How Are You Feeling?

Easy to ask, harder to answer

The question seems simple enough. We ask it of each other all the time - how are you? But the 101 on that is - of course - never to give a genuine answer.

Seriously. How are you feeling? Right now, here, in this exact moment? Not just how are you feeling on the surface, but how are you feeling underneath that, and underneath that and at every layer of the onion.

There’s a lot to be said for gently, precisely, pinning a feeling down. Not because you want it to calcify; more because the act of naming a feeling can help us untangle from it.

Easier said than done. Feelings have a tendency to shift, conflict, hide behind one another, spiral from one to the next. Is that fear lurking in the shade of boredom? Hurt masquerading as petulance? Hope coo-ing out from under the brim of fractious nerves? We talk about getting clarity - but sometimes it’s trouble enough for us to even notice the fog. Perhaps that’s why an emotion can sometimes hit us by surprise.

It’s rare we have a chance to simply express our feelings. More often we’re in a hurry to hide them, change them or fix them. We do this with other people’s feelings too. How many times have you heard someone say something difficult - and just let it sit there between you, rather than tried to smother or redirect it.

Cognitive therapists use a tool called thought recording: you write down your thoughts, and then try to identify the negative ones. If that goes okay, you might progress to thought challenging - coming up with a few alternative options to replace the dodgy ones.

A feeling record would be different. We don’t necessarily want to replace our feelings. Never mind that it seems damn near impossible. Some feelings are nice. Others are cruel. But having a full range of emotions is part of the wonder of being human. The inventory in Tiffany Watt-Smith’s Book of Human Emotions includes everything from amae (feeling safe and warm) to schadenfraude (a jolt of glee at someone else’s misery).

The more you record your emotions, the more you find out about yourself. What raises you up, what sends you plummeting, what makes you angry, what fills you with fear?

Mindfulness practitioners say that to accept a feeling fully is the first step to being freed from it. Neuroscientists have shown that labelling a painful feeling can help to reduce it. Once labelled - the emotion has literally been processed - it is ready to whir its way through the strange cogs of your mind, slide out, and rise like a balloon up into the sky. Not gone, but free to drift around a bit. To shape-shift into something darker or lighter or same but different.

So how are you feeling right now? Take a moment and really ponder the question.