While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.
How do you work through your emotional reactions to media?
by: Lindsay Newman
Taped to my window is a brightly colored, eight-part chart entitled “Emotion Cards” that was provided to me by the outstanding organization Building Bridges. It includes the typical emotions one might think of when they are asked the seemingly simple question, “How are you feeling?”. The headlines are happy/sad/angry/bad etc., but then it drops down to more specific reactions. Under “anxious” are the terms scared, insecure, defensive, and fearful; below those come even more specific language: helpless, inadequate, excluded, exposed.
I find myself glancing at this chart regularly, my fingers tracing the page, trying to find language for the sensations that arise in my body as I experience a daily barrage of emotional turmoil. I pause the radio following a major headline to review each word choice provided under the broad term angry. I turn off my video during a Zoom call to examine the language surrounding distracted, consciously making an effort to let the emotion wash over my body without judgment, knowing that, for me, this is still a difficult challenge.
This particular moment in history has dredged up so much emotion in our country: Overwhelming loss, ineffective guilt, emboldened vulnerability, and so many more. Taking the time individually to better understand our emotions, how they show up, and to name them in whatever way makes sense is a powerful and necessary means of personal and communal growth. Being able to effectively recognize emotions that bubble to the surface while engaging with media is also an elemental aspect of practicing media literacy.
Often in the United States, we are encouraged to ‘control’ our emotions, to ‘bury’ them, or ‘pull ourselves together’ so we are not ‘overcome’. Yet each of these repressive colloquialisms are indicative of the reality that our emotions live in our bodies, they affect all five of our senses, and they show up in a full spectrum of unique ways. Being curious as to where and why you feel excited or motivated, or taking the time to ask yourself what pride tastes like, or what color signals shame, allows you the space to locate and identify your emotions, and to understand how they are implicitly and explicitly impacting the ‘you’ that shows up in each moment of your life.
We are in the midst of a myriad of holidays, which often entails time spent in the company of, and in conversation with, family, friends and loved ones. How we feel about certain things may not be shared by those who share our DNA. This time of year can be challenging to separate out our emotions and even more challenging to understand how to share our feelings in a way that is accepted or acknowledged. To add to this challenge, many people will be interacting through screens, which can muddle interpretation and context. Those emotions that are so palpable face to face can quickly feel dismissive or hostile.
During the election, I felt like I was trying to untie a massive frozen knot, in the dead of winter, without gloves. I didn’t have the right words to describe all the emotions that were layered in my body. I chose to create a mental image to help me find some tangibility to my feelings. Another friend described her state of being as trying to put soaked and disintegrating puzzle pieces together on a slanted table. Her description helped me better understand her emotional state and made it easier not to judge or try too hard to relate her experience to my own, when that was unnecessary.
This holiday season, we encourage you to uncover your feelings through whatever means makes the most sense to you. Share them with people you trust and in a way that doesn’t project your emotions onto others. The concept of sharing emotions and feelings is not universal, although I wish it was. There is so much we have yet to learn from our emotions, and so much beauty in the difficult process of coming to understand how we feel, why we feel the way we do, how to relate our feelings to those of others through language, and how to accept and reconcile our inability to do so. This is ongoing work. Emotions can change instantly, or they can settle in the crevasses of our engrained selves for extended amounts of time. Please make an effort to stay curious, stay open, and this holiday season, consider being reflective as opposed to reactive.
P.S. Writing this scares me. I feel it in my throat, and I have to remind myself to relax my shoulders, because they are encroaching on my ear space.
actions to take
Begin a meditation or mindfulness routine.
Choose from a wide range of apps (Headspace or Waking Up would be our recommendations) that can help you build this skill into your day. Just as you need to exercise your body to maintain your physical health, so too do you need to exercise your mind to maintain your mental and cognitive health.
Watch your emotions bubble to surface. Accept them. Watch them pass, knowing that everything is impermanent; no feeling will last forever.
questions to consider
What emotions does consuming media evoke within you?
What emotions does using technology evoke within you?
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed by your emotions? Do you feel you are able to effectively cope with difficult or unpleasant feelings?
Do you make space for the emotions of others in your life? Loved ones? Colleagues?
Could you be more empathetic to the people you encounter everyday?
Listen to the Mindfulness for Beginners
Listen to The Joy Factor