Working Through Big Feelings

Sometimes we find ourselves swimming in big feelings, ruminating on a challenging situation, or even just feeling a little dark and gloomy.. Being stuck in this feels awful and overwhelming, but we can move through it if we are intentional. Let’s look at moving through big feelings.

Now let’s look at each of these a little closer. Feel free to use this as a tool when you are working through some big feelings.

1. Notice the Feeling

Often we go through our days without paying attention to our feelings. We might just feel gross, or bad, but we don’t stop to really notice what it is.

We can sometimes feel detached from our bodies. Noticing the feeling means noticing what is happening in your body. Pay attention to each part of your body from your head to your toes. What do you notice? Where does the feeling or discomfort show up for you?

How does your emotion feel in your body? Observe the feeling, without judging it. Just be ok with whatever is there.

2. Label the Feeling

A big piece of moving through a feeling is to figure out what exactly we are feeling. Give it a name. Be specific. If you are feeling sad, what is underneath the sadness? Is it disappointment, discouragement, grief?

This can be challenging if we have felt detached from our emotions for a long time. There are many good, free online resources that can support us to articulate what we are feeling; to find some good lists of feeling words, for example, you can do a search for “feelings wheel.” For more on this, check out the work of emotions researcher Dr. Susan David. She has some great resources on her website (, as well as a book called “Emotional Agility.”

You can use this when you are feeling good too. Acknowledging and labelling the good feelings is helpful too!

What feeling(s) are you noticing now?

3. Choose to Feel It, Without Ruminating

Sit with the feeling. Don’t run from it, distract yourself, or stuff it away. Just notice that it’s there. It’s also important to not ruminate on the feeling or slip into self-pity. Just allow the feeling to be there, without letting it define you.

As discussed earlier, it can be helpful to think of our feelings like the weather. Here in BC, we know the rain. Though we can be visited by the rain for many days in a row, we always know that it’s not forever. The sun will return eventually. No weather is permanent. Weather, like the seasons, is always shifting. Sometimes when we are in the middle of winter, it can feel all-encompassing. But the rule of nature is that winter always gives way to spring. This is the same with our feelings and emotions.

Also be aware of assigning value to your emotions. Emotions and feelings aren’t intrinsically good or bad. They are just feelings. We can work with them, and they can guide us.

Our feelings can offer great wisdom if we take the time to be with them.

In her book Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle, an author who writes about her experiences with mental health and substance use struggles, says:

Perhaps pain was not a hot potato after all, but a traveling professor. Maybe instead of slamming the door on pain, I need to throw open the door wide and say, Come in. Sit down with me. And don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know. (2017)

4. Offer kindness to yourself

What can you do to support yourself right now? What can you do to self-soothe?

Self-soothing for babies and children shows up with pacifiers, blankets and stuffies. These things are a normal part of childhood, yet as we get older self-soothing practices seem to become much less important to us. Even though self-soothing is still a very important part of emotional regulation, and emotional intelligence.

Consider your senses. What can you do to self-soothe in the moment?

self care

5. If You Are Stuck-Disrupt

After identifying the feeling, feeling it and sitting with it, it may be a good idea to disrupt the feeling. Especially if it’s an extra sticky feeling, and we are ready to move past it. Anything we can do to disrupt our tendency to ruminate is helpful. Inertia means that we continue to move in the direction we are currently moving in. So when we are moving in a direction we don’t want to continue in, we need to disrupt it!

The process of disrupting a feeling can be very simple. Just choose something different. You can choose anything from exercise, getting outside, or changing your location. Whatever you choose, do it with an intention to disrupt. Choosing to be mindful of our thoughts and actions is helpful.

What are some things you can do to disrupt your feelings of rumination?

6. Deconstruct the Feeling – Get Curious

This phase is about getting curious. We know that curiosity can calm the nervous system, and that it supports the calming of the sympathetic nervous system. When we deconstruct our feelings, it means we ask ourselves questions about our feelings. Questions like:

  • What events led to this feeling?
  • Was there a single cause, or a combination of events?
  • How is my worldview impacting or contributing to my feeling?
  • Am I reading more into this than I need to be?
  • What is the story I am telling myself?
  • Can I change the story?
  • What am I missing? Is there something I am not seeing?
  • Has this happened before? If so, what helped last time?
  • What can I learn from this?

These are just some sample questions. There are many more that can be explored.

In his groundbreaking book The Body Keeps the Score, trauma expert Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk says:

Mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self-care.

Feel free to use this mindfulness tool anytime you feel overwhelmed or stuck. Notice what happens for you as you use it.

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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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