Are your emotions getting the better of you right now? Do you feel too overwhelmed to truly perform at your best? Use this technique to resolve any difficult emotions you’re experiencing – in less than 10 minutes.
Have you ever had a disagreement with someone, and afterwards you’ve continued to seethe? If it was left unresolved, it might have even continued to whirl around your brain, making you angrier and angrier the more you thought about it.
You might have had a real strong urge to hash it out – but you knew it’d only make things worse.
Story of my life.
And it’s not only disagreements with people that can trigger us to ruminate in this way. It could be a criticism from someone, an unkind look, a betrayal of trust… the list goes on and on.
The problem is, when you’re so focused on how bad you feel, it’s almost impossible to be focused, creative or productive. The answer? Allow yourself to process your emotions in a healthy way.
You’ve got to feel it to heal it
The key is not to ignore, suppress, or otherwise “stuff down” difficult or intense emotions.
Research shows that suppressing thoughts isn’t an effective strategy for moving on – if anything, it only makes the suppressed thought more prevalent.
The truth is, we’re not really taught how to deal with intense negative emotions (other than to stop crying or “not to feel bad”), and we’re discouraged from expressing them (i.e. the whole “stop making a scene” line). If we learn this stuff as children, as adults we draw the natural conclusion that negative emotions = bad and shouldn’t be felt.
Why freewriting is so powerful
You might think imagine that putting your feelings into words will actually intensify them. However, many studies have found the opposite to be true.
Writing down (or saying out loud) what you’re feeling seems to down-regulate their emotions, reducing their intensity.
It’s a process psychologists call “affect labelling”. Recent research has found that, for a majority of individuals, emotional intensity decreased rapidly after their explicit expression in an ‘I feel’ statement.
Even monks do it
Dandapani, a Hindu priest and former monk, spoke about this incredible technique in detail. He described how – just like in physics – energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed or transferred.
Freewriting allows us to consciously experience our feelings, and transfer this emotional energy to energy the page (and therefore, outside of our selves). This process of affect labelling resembles talking therapy; expressing and processing emotion by taking it outside of our own minds helps us to acknowledge and heal it.
It’s worth noting Dandapani advises repeating this process 3-4 times if an emotional experience is particularly intense.
When you need to vent and release
Try this technique before unleashing your feelings on someone else, particularly if that person is the one you feel has caused this.
The benefits of this include:
- You avoid saying something in the heat of the moment you don’t really mean (and might regret later)
- It gives you time and space to truly connect to your feelings, and get clear about what’s really going on for you
- It teaches you to be self-reliant when it comes to dealing with your emotions, and consciously share your feelings once you’ve processed them – rather than dump them on others
Once you’ve completed the practice, you may feel as if you’ve released everything you needed to.
I’m speaking from experience here. I’m largely driven by my emotions – for years, I made decisions based on my mood and feelings, including the way I responded to people.
Freewriting helps me take a step back and express what needs to be expressed in a safe space, process the emotion and then decide what to do from there.
Make it a ritual
Think of emotional freewriting as part of your self-care routine. With anything routine, it’s great to have a kind of ritual which signifies the beginning, the middle, and the end of the process.
1. Find a safe space to write
Start by finding (or creating) a space for yourself when you can write alone, uninterrupted and undisturbed, for a short period of time.
Make it a space where you feel safe. I normally use my meditation space, since it’s where I do most of my self-reflection. I’ll light some incense or a candle, maybe put some solfeggio frequencies on, and settle with my journal.
The best reason to be alone? You can let the tears flow. You can scream into a pillow, or the crook of your elbow, or anything else.
Having said all this, there have been times when I just raged on my notepad during the middle of a workday, when I just couldn’t hold it in anymore (so do what ya gotta do).
2. Let it all out
Use as many “I feel” sentences as you can to put into words exactly how you’re feeling. Let it flow. Trust that whatever comes will help you heal.
Keep going until you feel like there’s nothing left. Ask yourself, “is there anything more about this?” – if the answer is yes, continue. When the answer is no, put down the pen.
3. Find stillness
When you’re done, take some time to go inwards. Set a timer for 5 minutes (or longer) and just sit, noticing how your body and mind feels now.
Notice whether your breathing has changed, your focus, how busy your mind is, how your body feels and whether any tension has been released. The goal is not to achieve any of these things, but simply to notice.
Time to let go. Take your paper and find a way to move this out of your life. Rip the paper, burn it, scribble all over it (this counts as expressionist art, right?). Do whatever feels right to you, but do move it out. Don’t allow the energy to stew, for you to look at and ruminate over.
Set an intention to release this negative energy as you do so. This makes it almost ceremonial.
Over to you – what do you do to feel better when you’re feeling emotional?
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