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Riding Out Intense Emotions

Unfortunately, we can’t just get rid of certain emotions because they all serve an important purpose in our lives – even the difficult ones like anxiety, sadness, grief, anger, shame, and guilt.

Emotions give us information.  Sadness may tell us that we’re lonely or that we’re grieving a loss.  Anger may be a clue that we are being treated unfairly or that others are not meeting our expectations. Guilt often results from the belief that we have done something wrong or hurt someone.

Emotions also move us to act or react in different ways. Frustration may drive us to problem-solve or try to change a situation for the better. Sadness may encourage us to seek comfort from others, or create time to reflect. Guilt may motivate us to make amends or keep us from repeating the same behaviour in the future.

When emotions are intense and overwhelming, we naturally want to get rid of them or block them out. Not feeling or facing our emotions; however, often makes things worse and catches up to us eventually.  Ultimately, we want to be able to deal with what is causing our emotions and express them in a healthy way. But sometimes we find ourselves confronted by emotions that feel too intense or overwhelming to deal with in the moment.  Or, we can find ourselves in situations we cannot immediately change. There are strategies that can help us ride out or “dial down” difficult and intense emotions until we are either less emotionally reactive or we are in a time or place where we are able to reflect on our situation or deal with what may be causing our emotions.

Check out these helpful strategies for “riding out” intense emotions.

Helpful Things to Tell Yourself

We may tell ourselves that we can’t handle intense feelings, or that our feelings aren’t real or valid. However, this type of self-talk isn’t true and doesn’t help our situation.  It’s better to accept your feelings without judgment, and make a plan to get through them. Check out these helpful thoughts.

Helpful Thoughts for “In the Moment”

All I have to do right now is keep breathing. That’s my only job. Just breathe.
I’m doing the best I can.
I’ve felt this way before and survived. I can get through this too.
This feeling won’t last forever. It will eventually fade, and another feeling will take its place.
How I feel right now is neither good nor bad, right or wrong. It just is.
In this moment, I can’t change the situation or how I feel. Instead, I’m going to focus on not doing anything that will make the situation worse.
There is a big difference between feeling what I am feeling and acting on it.
What I’m feeling isn’t necessarily based on facts even though it feels very true at this moment.
Feeling like I can’t cope, doesn’t mean I can’t.

Helpful Thoughts for Anytime

Painful emotions happen for a reason and are an important source of information and direction for me.
Anger and sadness are valid emotions in some situations.
There is always another way to see a situation, and more than one solution to a problem.
All people are unique and have different points of view.
It is important not to see the world in “black-and-white” terms.
As a unique person, I have unique reactions. I am allowed to feel however I feel in any given situation.
Knowing when to ask for help is a sign of strength and an important life skill.
There are people who care about me and want me to do well.
I may not have created my problems, but it is up to me to solve them either on my own or with the support of others.
Gaining wisdom and strength only comes from making mistakes and learning from them as I go through life.
Life is confusing. I don’t have to figure everything out right now.

Take note of which statements above you think might be helpful to you.  Write them down or put them in your phone to help you remember them when you need them.  

Helpful Things To Do

Sometimes, our emotions can be overwhelming and lead to unproductive or unhealthy ways of coping.  But there are strategies that can help us ride out or “dial down” these difficult emotions in a healthy way. Here are some strategies that may help you express or cope better with difficult emotions.

Call a friend or someone you trust.
Take a warm bath or shower.
Play or cuddle with a pet.
Make a list of things that make you happy.
Think of all the people who love you.
Listen to soothing music.
Play a video game.
Blast upbeat music and dance.
Do something nice for someone else.
Count down mindfully from 10 to 1.
Focus on your present experience: notice things you can see, touch, hear, smell, or taste.
Try some relaxation/chill out strategies
Run, walk, swim or do some other vigorous exercise.
Hold some ice in your hand, or splash really cold water on your face. Focus on the intense cold sensation.
Play a sport (e.g., basketball, tennis, skateboarding).
Clean your room or re-organize a drawer.
Go outside in nature.
Watch a sad movie and cry.
Watch a really funny video and laugh.
Remember a favourite day, vacation, or memory. Imagine being back there.
Eat a favourite snack slowly and mindfully.
Look at some of your favourite pictures.
Play an instrument.
Light a candle.
Put on our favourite perfume, cologne, or lotion.
Curl up to a cup of tea.
Put on comfy clothes.
Do something that brings on the opposite emotion (e.g., feeling sad then watch funny YouTube videos).

Try experimenting with some of the strategies above to see which ones help you cope better with difficult emotions.

Learning to ride out intense or difficult emotions takes time. Be prepared to keep practicing these strategies so they become more effective over time. And reach out for help (a trusted adult or counsellor) if your find that you’re still struggling to deal with your emotions.

For more ideas or help on riding out intense emotions, check out MindShift CBT for iOS and Android.