I regularly share strategies to process our emotions on this blog because I want to highlight an important point: We can feel our emotions, even when we’ve spent years pretending they don’t exist or when we’ve let them dictate our decisions (and we fear their intensity).
In other words, it doesn’t matter if you never learned to effectively manage emotions, you’re uncomfortable doing so, or you feel like you’ve screwed it up in the past (the past being a week ago). Because you can start learning right now. You can start easing in right now.
Similarly, it’s important to realize that there are all kinds of healthy, nourishing ways to process emotions. The key is to find strategies that resonate with you and create a collection of coping skills you can turn to.
Psychotherapist and author Lisa M. Schab, LCSW, recently published another fantastic book called Put Your Feelings Here: A Creative DBT Journal for Teens with Intense Emotions. It features 100 inventive journaling prompts to help teens release and reduce emotions in the moment. The prompts are based on different therapies—including cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based therapies—and neuroscience.
Here are nine of my favorites for you to try—because you don’t have to be a teen to benefit greatly from these tools.
- Ask yourself: How loud is my emotion? Is it a fire alarm, motorcycle, drums, barking dog, crunching chips, friend’s voice, lullaby, whisper, or drifting feathers? Now take a deep breath, and turn down the volume.
- Close your eyes, and imagine you’re on top of a mountain. A gentle rain washes off your emotion. It runs down your arms, your chest, and your legs. It runs down the mountain in rivulets, collecting into streams, running into the river below. Watch your feelings be carried away until the river empties into the sea. How do you feel now?
- Draw or describe your feeling as if it were: an animal, a color, a food, music, a natural wonder.
- Fill in these sentences: I can’t change _________. But I can choose to think _____________. Because remember that you can shift your mindset even in difficult situations.
- List your top 5 extreme thoughts that trigger your emotional overwhelm. Then rewrite them from a more accurate perspective. For instance, you’d change “I’ll always be alone” to “I feel alone now, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be forever.” You’d change “I can’t handle this” to “Yes, this is really hard, but I’ve overcome many hard things. I can do this, and if I need help, that’s OK, too. What resources can I use right now?”
- Compose a dialogue between you and your emotion. Speak with love and kindness.
- A friend texts you exactly what you need to hear right now to help you calm down. What do they say?
- Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Visualize a setting sun, falling rain, flowing stream, blooming flower, twinkling star, shifting sand dune, or _________. Imagine you can merge into this natural process and become one with it. Write about what that’s like.
- Imagine there’s a safe place deep at the center of your being. What would it look and feel like it? Close your eyes, and connect with it right now.
Our emotions can feel big and overwhelming, which can lead us to ignore them and to assume we’ll never be able to cope. But you can work with your emotions gently and slowly. You can work at a pace that feels safe.
Start with a strategy that sounds interesting or simple or comforting or compassionate or like something you’d like to try.
You’ve got this.