How Well Do You Manage Your Emotions When You Write?

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Several years ago when I faced an emotional and financial crisis, I took to journaling almost every day to deal with the pain and anxiety I felt. The emotional pain was so intense, in fact, that it took two notebooks of journal entries to release those emotions. I just kept writing and writing to release the anger, fear and guilt I felt until I had my emotions under control. Writing in my journal was much better than pacing floors and indulging in crying spells.

Psychologists at the Harvard University Healthbeat blog call this expressive writing. They cited several studies showing how expressive writing (journal writing) can help you manage stress and anxiety by organizing your thoughts and making sense of traumatic experiences. Expressive writing can also help you break free of the endless mental cycling through of events that can lead to brooding and depression.

So why am I writing about this? With so much going on in our world, many people begin writing to deal with their often confused emotions to make sense of things. For many, writing helps heal wounds both old and new. At a time like now, expressive writing, or different variations of it, can help you deal with the emotional aspects of these dramatic events.

Writers learn to write with emotion, to use it to fuel their stories. But how do you write when you feel too overwhelmed by life-altering events, when you feel too emotional to write? How do you express your emotions without being overwhelmed by them? How do you put those emotional experiences into proper perspective?

Here are a few writing tools to help you navigate those rocky seas of emotion.

1. Journaling – Therapists at the University of Rochester Medical Center say that journaling is one of the easiest ways to release your emotions, next to talking to a close friend or family member. That’s where expressive writing comes in. The idea behind journaling, or expressive writing, is to set aside time every day to write in a journal or notebook for a specified amount of time, say thirty minutes or so. (However, in my personal experience, if you’re feeling really emotional about a situation, you might consider writing for longer than that, or at least until you have nothing left to put on the page.) Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or sentence structure, and don’t show your journal to anyone. Journaling is your personal path to healing.

2. Freewriting – Freewriting is like a stream of consciousness on the page. You don’t stop to edit yourself either, much like journaling. While expressive writing helps you deal with the emotional content, like a dumping ground of sorts, freewriting is the flow of thoughts and ideas. Journaling is more personal, while freewriting is less emotional. But because of the assortment of ideas, freewriting helps you sort through them to find nuggets of wisdom. I also recommend handwriting for both journalizing and freewriting because writing by hand creates a direct connection to your subconscious mind.

3. Letter writing — Another exercise I used to get through my emotional crisis was letter writing. Write a letter to that person (or organization) who you feel angry with (or disappointed, saddened, frustrated, etc.). Describe your rage or fears, and most important, explain what you would like them to do in response. Be specific in your request. Most important, don’t mail the letter. Instead, tear it up or burn it. Release the contents into the Universe. You never ever want to mail a letter to someone that you wrote in anger. You might regret it later. Write as many letters as you see fit until your emotions are under control. It really does make you feel better to get things off your chest, even if you never mail the letter.

4. Write about your experience in third person. This suggestion comes from a therapist at Psych Central, who explains that writing in third person (he/she/they) creates distance between yourself and the traumatic event. When it’s less personal, the traumatic experience is easier to deal with.

5. Do nothing. Yes, you read that right. Do nothing – at least for right now. Be careful not to respond to a volatile situation with a kneejerk reaction. What you write in the heat of the moment may not be what you really want to say. Allow time for your emotional self to cool off. It could be a few days, a week or a month or more. When you wait for the drama to subside, what you want to write about will eventually become clear.

The turmoil in the world has created a lot of emotional noise. You don’t want your voice to get lost in it. Take a step back (or two or three) from the drama, allow some time to pass, then you’ll be able to look upon that situation with greater clarity. Writing can help by giving you an outlet for those pent up feelings.

With life in topsy-turvy mode these past few months, writing solely for yourself can bring balance back into your life.

Why Vacations Matter for Your Professional Life

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Yes, Virginia, you are allowed to take a summer vacation.

The long Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer, and the start of summer vacation season. But many American workers are likely to forego any summer plans. For some it is because it costs too much to pack up the kids and the dog and head to far-off destinations. For others, work calls for them to stay close to home and to their jobs. If you’re one of these workers skipping your summer vacation because you are tethered to your job, you are not alone.

According to a 2017 survey by employment website Glassdoor, 66 percent of American workers report working when they take a vacation, up from 61 percent in 2014. Fewer employees are able to completely “check out” while on vacation (54 percent in 2017 versus 63 percent in 2014).

Even when they were able to take time off, 27 percent of workers said they were expected to stay aware of work issues and get involved if a problem arose, and 12 percent were expected to be reachable by phone or email, deliver work projects and participate in conference calls while on vacation.

Much of this has to do with technology, which has enabled people to work anywhere and at any time. But it also makes it difficult to shut down and unplug ourselves, to truly unwind and relax. Most employers give their workers earned time off for a reason – to regroup mentally, emotionally and physically so they can return to work refreshed and avoid burnout.

But not everyone takes advantage of this employee benefit. We should though. Science says so. A 2016 study by the University of California-San Francisco and Harvard University finds that taking a vacation for one full week brings about genetic changes in our body that reduces stress and boosts the immune system, and the mood-enhancing benefits can last up to 30 days.

To get that mood-enhancing benefit, you have to take the time out for yourself. You need to give yourself permission to take a vacation. No one is going to force you to take it. It’s all about setting boundaries to your work life.

The key, say scientists, is to do it right. Yes, apparently, there is a right way and wrong way to take a summer vacation. According to small business expert Barry Moltz, here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of your summer vacation.

1. Make a plan. Put it on your calendar. Browse destination websites and brochures and learn about places you plan to visit. Just by researching and looking at travel images can boost your mood – before you have even begun your vacation.

2. Keep it simple. Don’t try to cram every activity into every day. Keep your schedule loose, and allow time to just “veg out.” There’s nothing wrong with doing nothing. That’s what vacations are for.

3. Break free of patterns. Try something different that can get you out of your comfort zone. For example, try disconnecting from electronic devices and talk to people you are traveling with, or sleep in until 8 a.m. if you are used to waking up at 5 a.m. When you change up your routine on vacation, see what creative ideas come up.

4. Seek out blue spaces, like bodies of water. Blue is associated with calmness and leads to lower levels of stress, according to researchers. I would also seek out green areas too, which is grounding and calming. Think public parks and golf courses.

5. End your vacation on a positive note. Enjoy a romantic dinner for two or plan a fun adventure, like sky diving or zip lining. People tend to remember their vacations more favorably if it ends on a high note.

With these suggestions, there’s no reason to skip a summer vacation. When you do it right, you’ll come back to the office more refreshed and energized. Your bosses will thank you, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Have a safe and relaxing holiday weekend!