Self-Help: Managing Difficult Emotions
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Most people have had the experience of feeling overwhelmed by a strong emotion. At those times, the strength of the anger, sadness, anxiety, or discouragement may have made you feel like the emotion was in control of you.
Emotional intensity may have affected your attitude and behavior in ways that were distressing both to you and those around you.
So, how do you handle these episodes without being overwhelmed or, alternatively, attempting to avoid the feelings entirely? Experiment with the following coping strategies and determine which ones work best for you.
- Be aware of your breathing. Make it slow and deep. You are your breaths in your abdomen. This simple step is a natural way to calm a racing pulse and mind and center yourself. Take a moment to check on the muscle tension in your body, particularly in the shoulders, neck and jaw. Relax any tight areas you find. Imagine the tension flowing out as you breathe deeply.
- Take a brief time out to compose yourself. If you are with others and it is not an appropriate/convenient time to express intense emotions, excuse yourself for a few minutes. You could say "I need a second to get my thoughts together. I'll be back in a moment."
- Contact supportive people and discuss your feelings or situation. Sharing your feelings with those you trust can help you to feel normal and not as isolated. They may also be able to help you see the situation from additional perspectives.
- Writing your feelings down in a private journal is an additional tool you can use to help manage emotions. A recent study showed that survivors of traumatic events lowered their distress levels significantly by journaling. The process of putting something down on paper can help a person to stop ruminating. Closing and putting away the journal can also be a symbolic closure on the distressing events or feelings.
- Speak up when an issue is important to you. This is most effective when you spend the time to think about the problem and clarify your position before you begin. Remember, changes in relationships are a process and usually take time. Rarely are they the result of impulsive confrontation.
- Be kind to yourself. This is a good time to practice self-soothing. Do some small things for yourself that give you comfort and provide a mental "mini vacation." For example, take a quiet walk in the park, take a relaxing bubble bath, make yourself a meal with some special comfort foods, or go to bed early with your favorite book.
- Temporarily distract yourself. Sometimes being flooded with feelings can make it hard to cope. Visualize putting your emotional pain in a box on the closet shelf where you can get back to it to sort it out when you are calmer. Do something that will bring out the opposite emotion. Expend your energy with physical activity. Engage in tasks that require concentration. Attending class or work where you have to focus on a task can provide a temporary relief or break.
- Try to do the regular, routine things you would do on an average day. This will help you feel more in control.
- Remember that your feelings will change eventually. Remind yourself that you have not always felt this way and will not always continue to feel this way. Think about previous occasions when the intensity of the pain decreased and you began to feel better.
- If painful feelings are a regular occurrence, explore why that might be the case and what in your life might need to be addressed. You might want to use self-help books or counseling as additional resources in that exploration process.