Maybe today you’re feeling all kinds of things. Up in the air, stressed out. Maybe fearful, maybe hopeful.
We knew it would take time to get certainty this week, and here we are.
For today, I have a suggestion for you.
And for any day that’s stressful, that’s full of big feelings, and that’s got you feeling overwhelmed, this suggestion will be useful.
This advice doesn’t come from me, it comes from the research of James Pennebaker, described in Susan David’s ultra useful book, Emotional Agility.
Pennebaker, after discovering that writing about emotions had surprising power, conducted research for forty years about the connection between writing and emotional processing.
I’ll quote David as she describes his research:
Over and over again Pennebaker did studies in which he would divide people into two groups and ask one group to write about emotionally significant experiences and the other to write about everyday things: their shoes, or maybe the cars passing on the street. Both groups wrote for the same time span—about twenty minutes a day, three days in a row….
In each study, Pennebaker found that the people who wrote about emotionally charged episodes experienced a marked increase in their physical and mental well-being. They were happier, less depressed, and less anxious. In the months after the writing sessions, they had lower blood pressure, better immune function, and fewer doctor visits. They also reported higher quality relationships, better memory, and more success at work.
– Susan David, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life (emphasis added)
In other words, writing about what’s going on with you emotionally has a remarkable ability to make your life better.
You can do this
You can give yourself this gift. Just twenty minutes a day, three days in a row.
Even if the emotional content you’re writing about seems overwhelming.
(If you’ve been here awhile, you know what I’ll say next: If you’re wrestling with major issues, please consider working through them with a well-qualified therapist. You deserve to be happy and well.)
How can this kind of writing help? It seems to help people to be present with their full range of emotions (including all the embarrassing and painful ones), which fosters emotional resilience.
Rather than swatting difficult feelings away as being “negative,” or ruminating about them until you turn into Grief Soup, it lets you feel them fully, then give them space to move on.
So, if you’re having a difficult time in any aspect of your life, allow me to make a suggestion:
Find three consecutive days this week.
Today, tomorrow and Friday would be ideal.
Block off a small chunk of time and protect it religiously.
It’s just 20 minutes. I often tell students that if their lives don’t give them even tiny chunks of time, take your notebook into the bathroom and shut the door. It’s no one’s business what you’re doing in there.
Write in any way that works for you.
It can be in an app, on paper with a pen, on your laptop. You can dictate into a recorder if that’s what will let you get it done.
Set a timer for 20 minutes.
And use those 20 minutes to write about what’s going on with you emotionally. It could be this week, this month, this year, this decade. Whatever’s on your mind about how you’re feeling, get it into words.
Protect your words.
You won’t be sharing this with anyone else, so you can be completely honest about what feels embarrassing, painful, or even shameful. This is a safe space for you.
20 minutes, three days in a row. Try not to miss a day, but if you do, pick it up the next day.
If you feel up to it, drop us a comment and let us know a bit about how it went for you. Or what made it challenging.
After the weekend, I’ll write a short post here about a suggestion that David had about how to make this even more effective. But first, get your writing done.
See you next week …
Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash
Jamie Robe says
I am a relatively new follower of your work, both blog posts and podcasts. I was excited to see this article – but it scared me , as I thought you would say something like “start jogging or working out” LOL. It was refreshing to see the writing idea!
I work on digital platforms all day in my main job, and then I am programming a WP plugin for my side hustle… and I have found a lot of peace of mind when I stop and play guitar and sing. I think the writing would also trigger a similar part of the brain… where we can more freely express ourselves. We get so locked into mindsets, that I feel like I am in overdrive and can’t stop the mind-program.
From listening to your podcasts I am getting the idea that ethical communication is important to you. Have you thought of doing a post here on ways that we can potentially use our communication skills and channels to work on the deeper issues of our country? After last night, regardless of who wins, I feel like we are so locked into camps that we will be festering this way for 4 more years… then 4 more after that … etc. Endless loops – while the Planet overheats from CO2. How can we use the emerging virtual world in positive ways that can help people life up their characters and other virtues? Seems like we might be able to make more progress for humanity and the US if we did an end-around on the divisive world of politics.
Anyway, enough rambling. Oh Sonia, I just realized I wrote something (this comment)! I do feel better, as it kept me off my endlessly refreshed CNN tab… if only for a few minutes. Thanks!
Sonia Simone says
There you go! I love that. Writing something out is about 1000x more productive than staying glued to CNN. 🙂
I definitely think all the time about how we can mobilize folks to use our communication powers to make things better.
Ash Roy says
Thanks for writing this. I’ve been writing (on and off) for years now and I couldn’t agree more. I write as often as I can in my journal (I use Day One) and I find it extremely helpful. Sometimes I write about my plan for the day (when I feel emotionally blocked) and that often helps me push through to the deeper emotionally charged stuff which often surfaces.
Thank you for this wonderful reminder.
Sonia Simone says
I was re-reading Emotional Agility the other night and re-discovered this, and thought it was too good not to share.