Emotional Agility: How to Feel our Feelings

Written by Samantha Wall, LCSW
Edited by Joe DeNoon


Emotional agility. Many of us know just how helpful and beneficial it is to our physical and mental health. Why don’t we all just do it then? Well, with the profession of nursing, there are many times when you have to act opposite to how you are feeling. When you are feeling defeated because of a loss of a patient, you have to go into the next room with a smile on your face and make sure to take care of the next one. You may have just gotten yelled at by a patient and then have to remember the steps to a complicated care plan to make sure another patient gets the care they need. 

When you work in a job like nursing, it can become routine to ignore, push down, or even forget about a feeling. With emotional agility, it is important to not only recognize the feeling but also to feel it. This can be hard when feeling it is not appropriate at that exact moment. So, how can we learn and teach ourselves emotional agility, when we have to sometimes actively move past our feelings due to the safety and needs of others? 

Completing a check-in with our body and emotional experience after each shift can be a great place to begin. When you are done with a shift, create the routine of checking in with your body and your needs. This can be as you walk out, when you get into the car, or when you get home. Whatever place feels safest to you will work. A helpful place to begin is with a body scan for the present moment. Start with your feet, which will probably be sore at the end of a shift. Move up towards your calves, knees, thighs, hips, stomach, lower back, chest, upper back, shoulders, neck, ears, mouth, nose, eyes, and the top of your head. Only stay for a few moments at each part of your body, noticing how they feel, but not coming up with solutions on how to fix or address any of what our body is telling us yet. We are just observing right now. 

The next step during the after-shift check-in is to move to the emotions you are experiencing at the moment. Listen to your body, and try to find how you can use stretching, breathing, and intentional movement to support the emotion. This can be as much as stretching for 20 minutes or moving your feet while you finish the rest of the check-in. 

Next, begin to review your day in terms of emotions. Think of any big, overwhelming, or stand-out emotions during your shift. When you are thinking about those emotions, focus on your body, and try to find the what and how of the emotion. If you feel yourself shifting to why you are feeling this way and getting stuck, begin to focus on the experience of the emotion in your body again. With emotional agility, our goal is to move away from judgment. Go back to the body scan, because the intention is to move through the feeling, not judge or ask why. Why can be a judgmental and invalidating question to ask when we are feeling our feelings? 

This process can help us increase our emotional agility, as well as help us in our ability to connect with our emotions by utilizing empathy with ourselves versus judgment. 

When starting this process: 

  1. Am I in a physical space that feels safe to be grounded in? 
  2. Body Scan
  3. Emotion Check-In

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