5 Stages of Awareness

Using the Five Stages of Awareness to Find Freedom From Emotional Eating

 Sarah Thacker, New York City Wholistic Therapist, weight loss, healthy eating, holistic nutrition, EMDR therapy, NYC Health Coach, Integrative Therapist, eating disorder specialist

Emotional awareness adds tremendous value to life as it creates a rich experience of the totality of being alive. Understanding the inner workings of your mind, your heart, and your spirit requires an ability to feel and understand the depth and breadth of your emotions: all of your emotions. However, many people spend a lot of time unconsciously avoiding their emotions. Why is this? Because as human beings we tend to seek comfort and avoid discomfort.

Emotions are an incredibly valuable element of being a human, of being alive. They are a response to our experiences, environments, relationships, and our lives as a whole. If you have been avoiding experiencing your emotions for some time, or using food as an escape from your emotions, this may seem like a daunting task: to learn to be present with and feel your emotions. Working with the five stages of awareness allows you to experience your emotions and grow in your emotional awareness and well-being. Over time, you will create a sense of being more grounded, comfortable with, and grateful for the wholeness of your being.

When you embark on this process, you will stop trying to escape your emotions. Many people use food to avoid emotions and find only temporary comfort from the discomfort of their emotions. This leads to mindless eating, over eating, poor body image, and disordered eating.

When you numb yourself with food to avoid an uncomfortable emotion, you are setting yourself up for more discomfort internally. The emotions don’t just go away.  When food is the temporary solution to your problems, food then becomes a problem, leaving you stuck in a vicious, dangerous cycle. Use these five stages of awareness to break the cycle and begin experiencing your emotions. Allow yourself to begin the journey into some of the darker places within, in order to experience the fullness of your light. As Dr. Kelly Brogan says, “You have to walk through the wound.”

The foundation for the five stages of awareness is mindfulness. It is about experiencing your life, your emotions, and really being present for whatever is true right now. Mindfulness is paying attention from moment to moment with a nonjudgmental awareness. That means you are present with whatever arises in the moment. When you are present, you don’t run from whatever arises, you don’t resist it, you don’t numb it out. This numbing may protect you temporarily from discomfort, but it limits your experience of your deep internal world and can end up numbing out all emotions, the pleasant and more desirable ones as well. Here are the five stages of awareness:

1.    Mindful moment

By giving yourself a mindful moment each and every day you will connect with what is true in this moment. The mind may try to run from it, resist it and search for distractions. However, with practice, this process becomes more and more comfortable and leads to acceptance and peace. This is a moment of quiet reflection where you can just be.

2.    Recognize and name your emotion

Notice an emotion as it arises in the present moment and how it impacts your thoughts. Name it, not to judge it, but to understand it and to connect with it. Practice being aware, notice what is present without getting on the roller coaster of your thoughts and feelings. Notice the impact of the emotion on your physical body. This experience may be pleasant (happiness often comes with a feeling of warmth internally) and some may be unpleasant (anxiety often comes with increased heartbeat, muscular tension and shallow breathing). Notice your tendency to want to avoid or grasp onto the emotion and try to stay present with it.

3.    Create a non-judgmental awareness through observing the emotion

Here, you practice simply noticing and observing the emotion as if you are a witness to it. You are observing the emotions and working to release any judgment of your response to it. Judgements such as, happy (good) and anxiety (bad), are not useful in the process of witnessing and accepting emotions. Rather, you are now simply noticing the emotion and then sitting with it from the witness/silent observer perspective. Remain in the witness perspective for about 1-5 minutes. Set a timer, notice the mind’s desire to avoid, distract and move away from the emotion. Try not to judge that experience knowing that this process is challenging and takes time, effort, determination, and focus.

4.    Gather the information the emotion is providing you

In this stage you are tuning into the information the emotion is providing you. Understanding the emotion is useful wisdom regarding your internal experience. Allowing yourself to understand why you had the emotion in the first place will create an opportunity to choose how to respond to the emotion. Emotions are information about our experience of the present moment. For example, if I am happy, why? If I am anxious, why? This is extremely valuable information about our experiences. Understanding the why behind your emotions offers the opportunity to make a decision about how to respond. If I am anxious because I am worrying about something I cannot control, that is not useful. If it is something I may be able to control, how could I cope in more effective way or take action? When you understand what the emotion is trying to communicate to you, you become more self-aware. This creates freedom to be more comfortable with your emotions, the depths of your being, with your true self.

5.    Witness it and let it go

The final stage of emotional awareness is to let it go. Release the emotion. Often what is feared is that an emotion will bring you down, will take over, or will be unbearable. However, emotional awareness brings just the opposite, it lifts you up to know that it can be released. As you learn to let it go, you will feel more grounded in your being. As you understand, manage and cope with your emotions, you will become more comfortable feeling them, to let them go and move forward.

Begin integrating these stages of emotional awareness into your daily routine and notice the impact. When you allow yourself the freedom to experience your emotions you no longer seek out the comfort of escaping with food. When food becomes a facet of life that is pleasurable, nourishing and life enhancing rather than a battle internally, you will make peace with food through the process of making peace with your emotions and yourself.