Managing Difficult Emotions

Most people have had the experience of feeling overwhelmed by strong emotion. At those moments, the strength of your anger, sadness, nervousness or discouragement may have made you feel as though the emotion was in control of you. The intensity of your own feelings may have also affected your attitude and behaviour in ways that were distressing to you and to those around you.

So, how do you handle these episodes without breaking down, losing your temper, or having to avoid feelings entirely?

Be aware of your breathing. Try to slow it down while deepening each breath. This simple step is a natural way to calm a racing pulse and mind. Meanwhile 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.

Take a brief time out to compose yourself. If you are with others and it is not an appropriate 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 talk over your situation. Sharing your feelings with those you trust can help you to feel normal, and reduce isolation.

Speak up when an issue is important to you. This works best when you have first taken the time to reflect and to clarify your position before you begin. Remember, change in relationships usually happens slowly, and not as the result of impulsive confrontations.

Be kind to yourself. This is a good time to do some small things that bring you comfort and provide a mental ‘mini vacation.’ For example, take a quiet walk, eat a nice meal, or go to bed early with a good book.

Temporarily distract yourself. Sometimes being flooded with feelings can make it hard to cope. Visualise temporarily putting your distressed feelings into a safe container where you can go back to them later, when you are calmer. Or try tiring yourself out with physical activity, or by tackling a lengthy but mundane task.

Try to keep doing the regular, routine things you would do on an average day. This will help you feel more in control. Remember that your strong feelings will eventually change and subside. Remind yourself of past situations when the intensity of the pain decreased with the passage of time.

If painful or intense feelings are a regular occurrence, make an effort to figure out why. Speaking to your form tutor, learning leader or someone from the support centre, can help you in your search.