Mind & Body

The Great Emotional Escape

When the tough stuff comes up, most of us run. Here’s how embrace your internal chaos.
The Great Emotional Escape
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PROCESS IN PRINT You’ve heard it before— writing down what you’re going through is a great way to sort through your emotions. You may even know about the studies showing how journaling can increase your well-being and strengthen your immune system. But how many half-filled notebooks and journals are stuffed away in your nightstand? Yep, me too. Sandy Grason, author of Journalution (New World Library), suggests ditching any non-journaling guilt you might be holding onto. When you’re going through a rough time and feel inclined to write, do it, she says. And then when you get busy, your social life picks up and you don’t have time to write, that’s OK too. If you often find the blank page daunting, try one of Grason’s juicy writing cues. Starting with the phrase, “I don’t want to write about … ” is one of her favorites. “What comes up is often what you’re avoiding and where your subconscious needs you to go,” she says. “I have found that if you let yourself write the scary things, they become a lot less scary. They’re much scarier when you’re carrying them around in your body.”

PUT ON A HAPPY FACE Sometimes being emotionally savvy means not only being in touch with feelings but eventually also knowing how to shift them— especially when they seem to be stuck in the bummer category. One über-simple way is by smiling. As Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, is reported to have said: “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, or sometimes a smile can be the source of your joy.” Scientists agree—smiling has been shown to relieve stress and enhance immunity. Weintraub does a “smile breath” whenever she needs an energy shift. “I begin by closing my eyes and breathing deeply into the bottom of the lungs,” she says. “Next, I drop my chin to my chest as I exhale. Then I lift the corners of my mouth, lift my head, inhale and open my eyes. It’s a five-second lightening-up mood elevator.”

HUG A TREE Nature reminds us that we’re part of a larger whole, and can help us slow down and get in touch with our inner workings. Though it sounds as crunchy as it gets, Valerie Lane Simonsen, N.D., says one of her patients hugs a tree whenever she has an anxiety attack and it immediately calms her down. If you’re too shy for a full embrace, Simonsen says even leaning against a tree will help you relax and reconnect with yourself. Just sink in for a few minutes and let the tree support you.

EMBRACE THE BUMPS When a negative feeling comes up, it’s natural to automatically retract from it—in the form of denial, distraction or repression. But resisting this instinct is key to staying emotionally in touch. Cope says feeling is a lot like skiing. “You intuitively want to go down on your butt,” he says. “But what the instructor is telling you is go into the hill, allow yourself to go down.” Most of our emotional problems arise from resisting what is—trying to go downhill by leaning backward. “The same is true for difficult feelings,” he says. “Just remember the ski slope and lean into it.” Though leaning into these often uncomfortable emotions might seem like extra maintenance or an optional luxury, it’s essential—for you and for your ability to be present with everyone in your life. It’s also not that hard once it becomes a healthy habit. Think of it as flossing—for feelings. And you can restart at any time. When I return to Earth after a Gilmore Girls binge, I often have an “Uh-oh” moment of awareness. So I collect those compostable coffee cups and tidy up. Then I do some stretching and breathing. I might even bust out the journal. I call a good friend and confess to falling down the rabbit hole. I sniff lavender oil, take a shower and listen to some happy tunes. Soon I start feeling like a non-demented, non-pajamawearer and it comes to me. Whatever “it” is—a realization that I need to apologize to someone or get more structure in my day or just really cry. This is huge. Irony dissolves, and I write another story about health or happiness—while actually feeling healthy and happy.