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Ugh. Today was so annoying. Work was nonstop and all I wanted to do was come home and chill with my guy. But when I texted him, he took an hour to respond, only to say, “Sorry, out with the boys.”
If your journal is littered with entries like this — or even glowing reviews of first dates and fun outings with friends — you may be missing a crucial benefit, says personal development and wellness expert Bizzie Gold.
While it may be fun for future reminiscing, when you simply scribble out the happenings of your day you turn into more of a narrator, says the creator of the BREAK Method school of sustainable self-mastery, rather than an active participant in your life. “It’s more akin to telling a story,” she notes. And since you often tend to “romanticize” the events, painting a better picture of your life, you miss the chance to dive into how you’re truly feeling.
For those looking to really get in touch with their emotions and understand their reactions to certain situations, she recommends a process she calls directed writing.
“Rather than allow yourself to write a story about what you experienced,” she says, participants take five to 10 minutes to clear their thoughts and attempt to “access their subconscious” about a certain topic.
As an example, she says, you may be really upset that your boyfriend is slow to text you back. If you scrawl out a missive about how crappy your day was, “you’ll get stuck in the emotions you’re already feeling.”
Instead, she advises, do your best to empty your mind and try to tap into your subconscious, asking yourself, why you’re having such a strong emotional response to your boyfriend’s actions.
Then, she says, “allow your hand to detail any little experience, memory or signal that comes to mind.”
Your thoughts likely won’t be linear or even completely understandable, she says, but just get them all on paper and step away. When you come back the next day, she says, you can start to make sense of your notes and start to piece it all together.
Ideally, the process will help you discover what caused your emotional response to a certain situation, she says. And generally it’s not just about one thing. (For example, she says, being upset about your boyfriend’s thoughtlessness may be related to a slight fear of abandonment.)
“People are so quick to assume their reactions are situational and they’re just responding to right now,” explains Gold, “when almost always that’s not at all the case. You’re responding to 90 percent of stimuli that are not even occurring in your present situation.”
It can be a tricky method to master, but as with anything, says Gold, you can build up to it.
“At the gym, you probably couldn’t squat 200 pounds the first time you go,” she notes, and this requires the same amount of mental building: “The key here is starting to solidify that connection between your brain and your hand.”
But if writing just isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to calm yourself in the face of life’s stressors. Gold’s go-to is taking a pause from your day and engaging in some deep-belly breathing.
When you hit your breaking point, she says, it’s usually cumulative stress that’s built up over a period of days: “By that point your shoulders are all the way up at your ears and you’re feeling constricted in your throat.” But if you simply fixate on taking breaths in and out — “Don’t think about the 10 things you haven’t done yet or the 10 things you’re about to do,” she says — you will allow yourself to focus on the present and you’ll activate your parasympathetic nervous system, she explains, “which will inherently calm you down.”
Another option is to kick off your heels. As odd as it may look, Gold says she’s constantly slipping out of her stilettos to walk around and actually feel the ground beneath her feet. (A more practical option for city-dwellers, she says, is to find a spot you can pace in your office or home.)
“There are a lot of points on the bottom of your foot that are meant to help calm and soothe your nervous system,” she explains of the practice. “I definitely notice a difference if I take the time to kick my shoes off and put my feet on the actual ground.”
Breathe in, breathe out, re-center and calmly get on with your day.