There are times when your emotions can feel overwhelming, confusing, or difficult to manage. However, emotions are a part of being human and you can’t push them away or make them disappear. In fact, when you try to ignore them, they often get more intense and unmanageable. Emotion regulation skills need to be taught or developed. We are not born with innate abilities to perfectly manage our emotions. Read on for six ways to better manage your emotions.
1. The first step in better managing your emotions is accepting them. You don’t have to like them, but fighting against what you're feeling doesn’t make them go away. Allow space for your emotions. Pushing them away can often make them persistent and more intense. Therapists often talk about how if you tell yourself not to think about something, you end up thinking about it nonstop. The same can apply to your emotions. Give them space in your life and then move forward on managing them.
A part of this is taking a nonjudgmental stance about your thoughts and feelings. Feelings are neither “good” or “bad,” they just are an indicator of what is going on inside of you. Your feelings are valid and they are there for a reason. The meaning you make from your emotions matters a great deal and is personal to you and only you. Everyone is entitled to make their own meaning from their emotions.
2. Once you have accepted these emotions, you can determine where to go from here. Are they intense or just upsetting? If your emotions are feeling completely out of your control, you can try some grounding techniques. A quick Google search of “grounding techniques” will help you identify hundreds of options that might suit you best. There are an array of popular sensory grounding strategies such as feeling yourself and your body sitting in your chair, counting all the items in the room that are blue, holding a piece of ice, and using scent therapy. The grounding options are endless.
However, if you are feeling emotions so intense that you start having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
3. Next, take in a full deep breath. Deep breathing helps calm and reset your nervous system. Managing your breath is a free and extremely effective method to calm your body down because you wont be trying (and probably failing) to use your logical brain. Emotions are in the drivers seat, so why try to force logic to a brain unwilling to hear it at that time. Your freeze, fight, or flight response is kicking in. Work with it, don’t try to will it away.
4. Now try using self-talk and challenging some of the thoughts associated with your feelings. Imagine yourself as an outsider evaluating your feelings. When challenging your thoughts, you can use this question to prime your answers, “what is the evidence?” Are you able to actually challenge your thoughts or are your emotions taking over and not allowing you to see another side? If that is the case, move on to another strategy.
5. Knowing when to utilize distraction as a technique is a discretionary skill we all have to develop. We don’t want to always distract ourselves from feelings because feelings aren’t bad. When we always use distraction, we are just avoiding the inevitable and making our feelings more intense down the road. However, when your feelings are so intense and you need to focus on something important such as work or another event, you can use distraction. Call a friend, go for a walk, play with your pet, watch a comedy show, or go window shopping. Distraction is your “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” tool.
6. Finally, seek more support. Many people think that they are a burden to others so they don’t reach out for help. However, if the people in your life are kind and supportive, they would gladly offer their help if they are able to support you. Just as you would probably be there for your friends, let them be there for you. We often think that we are alone in our thoughts and feelings, but when you reach out to others you realize you aren’t alone. This understanding can be powerful and can make you feel less isolated and alone. Utilizing healthy life skills such as movement, sleep, social support can also be preventative. The better you take care of your overall well-being, the easier it will be to deal with your emotions.
Lastly, it is essential to reflect on your feelings after the intensity has passed. What worked? What didn’t work? What made you feel worse? You can do this with a therapist or trusted loved one or through journaling. This process is not a quick fix. This takes work, practice, and patience with yourself. Be kind to yourself.