Everyone has had moments where they are suddenly drowning in overwhelming emotions. You may suddenly find yourself apoplectic with rage or feeling like someone has shoved a knife in your heart. The immediate reaction of many people to such things is either one extreme or the other. People either bury their emotions as deeply as they can and pretend that they were not angered or hurt by the other person, or they give into their emotions entirely and lash out in whatever way comes to mind first or feels the best. Neither of these are practical responses or actions that will do any good in the long run. They might feel good in the short term or act as a temporary fix, but neither reacting emotionally nor suppressing your feelings will lead to anything good in the long run. It is far better to learn how to handle overwhelming emotions than to hope you can suppress them when they appear. Even if you succeed at the moment, you will later find yourself exploding when a coworker asks you to pass the coffee or bursting into tears because your favorite TV show is taking a two week hiatus. Learn to handle overwhelming emotions when they appear rather than turning them into ticking time bombs. It is not always easy, but it is worth it to practice these seven ways to deal with overwhelming emotions.
When dealing with overwhelming emotions, it can be very tempting to make like an ostrich and simply bury your head in the sand. Ignoring or suppressing you emotions, however, is one of the last things you want to do. As humiliating as it might be to burst into tears in the middle of the day, giving into your emotions may actually be healthier than burying them. If you get in the habit of suppressing your emotions, you might one day find that you have no idea how to actually feel them or how to handle them when you do.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by an emotion, accept that you are feeling it. Do not berate yourself for being hurt by a friend’s tactless comment or angered by a coworker’s offensive “joke.” Acknowledge what you are feeling. Only then can you take steps to handle and control your emotions.
Pause and Breathe
One of the biggest problems with powerful emotions is that they seem to appear out of nowhere. There is no warning sign that you are about to be overwhelmed. Instead, someone says something or you see something, and it is like flipping a switch. One moment you are perfectly happy. The next you are seeing red and itching for a fight.
Overwhelming emotions themselves are not often the problem. The issue is that when emotions are overwhelming, rational thought goes out the window. Rather than handling matters with anything resembling logic or tact, you simple react in whatever manner feels right at the moment, and you usually regret it later. It is easier said than done, but when emotions threaten to overwhelm you, force yourself to take a breath and pause before speaking or acting. This gives you a chance to settle yourself and makes it less likely that you will lash out in a way you will regret later.
Respond Instead of Reacting
It is so much easier to say “stay calm” than it is to reel in a runaway temper by your fingernails. It is far better in the long run, however, to put the work into sitting on your immediate emotional reaction now rather than trying to make it up to a friend or coworker after you bit their head off for no apparent reason.
Learning to respond instead of react is not easy, but it is a good skill to learn. It is also one of the best ways to deal with an overwhelming emotion.When you react, you usually feel defensive or uncomfortable even if it is only subconsciously. As such, you lash out without thinking. When you respond, you have taken a moment to consider your actions before you do anything. That is not to say that you ignore your emotions or suppress them. You simply do not let them control or determine your reaction. If you are angry, there is a reason for your anger. If you are hurt, there is a reason for your pain. Pretending the causes away or dismissing the validity of your emotions helps no one. Feel your emotions and accept them, just do not let them take complete control of you.
Plan For Success
Dealing with overwhelming emotions is not going to be easy if you insist on shooting yourself in the foot every day. Keeping your emotions from drowning you will not be easy if you are already on the back foot. Make sure you set yourself up for success by taking care of both your physical and mental health. No one can keep their temper in check as well as they potentially could if they are functioning on four hours of sleep or if they skipped breakfast and now feel like their stomach is trying to digest their spine. If you want to keep a hold on your emotions, get plenty of sleep and eat healthy food. In the event that there is something unavoidable that is likely to affect your ability to respond instead of react, let those you interact with the most know what is happening. If you are trying to kick a caffeine habit, let people know in advance that you might be more irritable as you are planning to try and go cold turkey. Advanced warning does not give you carte blanche to react however you wish, but most people are far more understanding of someone snapping at them when they know a newborn baby kept them up all night.
Manage Your Stress
When you are already stressed, negative emotions seem to be turned up to 11. If you want to keep your emotions from burying you, you need to find a successful way to manage your stress. Getting enough sleep and eating right are important parts of managing stress, but they alone are not enough. Make sure that you have stress relievers in your life and that you take advantage of them. It is easy to pretend or to think that you do not have enough time to dedicate to stress relief, but making time to relax will actually save you time in the long run. Eventually, stress will reach the point where it hurts your performance. Stress management will help keep things from getting that bad.
Stress relief has innumerable forms, so try out several and find what works best for you. Exercise is always a good choice as it will not only decrease your stress but will also help you sleep and keep you healthy. Yoga and meditation are popular as well, but even something as simple as a hot bath and that objectively terrible movie that you still love can work wonders. As long as your stress relief is not something inherently unhealthy like drinking or binge eating, it does not matter what you choose as stress relief. It only matters that you pick something and that you do it.
Though it can feel like giving up or surrendering, sometimes the best way to handle overwhelming emotions is to simply leave the situation that created them in the first place. This may mean taking a break from a project that is stressing you out or walking away from an argument that has you nearly apoplectic with anger. Stepping back from the situation will keep you from having to deal with your already overwhelming emotions piling up on you. It is much harder to wrestle your temper under control if you are stuck in a situation where someone insists on continuing to make you even angrier with every word that comes out of their mouth. Eventually, your control will snap. Remove yourself from the problem before that happens. Most people will understand if you need a minute to get yourself under control. If they do not, they are likely not people you want to be spending time with anyway.
Track Your Success
Dealing with overwhelming emotions is not a one size fits all endeavor. Different approaches work best for different people. Some people can teach themselves to respond instead of react. Others find that they simply need to remove themselves from the situation to avoid doing something they will regret later. It is unlikely that you will find the perfect solution the first time you try and drag your runaway emotions back under control. Keep track of what works so that you do not continue to use a failed practice or accidentally ignore something that worked perfectly.
You might find that what works when you are overwhelmed by sadness does not help when you are drowning in rage. Make a note of what solution fits which emotion as well. If you need to walk away when you are sad but merely need to take a deep breath when you are angry, that is useful information to possess.
There is simply no way to avoid having to deal with overwhelming emotions at some point in your life. They are simply part of being human. Just because your emotions are powerful, though, does not mean that you have to let them control your actions. Emotional reactions usually end up causing more harm than good, no matter much you might enjoy telling that infuriating coworker exactly what you think of them. Make it a point to learn to control your reactions and emotions without simply suppressing them. That way, when your emotions threaten to overwhelm you next time, you can respond instead of react and move on with your life rather than have those few unpleasant moments that set you off ruin your entire day. Life is too short for such things.