Do you struggle with overwhelming emotions? When you get angry, sad or scared, does the emotion come at you with the force of a tsunami? Does it crush the good feelings you had just a short time ago? Does it overpower your ability to think straight? Does it engulf the positive feelings you have for a loved one? You need some tools to help you calm yourself down.
If you’re emotionally volatile, it’s hard to “get a grip” or “take it easy” like others tell you to do. Sure, you try to suppress your emotions but it doesn’t work. Indeed, the more you try to ignore them, the more powerful they become.
What can you do to regulate your emotions so that they don’t overwhelm you? Here are some suggestions:
- Do not try to ignore your emotions. It’s like trying to ignore a screaming baby. The more you ignore him, the louder he screams.
- It’s a good idea, however, to work at reducing the intensity of your emotions. Instead of getting enraged, see if you can think of yourself as “angry.” Or “annoyed.” Or “miffed.” The problem is not that you are feeling the emotion, it’s that you are feeling it so intensely.
- Taking deep breaths is a good way to calm yourself down wherever you are. Don’t just take a quick deep breath and say, “this doesn’t work.”
- Instead, close your eyes. Take three deep breaths, inhaling s-l-o-w-l-y through your nose, exhaling s-l-o-w-l-y through your mouth. On your third exhale, say something calming to yourself like, “It will be ok” or “I can deal with this” or “This too shall pass.”
- Instead of revving your emotions up (“I’d love to strangle him”), walk away from the person you’re angry with and get on with what you need or want to do with your day.
- Distract yourself from what you are feeling by doing something nice for yourself. Or for somebody you care about.
- If it’s fear that’s overwhelming you, calm down by telling yourself that right now you don’t have to do what you’re afraid of doing. If it’s something important to you, you will have time to summon up the courage to do whatever is frightening you.
- If it’s sadness that’s overwhelming you, take a break from obsessing over what hasn’t gone right. Push yourself to do an activity that you’ve always enjoyed doing, even if you’re not into it right now. Start with simple things that don’t require a lot of energy, like going to a light-hearted movie.
- Experience your emotion not as “you,” but as a “feeling” that comes and goes. Remember a time when you were in a better mood. Know that you will feel that way again. Do what you can to make a better time arrive sooner rather than later.
- Listen to music that you enjoy. Music can get you into a better mood without your working hard to “make” it happen.
- Be aware of other ways, besides music, that can calm you down and enhance your outlook. Indulge in a good meal. Get involved in an enjoyable activity. Call an upbeat, fun friend. Treat yourself to a massage. Enjoy the beauty of nature that surrounds you.
When our emotions are under control, they make our lives richer, brighter, more vibrant. When our emotions are out of control, they make our lives heavier, harder, more harried. Keeping calm during the ups and downs of life is not easy. Hopefully, the methods I’ve described above will be helpful to you. If, however, after trying to utilize them, you still feel as overwhelmed as ever, it’s time to seek professional help.
Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist and success coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior.