anger. And then we do all the things that I already talked about. We avoid emotion by consuming things that are not good for us. Right?
We judge our emotion we react to our emotions, all the things so when you feel really emotionally charged any emotion consider what you’re making your emotions mean. Why is it a problem for you? That this emotion has come knocking because when we make a motion, any emotion, a problem is going to lead to more avoiding more resisting, more reacting, all of which break down our health.
So if trying to manage our emotion in these ways, is not good for us. Why do we keep doing it? I think it really boils down to two things.
Number one, we fear, emotion, certain emotions.
Like I never want to feel lonely. I never want to feel incapable. I don’t know what the thing is that you fear but I guarantee there are emotions that you would probably prefer to never feel again in your lifetime. And think about why you fear emotion. It’s because of what I said earlier. It’s what you make it mean. Right anger is bad. I shouldn’t feel frustrated. I should never feel self doubt. Those thoughts are what make you fear emotion. The second reason we do these things is because we have a habit of not feeling emotion.
Again, like I said earlier, I didn’t learn about regulating emotion or managing emotion in healthy ways until I was in my late 30s. And I work with women every day who are in their 40s 50s 60s and beyond, who haven’t learned how to regulate their own emotional landscape. And I feel like there’s so much grace in reminding ourselves that all of the behavior that we don’t love is really just a habit. It’s just a practice. And I find so much relief in that truth. Because it means that if I start practicing something else, I can change.
So, the cost to your health, of not giving yourself permission to feel emotion is that you jack up your nervous system, which jacks up your chemistry, you are often paralyzed to take action that would move your life to higher ground. In other words, you avoid discomfort like we talked about earlier. And you suffer unnecessarily. So yes, life is hard, life can be hard. But man, do we make it so much harder than it needs to be? Because we do not give ourselves permission to feel.
So I want to invite you moving forward, to start thinking of your emotions, as a treasure trove. Your emotional landscape is giving you so much insight about who you are choosing to be in the world, how you’re choosing to think what you’re choosing to practice. And that is awesome information. Even if you don’t like the information, it is still awesome information. Because we can’t change without self awareness.
When we start to get wildly curious about our emotions, and why they are here, and how we are responsible for them being here, it gives us the opportunity to make a different decision. So let’s talk just briefly about how to actually grant yourself permission to feel specifically along the path to improving your health.
So the first thing and I have an entire module on this inside The Consistency Code, which all of my Rumble & Rise members get access to the very first thing I teach people is the power of observation. Which basically means self awareness. So we have to start observing ourselves. And we can do that really simply with emotions by just starting to practice naming them and noticing them. It’s really interesting.
A lot of my clients when we first start talking about emotional management, and emotional agility, a lot of them have trouble naming emotions. Or they feel like their emotional vocabulary is a very tiny, they either feel happy or they feel sad. They feel you know, fine, or they feel not fine. But there is a wide range of human emotion. And when we start learning about how different emotions feel in our body, and we become better at naming them and noticing them when they show up. We’re in a much better position to handle them process them in a way that keeps us in integrity with ourselves.
So how does anger for you differ from grief? How to sadness for you differ from disappointment? How do those emotions show up differently in your body? Where do you feel it specifically? How does it move through your body? And of course the tricky part here is when we observe we love to judge. This is not a practice of judging. It’s a practice of watching. Naming and noticing that simple, we have to keep the judgment out of it. Otherwise, it turns into something very different.
The second thing we need to do is, once we start building a practice of observing what’s truly going on, we have to start getting our self permission to lean in. And what that means is we have to start practicing allowing the emotion to process to be in us to feel it. So this looks like getting curious about your resistance. There are certain emotions in your life that you are probably so very unwilling to feel.
What do you do when that emotion shows up? Do you drink do you eat? Do you busy yourself with work? Do you pick a fight with your spouse? What are the emotions that you have a lot of resistance to. Because all resistance is, is an unwillingness to feel. So rather than feel rather than allow emotion, we retreat from it.
When I was I taught movement for years, I was a Pilates trainer, I was a personal trainer, I did all kinds of movement things for over 20 years in my career. And one of the things I always used to use as a teaching strategy is when a client was executing a movement, I would track to get them to better understand the movement, I would ask them to do it wrong, I would ask them to do it in the opposite way that I ultimately wanted them to do it in. And I always think about this in my teaching and coaching now.
Of what would the opposite look like? So the opposite of feeling emotion is all the things I mentioned earlier. It’s retreating, it’s avoiding. It’s judging. So what would be different for you? What would change for you if you could stay with it? Instead of distracting yourself, instead of seeking pleasure to immediately feel better? What would it be like What would change for you, if you just stayed with the emotion for a few minutes? Here’s what I think would happen. It would start to dissipate, it would start to lose its power, it would lose its charge.
Once you feel an emotion, you get curious about the emotion. It’s done its work. It has relayed its message to you. But if you continue to resist and avoid, you know what happens, that emotion knocks harder and louder because you’re not paying attention. And emotions are very determined messengers. They want to get through to you. So you can kid yourself that you’re you know, tuning it out ignoring it, which makes it go away but it doesn’t it makes it actually get more disruptive.
So we observe, we lean in and we start asking really good questions. Why am I feeling this? Why is this emotion here? Am I making this hurt? More than is necessary? Am I causing some unnecessary suffering here? What am I choosing to make this emotion mean? Why am I afraid of this emotion? Why am I unwilling to feel it?
Emotion is simply a vibration in the human body. I mean when you really think about it, that’s what it boils down to. It’s a charge in the human body. And if you’re listening to this Podcast, there has never been an emotion to date that has killed you. I know sometimes it feels that way. But emotions have never been kills you. But what we do to avoid them, to numb them? By reacting to them, that stuff kills us.
We observe, we lean in, we ask questions, and then we get to choose our response. Based on what I know now, based on the answer to those questions, how do I want to proceed? How can I honor this emotion and my health? Simultaneously? I love that question. How can I honor this emotion and my health simultaneously. When I’m feeling stressed, I could drink I could eat. I could busy myself with more work. None of which is going to support my health.
So I’ve learned that when I’m stressed, sleep is usually my number one go to, because sleep always helps me to unpack stress. Sometimes they just need to sit down and write a list of everything that I’m processing in my brain to get it out of my brain, which also helps me to unpack stress. Sometimes I need to have a conversation, I need to actually verbally process this with somebody else. That might be my husband, it might be a friend, it might be a therapist, it might be another coach. But all of those things that I just mentioned, writing things down, getting some sleep, talking it out. All of that allows me to process the emotion and honor my health simultaneously. So I’m processing the emotion in a way that nourishes my well being rather than destroys it.
Alright, so in summary, granting yourself permission to feel emotion will help you to improve your health, because you will stop buffering, which basically just means you’re trying to find something outside of you to change your internal emotional landscape. So you will no longer resist, distract, avoid emotion.
You will, you will stop fearing emotion. And think about that. Like what if you really stopped fearing emotion? How would you show up differently in your life if you were willing to feel any emotion all the way through? How would you start living your life differently. And here’s the best part.
When you start practicing, granting yourself permission to feel emotion, you will really start living your life. And what that means is you’ll start pursuing discomfort on purpose. You won’t avoid the walk that you’ve scheduled at noon, you won’t avoid going to the gym, you won’t avoid cooking that new healthy meal that you decided to make for your family tonight. You won’t avoid putting yourself to bed earlier even though it’s a little uncomfortable and inconvenient.
Because you’re leaning into boat, that discomfort on purpose in order to change your life. And if you have the capacity, and the willingness to feel all emotion that won’t be such a problem for you. You really start living your life when you give yourself permission to feel because you take full ownership for how you’re showing up. You take full ownership for those messengers, having a seat at the table. So of course, this is the work that I do.
This is what I help my clients do. So if you are someone who is listening to this, and realizing that a big part of the reason that you’re not feeling well and you’re not taking better care of yourself is because you are reacting, avoiding distracting from emotion. You should check out Rumble & Rise, which is my amazing private community. And you can do that by going to graceandgrit.com/readytorumble again graceandgrit.com/readytorumble.
I hope this was helpful I hope if you just walk away with one little nugget that will allow you to be with emotion a few seconds longer and allow yourself to start processing it in a way that promotes health rather than depletes it. This is worth listening to. Alright make friends. I will talk to you again next week. I hope you have a wonderful week. Take care
Thank you for listening to the Grace and Grit Podcast. It is time to mend the fabric of the female health story. And it starts with you taking radical responsibility for your own self care. You are worth the effort and with a little grace and grit anything is possible.
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