What Do You Need?

Most people become detached from their emotions. We constantly distract ourselves to avoid life. We use many distractions, but food seems to be one of the most powerful. How many times have you found yourself in a stressful situation and start fantasizing about food? When we are feeling stressed or sad, food can temporarily improve our mood, but it doesn’t last long. Have you ever heard someone say “I need a drink!” after a particularly stressful day? It begs the question; do they really NEED a drink? Or, do you want a drink to numb the discomfort? We often use something we want to take the pain away, but it isn’t really what we need. As an example, let’s say I had a very difficult week. I am behind on a deadline, I’m covering for a co-worker who doesn’t pull their weight and my boss just yelled at me. It would be very easy for me to drown my sorrows in cheesecake, but what then? I would still be anxious, stressed and overwhelmed, but then I would feel guilty, bloated and beat myself up for eating an entire cheesecake. Because you beat yourself up, you will probably find yourself eating more to self-soothe. Instead of continuing this painful cycle of emotional eating, next time try this:

  1. Anytime you feel a negative emotion, take a step back to identify exactly what you are feeling. Often, we confuse thoughts with feelings. Feelings would include mad, sad, glad, guilty, shame, etc. “I feel like a failure”, would actually be a thought.
  2. Identify where this feeling might be coming from. Many of our negative experiences stem from history as much as the current issue. My boss yelling at me can trigger feelings of rejection and shame stemming from a history of getting yelled at by our parents.
  3. Explore what you need to do to address those emotions. Many of us have become so accustomed to avoiding emotion, we don’t realize that going through them is usually much easier than the energy it takes to avoid. I love the AA slogan, “This too shall pass.” If you just acknowledge how you are feeling, it loses some of the power over you.
  4. Identify something that would alleviate your pain that doesn’t involve food or another unhelpful coping mechanism. Seek out ways to fulfill the need. If you are feeling rejected and abandoned. Seek out comfort from a friend or loved one, journal, take a walk or take a bath. Do something nurturing for you.

While these steps may not take the negative emotions away, the will significantly reduce the impact on you. When you practice this consistently, you will be able to address your emotions effectively on a consistent basis. When stressors arise, they just won’t have much of an impact. How would that feel? Picture a life where you are in control of your emotional state. I can tell you, it is pretty great!

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Weber State University and a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Utah. She has been working in the mental health field since 2001.
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