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Feelings Can’t Be Off Limits

burnout negative emotions shame Feb 25, 2023
Statues by Inge Finnsson of Pixabay

Humans have emotions. Period.

Sometimes those emotions feel good. Joy, gratitude, excitement.

Sometimes those emotions don’t feel good. Shame, fear, anxiety, grief, resentment.

Emotions come and go, and they are supposed to come and go. But for many in medicine, after years of learning to “be professional,” which could also be said “don’t show emotions,” our ability to roll with emotions becomes very challenging. We may feel stuck in negative emotions, because we are so used to shoving them down that eventually we can’t hold it in anymore, and we don’t know what to do. And meanwhile, we are so desperate to feel good, that we might turn to food or alcohol or social media to get a bit of dopamine, but usually this is not actually how we want to spend our time.

So hear me out.

When we learn how to notice our emotions, to allow our emotions, to get curious about them, we learn how to no longer feel that we are the victim of our emotions.

This is a skill, and not one that most of us learned in kindergarten, let alone in medical practice. 

How do we get started?

  1. Name the emotion: This sounds too simple, but there is science that shows that naming our emotions, “joy,” “shame,” “rage,” etc helps them to pass more easily. We could speculate why this is so, but more important is just getting in the practice of using language to describe the emotion.
  2. Get curious. Why do you feel this way? Our thoughts, conscious or subconscious, give us our emotions. If you are feeling angry or frustrated, why? Do you believe that something different should be happening? Are you upset that you keep getting asked for help and no one seems to be thinking of you and your needs? Start doing the exercise of trying to figure out WHY you feel the things that you feel.
  3. Once you have identified some thoughts that explain the emotion, a few things can happen. Often the emotion starts to dissipate, no longer pinning us down. We can also choose to be compassionate with ourselves, and recognize that many people would feel this way (what would you say to a friend for example who came to you with the same situation?). We can also start to see that sometimes holding on to the same thoughts leads us to feel stuck in the same situation over and over again, and this can be a catalyst for us deciding to make a change, set a boundary, practice different thoughts, take different actions, etc.

Let’s not pretend that this work is easy, when you have spent years learning to repress your emotions, to appear professional. If this tendency started in childhood, or is tied in with past trauma, let’s also not gloss over the fact that professional help, in terms of therapy, medications, EMDR, or other specific treatments may be crucial to help safely start to feel your emotions. But what I will say is that these steps are relatively straightforward. They don’t require additional schooling or certification. They require a willingness to proceed, and a commitment to the failures and challenges that come with learning something new.

But the rewards of learning to feel your emotions, to process them in a healthy way, to be able to get unstuck from and allow your emotions is some of the most valuable work you will ever do. It allows you to stay engaged with yourself, to take care of yourself, which ultimately allows you to find fulfillment in your life, regardless of what you do with your life.

Hi There!

I'm Megan. I'm a Physician and a Life Coach and a Mom. I created this blog to help other Physicians and Physician-Moms learn more about why they feel exhausted, burned-out and overwhelmed, and how to start to make changes. I hope that you enjoy what you read, and that it helps you along your journey. And hey, if you want to talk about coaching with me, I'm here for that too! I offer a free 1:1 call to see if we are a good fit. Click the button below to register today.

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