We All Need a Little Help Sometimes: Coping with Emotional Overwhelm
Do you ever have those moments where it feels like the walls are closing in around you? Like the wave of your emotions is crashing over you, sweeping you away into the depths of the sea? Maybe it happens when you’re feeling overwhelmed by work, school, parenthood, marriage, or societal expectations and one more person asks something of you. Or when you’re thrust into another family dinner filled with memories of past trauma, arguments, and expectations. Perhaps you’ve lost someone that you love and the grief you feel comes in waves of overwhelm or never leaves at all. We’ve all been there. You are not alone and it’s okay to ask for support.
These are some tips that can help:
Start by noticing what situations these strong emotions most often occur in. Is it at the same time every day? When you hear a song, are around certain people, or during specific times of the year? If we can determine our triggers for these emotions, we can start to plan how to cope with them before they overwhelm us.
If you find yourself in the throes of these intense emotions and are feeling overwhelmed, the following are some tips and tricks to get through the moment (complete these practices as many times as you need): ·
Try splashing your face with cold water or holding a cold pack to your eyes and cheeks. This will create a change in body temperature and help to decrease the power of your emotions. ·
Get Moving! Run up and down the stairs, do 100 jumping jacks, or go for a run (more like a sprint). Engaging in these intense forms of exercise will help to change your body in a way that lessens the strength of your emotions. ·
Try some box breathing! Breath in to the count of 4, hold your breath to the count of 4, breath out to the count of 4, and then hold your breath to the count of four. Complete this 5 times (if you start to feel lightheaded, switch to a different coping skill). This will help to calm your nervous system, decrease your heart rate, and take your mind off what may be causing your intense emotions. ·
Drop the Anchor! Acknowledge what you are thinking and feeling by saying to yourself, “I am feeling (insert feelings). I notice that I am having the thought that (insert thoughts)” Connect with your body (ex. Push your feet against the floor and notice how it feels, slowly breath in to the count of 4 and out to the count of 4, stretch your body etc.). Engage in what you are doing fully (ex. notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste).
Reminder: these tips should not be used to cope with emotions all the time – only when the emotions feel too intense, and you are in “crisis mode”. It is important for our mental and physical health that we do not avoid emotions and that these crisis moments are processed. Psychotherapy can be a great tool to help with this!
Harris, R. (2009). ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: New Harbinger Publications.
Linehan, M.M. (2014). DBT Skills Training Manual (2nd edition): The Guilford Press.