A side profile of a woman with her hair in pigtails standing in front of a washer at a laundry mat

If right now you took a big gulp of air, filled up your cheeks and tried to hold your breath as long as you possibly could, consider what would happen when you finally exhaled.

Would the air gingerly sweep past your lips as it left? Slowly and with care? Or would the carbon dioxide rush out urgently in a forceful, exasperated gust? Likely, the latter.

When we experience thoughts and feelings that cause us discomfort, there is a tendency to keep them all trapped inside. While locked away, emotions like self-doubt, self-criticism, judgment, depression, anxiety, loneliness and confusion have ample time to endorse one another enthusiastically; multiplying and magnifying all of our fears.

Inevitably though, these trapped emotions make their way out. When they do, just like a delayed exhale, they carry an air of urgency and aimless intensity. 

Feelings of anger and inadequacy manifest in explosive outbursts that result in fractured relationships and broken rapport, as well as lingering feelings of guilt.

Relentless self-judgment and battered self-esteem lead to isolation from the people and activities we care about most, perpetuating a cycle of cancelled plans and emotional distance that only reinforce deeply held insecurities about our worth. 

Fear and shame hold us hostage, ensuring that we stay in the same abusive cycles and relationships, even when our physical and emotional safety is at risk.

When emotions are stranded behind closed doors, never seeing the sun or feeling the breeze, by default, our minds reject the possibility of there being another narrative. This rigid thinking contributes to a pattern of action that is non-conducive to healing and growth. 

When emotions are stranded behind closed doors, by default, our minds reject the possibility of there being another narrative.

We do this for a number of reasons. Perhaps you tried to open up to someone once before and their response was critical, unhelpful or cruel. Maybe you’ve never confided in another that way and the thought of doing so is downright terrifying. Perhaps, you are stubborn and convinced that you should be able to get through this on your own. 

There is a different story than the one that plays on repeat in your mind. Your thoughts can be convincing and all-consuming, and they can make everything about your reality seem matter-of-fact. We have this endless chatter narrating every moment, and we’d like to think that we can trust it to guide us in the right direction.  

It’s important to remember that thoughts are just words strung together, a collection of electro-chemical reactions. Thoughts give us language to describe and communicate our understanding and make meaning of our experiences. Yet, we would be remiss to think that our thoughts cannot also lead us astray, regardless of how real they feel. 

We would be remiss to think that our thoughts cannot also lead us astray, regardless of how real they feel. 

One impactful and simple way to respond to life stressors is to speak what you are thinking out loud. Doing so provides a chance for these words to be challenged if they are lies, and the opportunity for a more holistic reflection. You deserve that. 

The next time you are struggling with an internal battle and being bullied by your thoughts, try to talk to someone you trust about it. If there is no one who feels safe to open up to right now, then consider asking your primary care provider or employer if you have coverage for therapy. You can also check out these free and low cost online therapy services.

Another great way to practice freeing your thoughts is to write them down on paper, letting the words flow. Read it back to yourself, and ponder what advice you would give someone you love if they had said this to you. Write things like, “It is not your fault,” or “You are not alone in this.”

Speaking your stress out loud creates space for empathy, validation and a new perspective that you may not have previously considered, one built on a foundation of kindness and balance. You are worthy of this opportunity for compassion and growth. Give your thoughts air and breathe a little deeper. 

Do you speak your thoughts out loud? Even the thoughts that you might consider “bad”? If so, how does this help you?

Image via Emily Blake, Darling Issue No. 11

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