Archive of ‘Mindfulness’ category

An Introduction Into Feelings

There are feelings we prefer to experience, and some that we would rather do without. Oftentimes these get categorized into “good” and “bad” emotions. For example, “happy” might feel good, but “sadness” might feel bad, and so they consciously or subconsciously get labeled as such. What if I were to tell you that feelings are neither good nor bad, but rather neutral? What if I were to say that a feeling like “anger” is not only okay, but normal and human? When we categorize feelings into good and bad, we are more prone to having more complex emotions and judgment about ourselves (such as having feelings about our feelings), bottling up emotions (which instead of making feelings disappear will lead to further unresolved feelings that tend to fester and pop up at a later time), and missing out on understanding ourselves better. Rather than looking at our feelings through the lens of good and bad, I would like to challenge you to look at them through the lens of curiosity.

Seeing Our Feelings as Information 

When we are looking at our feelings through curious eyes, we can gain better understanding about ourselves. Our feelings are information; clues that help us in getting to know ourselves better. For example, if one feels sad when a friend moves away, being curious about that feeling can help you learn more about what you value. You might find after sitting with that feeling for a bit that you miss talking with them, and make a plan to facetime, write letters to each other, or plan times to visit. You might also find in that same scenario that you are mourning that things will not be the same with that friend again – those feelings of loss and grief are okay too. There may not be a way to make things just as they were, but you are learning that you cared deeply about this friend, that it hurts when losses are experienced, and that it is okay to mourn that loss and feel sad. In learning this about yourself and taking this information in, you may find that you need more support from others during this time and seek out loved ones to talk to, or incorporate some walking into your routine to help boost some endorphins during this difficult time. Alternatively, pushing the feeling of sadness away because it is uncomfortable and not addressing it does not mean that the sadness goes away and is not felt; it just means that it is not being recognized, processed, and worked through. Every person and every situation is different and has different needs, so working through feelings will look differently in each case. However, the more we push away feelings, the more they pile up, and the more unresolved feelings you may have later down the line. 

The example above was about experiencing sadness, which might be an uncomfortable emotion. Likewise, we can also look with curiosity at the feelings we tend to enjoy and dig a little deeper about where they are coming from and how to incorporate more of these types of healthy experiences, situations, and relationships into our lives. The word “curiosity” helps to keep us from judgment, and helps us have a healthier outlook in learning more about ourselves. We can also use this curiosity to better understand the people around us, whether it is a partner, friend, child, or someone else.

Taking Responsibility Over What’s Ours 

Some may wonder something along the lines of, “If feelings are not bad, how come others don’t like when I’m sad?” or “If anger is okay, does that mean it’s okay for others to yell at me because they’re angry?” 

The simple answer for the first question is – we can’t control how others feel about our feelings, but we can choose how to respond to our own emotions. The long answer is that some people may not have the same understanding about feelings being neutral, and may be uncomfortable seeing others with feelings like sadness and anger (or any number of other feelings). We cannot control how others respond to our emotions, but what we can control is the way that we respond to our emotions. 

In response to the second question, we’ve established that being angry is not bad, and that we also take responsibility for how we respond to that anger. Acknowledging the feeling, we can make a conscious effort to be curious and learn more about ourselves. Research professor Brené Brown asserts in her book Atlas of the Heart that anger is often an emotion that is covering up other emotions. For example we might experience anger because it feels less vulnerable than fear, rejection, or guilt. Taking the time to be curious about what we are feeling can help us have a clearer picture about what we are experiencing. Just as we can respond to anger with curiosity, we can also choose to respond to the feeling of anger in other ways such as yelling at whoever is nearby. Whereas learning more about ourselves will help us grow, yelling at others will likely cause rupture in our relationships and other undesired consequences. That is all to say, a feeling and a response to a feeling are two different things. The ways we respond to our feelings have consequences, so it’s in the way that we choose to react from our feelings that makes the difference. That being said, it is okay for others to experience anger as well, but they are also responsible for the way that they respond to that emotion. (Note: children are new to understanding emotions and will need a parent’s help in recognizing what they’re feeling and guidance in learning healthy ways to work through and express those feelings.) 

Feelings Wheel 

Now that we’ve learned a little about how to be accepting of our feelings, we might still find that it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint what we’re feeling. A Feelings Wheel is a tool that can help give more words to the feelings we feel. Not all Feelings Wheel’s are the same, but there are typically some basic emotions in the center of the wheel, and then the feeling words branch out to have more specific feelings. Feelings Wheels help give us an insight into the many different things we might be feeling, and naming the feeling can bring comfort and be a first step into digging a bit deeper. I have included a Feelings Wheel for reference, but a quick internet search will give you some more options and perhaps more words that resonate with you. There are also some Feelings Wheels that are more appropriate for younger children which include faces and/or a more limited amount of feeling words to choose from. If you find that exploring your feelings is too difficult, confusing, complicated, or causes you distress, seeking out the help of a counselor might be helpful. Counselors are here to help people get to know themselves better and walk alongside them on the path to their goals.

Walk and Talk Therapy: Is it Right for Me?

Walk and Talk Therapy is an approach to traditional talk therapy where the therapist and client take their session outdoors and walk together while discussing the client’s issues. This type of therapy is becoming increasingly popular and provides similar benefits to those found in mindfulness, physical activity, ecotherapy, and more traditional psychotherapy.  

Benefits of Walk and Talk Therapy:

Some of the benefits include:

  • Reduced Stress and Anxiety: Walking is a proven stress reliever and can help reduce feelings of anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters that help to alleviate stress and anxiety. When you combine walking with talking about your feelings, you get a powerful combination that can significantly reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
  • Moving Forward: Taking a walk with your therapist can help shift the focus towards moving forward; this added movement and momentum can help in getting unstuck. Walking can also provide a natural rhythm to the conversation, making it easier to stay on topic and keep the conversation flowing.
  • Bilateral Stimulation: Bilateral stimulation is any method of stimulating the body and brain in a rhythmic right-left pattern. It is often used in therapeutic settings (such as in EMDR therapy) to help reduce the symptoms of trauma, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Bilateral stimulation can help regulate the brain’s response to stress and trauma, promote a sense of relaxation and well-being, and allow for the processing of emotions and memories previously stuck in the nervous system. Walking is a simple form of bilateral stimulation, stimulating and balancing the right and left brain. (EMDR founder Francine Shapiro was taking a walk in the park when she first realized the potential benefits bilateral stimulation could have on the nervous system.)
  • Supplemental Health Benefits: Walking is a low-impact exercise that is beneficial for both physical and mental health. When you participate in Walk and Talk Therapy, you get the added benefit of exercising while working on your mental health.
  • Healing through Nature: Spending time in nature is linked with many physical and mental health benefits, including decreased depression, decreased stress and anxiety, improved ADHD symptoms, increased focus, improved sleep, and improved overall well-being. (For more research, see’s Benefits of Nature page.)

Risks of Walk and Talk Therapy

Like any form of therapy, Walk and Talk Therapy carries some risks. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Safety Concerns: Being outdoors has inherent safety risks, such as from a sunburn, bug bites, or other injury. If you’re walking in a park or other public space, be aware of potential hazards such as uneven terrain, traffic, or other people.
  • Weather Conditions: Walk and Talk Therapy sessions are subject to the weather. If it is too hot, too cold, or too wet, it may be uncomfortable or even unsafe to continue the session. Consider having a backup plan (such as telehealth) and be ready to communicate with your therapist concerning any last minute changes.
  • Distractions: Walking in a public space can be distracting, with other people, animals, or vehicles around. These distractions can make it difficult to focus on the therapy session and may reduce its effectiveness.
  • Confidentiality Concerns: Walking in a public space may make it more difficult to maintain confidentiality. While therapists will continue to take measures to protect their clients’ privacy, it’s important to be aware that you might encounter someone you know on the trail, or a stranger could overhear part of your conversation.

Is Walk and Talk Therapy the right form of therapy for me?

Here are some reasons why Walk and Talk Therapy might be right for you:

  • You enjoy being outdoors and find it safe, calming, and relaxing.
  • You’re tired of traditional talk therapy sessions that take place in an office or clinic, and want to try something different.
  • You’re feeling stuck and are curious to try a more active and dynamic approach, as compared to more traditional talk therapy sessions.
  • You need a change in routine. You’re hoping to get in more steps, spend more time in nature, and reap the benefits of regular exercise and time spent outdoors.

As with any form of therapy, Walk and Talk Therapy has its own unique risks and benefits. With proper planning and precautions, many of these risks can be minimized. If you’re curious to learn more, talk to a licensed therapist or counselor to discuss whether Walk and Talk Therapy is a good fit for your specific needs and circumstances, and to address any concerns you may have.

Written By: Jim Rowell, LCSW
Currently offering Walk and Talk Therapy in Northwest Hills, Westlake, and East Austin.

Y’all, Please Stop Judging Your Emotions!

I want to first say that the title of this post might be slightly misleading. I don’t believe it’s actually possible to STOP judging all of your emotions. But you (and I) can work towards doing it less often.

What does “judging emotions” mean?

Before I get to the how, let’s take a minute to see what it even means to judge our emotions. Personal story: I was sitting in my therapist’s office in front of my computer talking to my therapist via telehealth, and I told her about something that had made me experience a healthy dose of shame. I had made a small professional mistake, and I had been blaming myself. This is where it gets interesting: While sharing this with my therapist, I said, “I feel so stupid for feeling ashamed of something I know I shouldn’t feel ashamed of.” And, because my therapist is incredible, she gave me a look that had all kinds of compassion in it.

You might ask, “what’s wrong with judging my emotions?” And, because I’m a therapist, I’ll first say that nothing is “wrong” about it. BUT here’s what happens when you do: you’re telling yourself that it’s not okay to feel emotions. You’re telling yourself that, for example, you’re stupid for feeling shame, rather than realizing that you’re human for feeling shame. And we can (and probably) do this with a myriad of other emotions.

Feeling bad about yourself for getting angry? That’s judging. 

Thinking you shouldn’t cry when you’re experiencing something sad? That’s judging.

Ever tell yourself that you shouldn’t feel disappointed? Still judging. 

Here’s a nice tip: if you’re saying “should” or “shouldn’t” about your emotions, you’re probably judging them. 

And I don’t want to get too “meta” here, but it’s turtles all the way down. If you feel embarrassed about feeling super excited whenever a BTS song comes on, try not to judge the embarrassment. And then try not to judge the excitement! 

Now we can get to the how

Awareness is KEY. The biggest and best thing you can do to work on this is to recognize a) that you do it (because you’re human, and humans do this…unless, of course, you’re a robot, in which case: which squares have bicycles in it?), and b) when you do it. When you do it can be tricky to figure out. For this, you might want to talk to a close friend or therapist, or journal, or meditate. Everyone has their own way of learning about themselves, so you do you. 

Here’s some prompts to get you started: 

  • How do I feel about the last time I felt [insert emotion here]?
  • Which emotions were/are expressed in my family? Which ones weren’t/aren’t?
  • What do I think others think about me when I’m feeling [emotion]?

And just in case you’re having a hard time thinking of specific emotions, here are a few commonly judged emotions: anger, joy, guilt, shame, sadness, grief.

Now that I’m aware of some of the judgments I place on my emotions, how do I stop doing it? 

First, and this is important, you don’t have to do anything else. Just being aware will probably get you to stop judging 60% of your emotions (I just made that statistic up; please don’t quote me on that. It’s going to be different for everyone). But, if you want to continue doing the work, here are some tips:

Tip #1

Remind yourself routinely (e.g. in the mornings, when you take a shower, when you’re in your car, whatever works for you, but don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed with emotions to do this) that it’s okay to feel however you’re feeling. Tell yourself, “I’m angry, and that’s okay.” Or for bonus points, you can say, “I love my anger.” That last one might be really difficult, so be gentle with yourself if it doesn’t come easy.

Tip #2

Another way you can work on this is to make a list of a certain number (say, 5) emotions you had each day or week. And then thank your body for letting you feel these emotions. Literally, “Thank you, [your name], for letting me feel guilt this week.” Feel free to journal or meditate on this too.

Emotions are human

Remember that emotions are part of the deal you made with the world (or God, or Spirit, or Universe, etc.) when you were created. You don’t get to be human and not have emotions. ALL OF THEM. You can’t just have the “good” ones. Not only that, but the more you shove down the emotions you don’t like, the more they’re going to have control over you. You can only pretend for so long that you’re not sad, until it begins to show up somewhere else (usually as anxiety or depression, or as physical symptoms, like migraines or stomach pains). 

Once you experience your emotions without the harsh judgement you’ve been accustomed to, you might even begin to appreciate them! Your emotions all have a purpose. 

Feeling lonely? That’s a reminder to reach out to a close person. 

Feeling stressed? That’s a reminder to slow down. 

Anxious? That’s a reminder to be present where you are, rather than thinking about what might happen next. 

Shame? That’s a reminder to give yourself compassion.

Angry? That’s a reminder that you may need to put up or fortify a boundary. 

Bored? This one’s pretty simple: do something that feeds your creative soul! 

There is nothing wrong with ANY of our emotions. In fact, they will help us live a wonderful and meaningful life, if we only listen to them rather than judge them. 

If you want some help working through your emotions, book a free 15 minute consultation with me to see if I might be a good counselor for you.

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