A big part of recovery is learning to cope with strong emotions—the kind we previously dealt with by using alcohol or drugs. This change doesn’t happen overnight; it’s something to work towards throughout recovery. Learning to sit with strong feelings not only helps protect against relapse—it gives you emotional resilience and improves your quality of life.
Meditation Helps You Sit in Strong Feelings
At five and a half years sober, this is ongoing work for me. It’s one of the most challenging—but also rewarding—parts of recovery. For me, making time to meditate consistently has been very helpful for this.
In the moment, meditation is about sitting with whatever feelings come up. For those of us in recovery who may have immediately reacted to emotions by picking up a bottle or taking the next hit, this is so important. A meta-analysis of 21 neuroimaging studies found that regular meditation changes multiple areas of the brain, including parts involved in emotional regulation.
How Can You Cope With Strong Feelings As They Arise?
For me, meditation is a long-term method for upping my emotional resilience. But when I’m having a visceral emotion in the moment, it helps a lot to notice where I feel it in my body.
This keeps me present with the feeling rather than spinning the story of it in my head; attaching the feeling to a story just ends up prolonging it. When you stay with the physical sensation, it typically passes much more quickly and feels a lot less painful than the emotion itself.
According to the neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, the lifespan of an emotion when seen through and not replayed is 90 seconds. That’s the time it takes for a thought to trigger an emotional response in the brain, create a physical sensation, and then to release it. But many of us hold on to feelings much longer than that, because every time we replay the story we retrigger the emotional circuit.
What’s the Point of Sitting in Feelings?
If emotions are so fleeting, why pay attention to them? Why deal with painful feelings when you can just run from them until they pass? Well, it doesn’t really work like that. The more you suppress feelings, the stronger they become. Burying emotions tends to give them a lot more power than they actually need to have.
Strong emotions can be incredibly overwhelming—and can feel overpowering—but facing them makes them a lot less scary. Sometimes the hardest part is resolving to sit with them.
When we get sober, we don’t immediately know how to cope with difficult feelings; it takes practice. But recovery gives us an incredible opportunity to become comfortable facing challenges and build real emotional strength.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build emotional along with physical sobriety. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.