Without any indication of what students will be learning today, ask the class, “How are you feeling right now?”. You may want to address specific students, asking “Sam, how are you feeling?”, to get more organized responses. In this case, ask 5-8 students the same question. Most students will likely respond with either “good” or “fine”. In some cases, they may use simple emotion words like “happy”. The answers will probably be very repetitive, and, after a couple of answers, students might be confused about why you keep asking the same question.
Bring to students’ attention that everyone answered similarly and briefly review their answers. Then, ask students to raise their hands if they have ever answered “good” or “fine” to the question “How are you doing/feeling?” even when they weren’t feeling good.
If everyone doesn’t raise their hand, then students are likely not being honest with themselves or with you. Ask students to look around and notice that everyone has their hand raised. Then, thank them for participating and indicate that they can lower their hands.
Next, ask the class to brainstorm reasons for why it’s hard to genuinely talk about our feelings. Expect students answers to include some of the following ideas:
- People ask, “how are you doing?” because it’s the best social etiquette but they don’t actually care about how you are genuinely feeling
- It’s weak to talk about your feelings
- Talking about my feelings is vulnerable and I don’t want to be vulnerable
- I’m scared that people will hurt my feelings or betray me, so I don’t talk about my feelings to avoid being hurt
- People aren’t going to know how to react so it’s better for me to just not say anything
- No one else talks about their feelings so I don’t feel comfortable talking about mine
- I feel like I don’t have any feelings
- I try not to feel my feelings
- Talking about my feelings would make them more real and I would prefer to pretend that they don’t exist
Now, ask students to consider the potential consequences of bottling up their emotions.
If students are having a hard time identifying consequences, ask them to think about a time when they or someone they knew bottled up their emotions and what the result was. Use guided question to ensure that students reach these four main conclusions:
- We can only bottle up so many emotions
Picture a glass bottle. It is a fixed size that can only hold a certain amount of liquid. If we keep trying to fill the bottle, the pressure will eventually get too intense and the bottle will burst. In this very same way, we can only bottle up so many emotions. Over time, it will be harder and harder to “hold it all in” and, eventually, we will “explode”. Unfortunately, this excessive release of emotions usually has more consequences for ourselves and our relationships than feeling and expressing emotions as they arise.
- We may turn to other techniques to help us escape
Sure, we bottle up our emotions so that other people don’t have to deal with them but, let’s be honest, we don’t want to deal with them either. When we do not give ourselves permission to feel, we are more likely to use negative coping tools to help us escape ourselves. These can include excessive use of video games, television, alcohol, drugs, self-harm and so much more.
- Our minds and bodies weren’t built to bottle
Bottling up emotions can have negative physical and mental health consequences. “Bottling it up” has been found to physically stress the body, leading to increased blood pressure as well as an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease long-term. From a mental health perspective, bottling up emotions may lead to depression and anxiety, and has also been related to problems with memory and anger management.
- Relationships will suffer
Emotions are a form of communication and are an integral part of building strong, trusting relationships. Not giving ourselves permission to feel limits our relationship with ourselves and also holds our friends and family at a distance. This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle because an increased sense of loneliness and isolation enhances the urge to bottle up emotions.
By now, students hopefully recognize that it’s quite common to avoid feelings and that, although it may seem easier to “bottle it up”, not feeling is not an option.
But what comes next?
Tell students, “It’s time to give yourself the permission to feel”. Students will already be familiar with the concept of permission slips from an earlier lesson.
Print the same worksheet/template and give each student one permission slip that, at minimum, gives them the permission to feel.