Detoxes have been trending for decades, from the infamous cabbage soup diet of the 80s to the current celery craze. These dietary detoxes or “cleanses” are often easily debunkable or too-close to toxic diet culture for our tastes. (Personally, I’m partial to a green juice to kick off my day. However, the idea of surviving on nothing but cabbage soup for three days makes me want to declare war on all vegetables.)
But there’s a new kind of detox on the scene that doesn’t involve restricting calories or forgoing solid foods. This one has nothing to do with what’s on our plates and everything to do with what’s on our minds.
“An emotional detox allows you to release negative thoughts, beliefs and behaviors,” said Sherianna Boyle, adjunct professor of psychology, author and speaker, whose new book, Emotional Detox for Anxiety (out Dec. 24) is based on her seven-step C.L.E.A.N.S.E Method™ (more on that below).
“Once these reactions are released, your body naturally moves into calmer, more peaceful and loving states.”
Who doesn’t want peace and love? I decided — with some reservations — to give it a go. Here’s what happened.
1. I became more organized
When you do a dietary detox, you’re naturally working to some kind of schedule. (You make a green juice for breakfast, or whatever.) On the other hand, you have to make a concerted effort to find space in your day to detox your emotions. I regularly get to the end of the night without having gotten even midway down my to-do list, so I knew I was going to have to prioritize this practice for it to have even the smallest chance of success. So, before I ran errands or did laundry, I made sure I took a few minutes to try to get rid of those negative thoughts. Surprisingly, this had an impact on my to-do list. I found myself getting through it with less procrastination than normal.
2. I stopped sweating the small stuff
Boyle told me I’d be less likely to “blame or misconstrue things” when my emotions are in flow, and she was right. But after only a few days, it went even further than this. I just wasn’t reacting to minor issues that had the potential to get blown out of proportion — and it felt good.
3. I learned that emotional health isn’t a quick fix
You can’t follow a healthy diet for a week and expect to feel the benefits for a lifetime — and it’s the same for emotional health. I’m results-oriented, plus I’m super impatient, so I want results, like, yesterday. This was no revelation, but it was another reminder that it takes time to make big changes, and that important things deserve the time and energy they need to develop.
4. I listened to my instincts
Different things work for different people. There are many ways to do an emotional cleanse, and it might take a bit of experimenting before you figure out what way is your way. Positive affirmations, journaling and professional therapy might all be part of the bigger picture. I found myself using parts of Boyle’s method, but when it came to looking inward (using slow breaths in and out through the nose to answer the question, “How do I feel in my body right now?”) it just didn’t feel right for me.
“This step throws people because they are so used to labelling their feelings,” Boyle admitted. While I agree with Boyle that our emotions “were never meant to be controlled,” I do find it useful to label my negative emotions. Recognizing them for what they are (guilt, envy, fear, etc.) makes it easier for me to move on from them.
Sherianna Boyle’s C.L.E.A.N.S.E Method™:
- Clear Reactivity: Boyle suggests preparing your body by taking a few stretches such as reaching your arms over your head, or stretching your neck from side to side.
- Look Inward: “State out loud, ‘How I feel in my body right now is…’ Answer by breathing slowly in and out through your nose,” Boyle said.
- Emit: Produce a sound such as a humming sound, “extending your exhale” by drawing your navel toward your spine. (FYI, you might feel ridiculous doing this, but it actually does feel strangely satisfying and calming.)
- Activate: Visualize a calming scene in your mind, such as ocean waves.
- Nourish: Imagine what it would feel like to be at that calming place right now “How does it feel on your skin and body?” Boyle asked.
- Surrender: State out loud, “I allow calm, serenity, peace.”
- Ease: State out loud, “I am calm, serenity, peace.”
A version of this story was published November 2019.
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