writing for emotional balance

Yesterday I shared several writing exercises to soothe strong emotions from the book Writing for Emotional Balance: A Guided Journal to Help You Manage Overwhelming Emotions by clinical psychologist Beth Jacobs, PhD.

(See that post here.)

The problem with strong emotions is that they can lead you to feel even more scattered and overwhelmed and yearning a quick — and unhealthy — fix.

Today, I’m sharing two more healthy activities you can do when you’re feeling overwhelmed by a flood of feelings.

Remember that different coping strategies work for different people. So try them all, if you like, to see which ones resonate with you. Stick with what works best, and leave the rest.

3. Journal while you exhale.

Jacobs instructs readers to “write only when you’re exhaling.” She suggests stream-of-consciousness writing, which is loose and informal.

Specifically, “While you inhale, lightly hold your pen or pencil to the page or position your fingers above the keyword, then let the words burst through when you exhale.”

This exercise might seem awkward or strange. But you’ll eventually become so focused on your writing and breathing that you’ll probably feel calmer.

Relaxing your body in other ways is also helpful. As Jacobs writes, strong emotions rev up your heart rate and respiration, and your muscles tend to tense up and feel tight. That’s why techniques like taking deep breaths and stretching your body are important in creating calm and releasing tension.

4. Record a positive thought – repeatedly.

When we’re consumed by overwhelming emotions, negative thoughts seem to inevitably follow. These thoughts only heighten our distress and swell our already strong emotions.

In this activity, Jacobs suggests slowly writing down a positive thought 12 times to help you reinforce it. Pick a thought that’s uplifting to you and doesn’t make you roll your eyes, she says.

This could be anything from a song lyric to something you like.

She gave the following examples: “I have what I need.” “My emotions are working for me.” “The sound of waves gently breaking.” “I love to write in a cozy room.”

Pinpointing Overwhelming Emotions 

When you’re experiencing strong emotions and get overwhelmed, it’s tough to realize that it’s best to stretch or take out your journal or soothe yourself in other ways.

You feel consumed and confused and like the emotions have struck you without warning.

But while it might feel like strong emotions hit you when you least expect it, typically, there’s some sort of buildup, a gradual progression. And that’s what you want to look for.

According to Jacobs, there are three main warning signs:

The best thing you can do is to learn to recognize the earliest possible point when you are in danger of becoming overwhelmed. The signals usually are that some body system speeds up, or your emotions start to feel as though they’re filling up your mind, or you feel overstimulated.

Overstimulation means the level of any feeling has gone past your threshold of comfort and tolerance…Being overstimulated shuts down your mental and physical controls. You can’t think straight and you might shake, blush or freeze up.

Still, there are times when you’re caught off guard. During those times, Jacobs suggests the following:

Sometimes you can’t think to think, and can’t refocus until the emotional waters have receded a little. At those times your signal is the first instant that you consciously notice that you have been over the edge. You need to give yourself a  break then and be appreciative of however quickly you were able to refocus yourself.

Do you find these tips helpful? What helps you when strong emotions strike?