If you could trade seven minutes of your time for a calmer and more productive day, would you? Does your answer change if those seven minutes are awful? Have I sold you on trying it?
This week’s Brave Wednesday is brought to you by yet another snow day! Unlike my usual Brave Wednesday offerings, it isn’t a product of my creative efforts. Or perhaps it is in a way. Though it’s not technically speaking any form of art. I could argue that this is one of my bravest Wednesdays. Today I present to you one way I’ve developed to handle my fears and anxieties.
What follows is a way to spend seven minutes that is both awful and sometimes crucial to my mental health. You could call it a mindfulness exercise. You could also call it facing your fears. I call it feeling your feelings, for seven awful minutes.
Here’s how it goes:
- Set aside seven minutes where your actually aren’t doing anything else. You’re not checking your email, you’re not watching tv, you’re not supervising bedtime, you’re just doing this.
- Take a pencil and write out a list of 3-5 of your top fears. Really spell them out. For example, instead of writing “driving the car,” write “I might lose control and crash,” or “someone else might hit our car.” (See how those are not the same?) One sign that you’re doing this right is that the idea of anyone else looking at this list is horrifying. Don’t worry, you’re not going to show it to anyone.
- Now circle the deepest and scariest fear you listed. If you’re like me, it’s probably the last one.
- The above only took two minutes. Now comes the hard part. Set a timer for five minutes.
- For the entirety of these five minutes, focus on the emotion your circled item causes. Notice how it feels in your chest, your muscles, your knees, your face. Watch that emotion. Don’t spin out into why it’s a reasonable fear, or what other things might happen if that thing happened, or what steps you take to prevent it. When you see that happening, gently bring yourself back to the emotion. FEEL those feelings. Acknowledge their presence and don’t bottle or shove them aside. Really feel the hell out of them. If they bring tears, then let that happen.
- You may feel that the timer will never beep. Breathe through the emotions, let them roll through you. And I do mean through, because once you let them out, acknowledge them, and really feel them fiercely, those feelings will start to dissipate. Notice that emotion dissipating.
- If the timer beeps but you need another moment on this emotion, that is ok. Especially when you first start this, it might take a little longer than the allotted time. Another thing that might happen is you can’t handle the whole 300 seconds right at first. Be gentle with yourself, if you need to start at one minute and work your way up, that is also ok.
- Take a steadying breath, and notice how you feel now. Better?
- You’re done!
Bonus step: Write down the next time you’re going to do this on your calendar. When an emotion seems overwhelming and you have to push it away in order to handle the task at hand, promise yourself you’ll feel it at that already scheduled time. Not only will it be easier to put away, you’ll feel better for knowing that it won’t stay bottled forever. And then next time you can skip the list making, and go directly to step 4.