I know we're all beyond ready for this new year. But I want to remind everyone to process the pain, anger and frustration of 2016. Processing is crucial to our health and well-being. If we don't process, we are enabling stressors within our bodies by inhibiting our emotions and feelings. Stressors lead to issues with our immune system, respiratory and cardiovascular systems. So, process your pain!
Let go of feelings from the events of 2016 with mindfulness. Don't just move into 2017 by saying good-bye to the previous year's trials. How do we release mindfully? Dr. James Pennebaker, pioneer of "expressive writing" (journaling) as a therapy, suggests to write about traumatic events using as many positive words as possible. Examples of happy words are love, happy, romantic, peace, calm, secure, thankful, caring, trust and joy. More examples can be found here, or Google "happy words."
Be honest when using happy words to discuss your trauma or challenging experience. Don't write that things were happy or positive when they weren't. Rather, use happy words in reflecting about the event. Perhaps you learned something from the event and have consequently made positive shifts in your life. Maybe you are grateful, transformed, or have a new sense of love or joy.
Using positive words like these releases chemicals in the brain linked to happiness, and also helps our brain reframe the story of our challenges in a meaningful way. Once we are able to attach meaning to life events and emotions, we are often able to move forward with a bigger picture perspective and gratitude. This is mindfulness and processing in action.
Forgiveness is also an important aspect of processing and letting go. Forgive yourself and others by describing the event, and the before and after of the event. Furthermore, practice compassion by explaining what the person who you are forgiving was going through at that point in their life or where they had come from (perhaps an aspect of their upbringing is still affecting them now). If you're forgiving yourself, practice self-compassion by explaining what was going on in your life that may have caused you to react in a way that eventually led to your seeking of forgiveness.
Compassion will help you see the situation from a bigger picture perspective or longer rhythm. But don't let compassion minimize your original feelings or excuse the person for his or her wrongdoing. To respect your own feelings while simultaneously allowing yourself to let go and forgive, write down the emotions you had during and after the event, and explain why these emotions arose. This will cultivate clarity on where you are at now with your emotions that are tied to the event. Perhaps you are less angry than you were in the past about the situation. Cultivating this awareness will help give you the strength to take another — perhaps the last — giant stride toward ultimate forgiveness.
Last thing: always write in stream of consciousness. This means to write quickly and not edit your thoughts. Bringing this sense of freedom to your writing will guide you to break your inhibitions in dealing with your feelings and emotions.