Feeling bad without knowing why

Feeling bad without knowing why? Do this.

Feelings arise to be felt, not to be perfectly justified. Yet your mind starts hurling judgments and criticisms pretty quickly whenever you feel bad for no "obvious" or "well-founded" reason. This is because an experience without an explanation is your brain's biggest nightmare. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to support yourself when you feel bad without (exactly) knowing why – read on to find out!

Let's start with some reassurance.

3 reasons why it’s totally reasonable to not always know the reason for what you’re feeling:

  1. Your head and your heart speak different languages. Your head speaks the language of words and other tangible stuff; your heart speaks the language of feelings. Sometimes there are simply no words to express the complexity or subtlety of what you’re feeling.
  2. Feelings can only be felt and processed when there is enough inner safety and space. Emotions are sometimes "postponed" when you don’t have the capacity to cope with them in the moment they are evoked. Later on, when there is more inner safety, they come up again - even when you have long since forgotten the impact of the initial event.
  3. All sorts of experiences can press on old wounds. It is then that old pain, fear or stress that comes to the surface, making your feelings seem to have very little to do with what is going on in the here and now.

In other words, you most definitely have a legitimate, worthy, justified reason for feeling the way you feel right now. The fact that your mind gets stressed out about it, and therefore starts organizing a big, fat reunion for all your unhelpful patterns, does not take away from the validity of your emotions. There is nothing wrong with your crappy feeling OR with your brain's reaction - your head and your heart are both just doing their jobs.

So let those survival mechanisms enjoy themselves playing beer pong in the backyard, while you discover what you can do when your brain has has gone into let’s-find-the-explanation-or-self-judge-our-ass-into-infinity mode.

Step 1: Revoke your brain’s permission to harass you

When your mind is all like: 'it's not that bad, you shouldn't feel like that, it's too late to feel this way now’ (or something to that effect), there is really only one appropriate response you can give: 'Thanks, but no thanks, talk later!' (Yes, literally.)

Your heart is here to process your feelings, your mind is here to explain them. You can only send your attention to one at a time. The choice is yours.

When you’re focused on finding a reason for your shitty feeling, you are not present to feel it. So, whenever you find yourself (again) trying to find an explanation, you can say to your brain, 'Dear mind, I hear you and I appreciate what you're trying to do, but it's only making things worse, so I'm going to decline your invitations for now.'

Two important sidenotes

  1. Your brain means incredibly well. By looking for a reason, and in the meantime blaming you for anything it can get its hands on, your mind focuses on what is solvable and controllable, or, in other words, what will get you back to "safety" as soon as possible.
  2. To stop listening to your grey matter is also in the best interest of that grey matter. That sense of safety it’s longing for so badly, will only be regained once you have been able to process your feelings - and that is something your mind simply cannot help you with.

Step 2: Relocate your focus 

Now that you've decided and communicated that you're not going to give your brain any more attention, it's time to shift your focus to your heart. You can do this by using this very simple exercise: visualize a ball of light (or something else representing your awareness) in your head, and then let it slowly descend to your heart, eventually letting your awareness rest inside your heart space.

Simple? Yes. Pretty nifty? Also yes. You just need something to help you reinforce your intention and your choice and this is one peachy way to go about it, if I do say so myself.

Step 3: Reclaim the space to feel

Whenever you’re not at a busy train station (or even when you are, you do you), you can take it one step further and place a hand on your heart and say 'yes' to everything that's going on in there. Keep saying 'yes' and let your hand be the messenger of this conscious, active acceptance, until you feel the waves recede and the internal tide going down.

‘Your feelings don’t arrive to harm you. They arrive to lead you back to you. Follow them. They know the way home.’

– Jaiya John

Feel like it’s too easy to be true? I get it. But please know this:

It takes A LOT of courage to admit that you are free to decide where to devote your attention to, and even more to be open to the fact that, whenever you’re experiencing something big and complex, relief can be found in some pretty simple practices.

It’s all about creating an in-road back to yourself and the here and now - which doesn't have to take a lot of time or effort, but definitely DOES take a great deal of courage. It’s the small moments, when you choose self-compassion over self-judgment, that ultimately produce the biggest and most lasting changes.

So, let’s recap: you have no control over what you're feeling, you have no control over the kinds of parties your mind will throw you, you only have control over what you choose to devote your attention to. Every time you decide to shift your attention from your mind to your heart, you will strengthen the bridge to your authentic self.