Last summer my emotional workouts were paying off, life felt easier, freer even in the face of stressful work deadlines or busy, over scheduled days. But this fall a whole new level of emotional stress came my way, testing the value of emotional resilience training.
Daily Emotional Workouts
Over the summer, I’d wake up and check in with myself.
I always ask the same questions: “Where am I coming from? Am I coming from a good place or somewhere that needs to be investigated?” Or in really basic terms, is my mind filled with any negative thoughts or am I relaxed and centered?
I found this check in to be one of the most valuable moments of my day. Because sometimes a bad night of sleep or a weird dream could kick off my day in the wrong direction. After my check in, I’d get up brush my teeth, shower, dress and spend a few minutes with my family before heading out to work.
When I’d sit down to work, I would check in again. I know it was only 8 AM, but after rushing to get out of the house, sitting in traffic, being bombarded with emails and text messages, my emotional tailspin could start without my awareness of it.
Most of the time I would realize that I was looping on something useless: an email that rubbed me the wrong way, a task I needed to get done, how Donald Trump said something painfully stupid and now I can’t stay at the Trump Hotels any more.
Whatever was looping in my mind was typically an unconscious choice and slowing zapping my precious energy for the day. My actual goals, what I wanted to get done, were being drowned out by my unconscious mental clamoring.
Emotional Workouts Saved My Life
My emotional workouts saved me from wasteful noise, unwanted mental chatter and brought me back to my real goals. My work productivity went up, but more importantly my happiness went up. The unconscious noise was often stressful. And that stress overtook my happiness, my sense of contentment, throughout the day.
So I would check in … a lot.
Because the more I checked in, the more I lowered risk that my mind had taken off in a direction that I could not come back from, catching the unconscious thought loops early is critical because you aren’t so swept up by your emotions and you can refocus quicker.
We have all done it – gotten so swept up by an unconscious narrative that we cannot remember how we got home because we were completely lost in thought.
But the thoughts were not conscious, not intentional, they were just an old tape we took out and played on auto-repeat.
Unconscious thoughts are like elevator music – they get stuck in your head and never shut up.
How to stop unconscious loops?
- Check in a lot
- Ask, “Where am I coming from?” “Do I feel stressed, anxious, afraid, sad?”
- What is the exact sentence(s) you are repeating? This is key: say the sentence out loud or write it down.
- Scan your body. Ask, “How does my body feel?”
- Breathe into the stressed part of your body.
- Are the thoughts useful or are you just repeating and repeating the same point?
- Replace your thoughts or just let the looping thought go. You are wasting your energy.
- Write it down if it is a task and do it. This way you won’t forget and you can stop fixating.
- Call a friend if something is really upsetting you and you have to get it off your chest.
- Focus on what you are doing now. Notice the sounds in your room. Come back to what is going on presently.
But what do you do if none of this works?
I had a great summer. Nothing out of the ordinary was going on.
But this fall has been really difficult. And by difficult I do not mean the kinds of problems that we create by taking on too much. I mean the real kind of difficult – a serious health issue was diagnosed in my family.
What do you do when something is on your mind and it is serious. The world is kicking you ass. You are not just fixated on something that is fixable or self-inflicted?
Here is what I discovered: You have to do the same thing.
Check in. Notice your thoughts. What is looping? Even if it is a real concern, it never helps to worry. When I can’t do anything to make my difficult circumstances better, overthinking is pointless.
So my emotional workouts have tripled. I was working out before as if I was training for a 5K. Now, I upped my workouts because life signed me up for a marathon.
And I cannot stress enough how important it is for me to know what types of emotional stress I create in my life. Some of us worry about what others think, some of us become judgmental, some of us become self-abusive, and others get super angry. Or we flip flop between several emotional states.
If you know your emotional tendency, you can be on alert. Just like if you are dieting and Thanksgiving comes along, you put down the fork when you reach for your second slice of pie. If you are working out emotionally and difficulties come your way, you put down the thoughts when you reach for the same thought over and over.
It’s up to you. Most of us won’t do it because it is hard and it takes time. But if you want to be happier, less stressed, you have to work because life is always moving, throwing us punches, unexpected twists and turns. It’s up to you if you are going to sit down and give up or put up a real fight and workout.