How to Escape Your Own Emotional Jail: My Real Life Reset

The pandemic, recession, civic unrest and an emotionally charged election have created an overwhelming amount of uncertainty in the world. Our new normal is super abnormal, and it left me feeling more worn down an unsettled than ever before. It left me locked in my own emotional jail. How I found the key to get out.

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Our new normal is super abnormal, and it left me feeling more worn down an unsettled than ever before. It left me locked in my own emotional jail.
Our new normal is super abnormal, and it left me feeling more worn down an unsettled than ever before. It left me locked in my own emotional jail.

Recently, I found myself caught in a pattern of negative thoughts and bad behaviors like a hamster on a wheel. Yes, me. The “purpose-driven, performance-optimizing, live-your-best-life” guy. The truth is I’m not always so perfectly calibrated. I veer off course sometimes. We all do. We’re human. 

And let’s face it: this year has been tough on all of us in one way or another. Personally, I’ve felt the repercussions much more than I would have imagined. There’s been a lot of noise in my head due to overall uncertainty—the pandemic, civic unrest, an emotionally charged election, and millions of heated opinions about seemingly everything. Our new normal is super abnormal, and it left me feeling more wore down than ever before. It left me locked in my own emotional jail.

As a result, I needed a way out. Something easy. So I turned to some cheap coping mechanisms: eating, drinking, Netflix binging, later nights than usual. These are all considered soft addictions—they allow you to feel good in the short term, and while they’re not terrible for you, they really put you in a horrible downward cycle. They do not give you the real relief you seek and ultimately negatively impact your overall wellness.  

As I continued down the rabbit hole of unhealthy habits, I began to feel ashamed of my actions. Each morning, I’d catch myself thinking “I should not have eaten that” or “I should not have had that second (or third) glass of bourbon.” I created a cycle of guilt and negative thinking. One day, then the next, then the next. Indulge, guilt, indulge, guilt, indulge, guilt. I was stuck.

Finally, I got to a point where I was like “F*ck. Where is this coming from?” And I realized that I needed to do something about it. So, rather than focus on what I wasn’t doing right, I gave myself a wake-up call and changed my mindset: what’s one thing that I did do right? And I began to focus on that instead.

I decided to focus on one task each day, and then incrementally improve day-to-day. I’d wake up and ask: what did I do right yesterday? And I’d name it. Then, I’d decide what I would focus on for that day. For instance, “today I am going to go to bed on time” or “today I am going to make sure to meditate.” I created the right mindset to start my day, which helped me end my day stronger, similar to rewiring your brain each morning. Above all, I was NOT going to allow my mental guilt to weigh me down. 

I liken the way this all went down to having a rock in your shoe. When the rock is there, it’s all you can think about. You need to stop, take off the shoe, empty out the rock, and then put the shoe back on to continue walking forward. Afterward, you completely forget about the rock and just move on. In this case that rock was the emotional baggage that I was feeling. I needed to pause, release that anxious baggage, reset, and return to a refreshed state of being—I needed to break free from the emotional jail. And I did. 

I’ve shared this as a way to open up about my own faults and failures (I’ve had plenty). And, to hopefully inspire you to take a look at your own life and create meaningful shifts. Have you found yourself in your own emotional jail at any point in the last couple of months? What did you do to recalibrate and get out of it? Or, if you find yourself there now, what can you do today to make for a better tomorrow? (DO IT!) Simple self-awareness and just a little rewiring can yield big results.

And remember, we need the rocks no matter the path we’re on. Rocks show our humanity. And they bring growth—each one is a part of the journey. So, deal with the rocks, and enjoy the journey.

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