Okay, listen: I am fully aware that 2020 is done and we have officially crossed over into 2021. However, just because the clock struck 12 midnight, marking a transition from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day, doesn’t mean the blues that some people have been feeling magically went away. In fact, in light of recent events including the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building, variants of Coronavirus popping up across the globe, and continued uncertainty around what “normalcy” we will be able to reclaim and when, it is apparent to me that 2021 seems to be calling for just as much (if not more) self-care. For this reason, we continue building our Emotional First Aid Kits (EFAKs).

Remember that I am recommending that your EFAK consists of things that:

  • Make you laugh
  • Make you move
  • Help you express your feelings in safe, healthy ways
  • Affirm and nurture you
  • Help you rest.

Today’s post talks about creating avenues for the healthy expression of your feelings. Too many people walk around like continuously inflating balloons. They hold all of their feelings and emotions until they pop! That’s not the healthiest way to navigate life. Although is may seem safe to keep everything to yourself, your person – your soul, mind, heart, and even physical body – can’t hold but so much for so long. Eventually, everything you have been keeping inside will find its way out one way or another. What I encourage people to do is find healthy ways to let your feelings out a little at a time. Not everyone is built to write a full autobiography or stage play about his or her life or experiences. Not everyone is comfortable having an entire, hour-long conversation about his or her feelings. That’s okay. There are other ways to “let it out.” Here are a few ideas:

Journal

To some, journaling comes naturally. Those of us who perhaps have a proclivity toward written expression (e.g., poetry, song lyrics, short stories) may find it refreshing to sit down with pen and paper, or stare at a blank computer screen. I happen to be one of those people. However, I have often created unnecessary stumbling-blocks in my written expression because I feel like I have to follow some type of writing formula. I am often plagued with thoughts like “Is this grammatically correct? Did I use the correct punctuation there? Does my writing flow or am I bouncing around and rambling?” Yeah, that’s my inner-nerd who desires to be a good writer. However, journaling through “free association” is just as powerful if not more than attempting to write as if someone else will be reading (and critiquing) your work. With free association, it doesn’t matter if thoughts aren’t coherent. You could just write down a thread of words that at first may seem to be random. However, those words and thoughts originate within you somewhere – unconsciously or subconsciously. They, too, deserve expression. Should you choose, you can go back and turn them into clear, coherent expressions if you find the words. If you don’t, that’s okay too. If free association isn’t for you, try identifying your mood at the time of journaling. Think through how you have felt that day and write down the feeling word(s). Then, write down any experience in your day that maybe triggered that feeling. This type of exercise is good for both expressing your feelings and growing your self-awareness around your mood triggers. Even still, if you want to try your hand at journaling using some pre-determined writing prompts, check out journaling prompts by Nerd Knows Life or PsychCentral.

Perhaps words in any structure are not appealing, but you want to try journaling. In those instances, I encourage people to try photo-journaling (using pictures to tell your story). I’ve even suggested that people try using a collection of memes and/or photos from the Internet to journal their feelings. Of course, you don’t want to take credit for other people’s work; however, you can note that their expressions reflect your feelings and/or desires in some way. I myself have created Pinterest boards do this for myself.

Color Me There and Such

Remember being a child with your fresh box of Crayola crayons and favorite coloring book? If you can’t remember your coloring escapades, think about watching children color today. There is something naturally therapeutic about coloring, painting, sketching, just about any form of creating. Recent years have seen increased interest in adult coloring books, and rightfully so. Coloring can sooth anxiety, serves as a mindfulness activity, and can help one focus on more positive thoughts and experiences. In her Huffington Post article, Dr. Nikki Martinez shares seven reasons that adult coloring is quite beneficial. If you don’t have a coloring book at the moment, have no fear. There are many websites that offer adult coloring pages that you can print. Some of my favorites are: Crayola; The Spruce Crafts; and Faber-Castell. You can also find some good options posting by Adrienne from Cleverpedia via Pinterest.

I also encourage people to use their hands to mold and sculpt, crochet or knit, or even cook or bake. These artistic expressions are valid and powerful. I am a self-proclaimed “aspiring crochet queen.” The truth is, I’m not very good at it…at all. Nevertheless, I find myself entering into mindful space. For 2021, I have decided to challenge myself to create one Granny Square each day that reflects my overall mood for that day. After creating the square, I take a picture of it and write a couple of sentences describing my mood. My plan is to use these squares as a sort of 2021 mood diary. At the end of the year, I plan to crochet the squares together to make a blanket.

“Play That Funky Music…”

The world has long known that music has the power to move mountains and turn the earth on its axis. Kendra Cherry talks about some surprising (or not) benefits of music for mental health. In fact, music is so magical that many therapist have begun training in and utilizing music therapy in their clinical practices. The American Psychological Association’s article “Music as Medicine” explores some of the healing properties of music including stress reduction and relaxation, possible mitigation of pain, and vibration. Again, music is mood…music is life. Here is what I typically recommend to clients when infusing music into treatment:

  • To being gaining awareness of feelings, and possibly developing vocabulary to define your feelings — Find 1-2 songs that resonate with your current emotions. When you hear these songs, you really feel them deep down in your gut. They might leave you saying “Yeah, that’s it!” Write or print the lyrics to the song(s), and underline/highlight any words or phrases that jump off the page at you.
  • To being shifting mood — Create a “wish-list” playlist. Think about how you want to feel. What songs come to mind when you think about how you wish you felt. If no specific songs come to mind, what about genres of music? For example, if I want to be happy, I probably shouldn’t listen to slower, blues songs. Instead, maybe I should opt for songs with strong beats, more staccato and upbeat lyrics. Sometimes, I play contemporary gospel (usually a lot of Kirk Franklin on my playlist) to snap me out of my funk. Other days, I’ll play almost anything that makes me dance, sing, or feel hard like a gangster-adjacent (*LOL*). I’ll let you in on a few of my favorite songs in no particular order (don’t judge!):

I hope this has been helpful and has given you some ideas of ways to get your feelings out and into the universe in healthy ways. There’s more room out there than inside of you.

What other ways do you express yourself?