How to Control Intense Emotions: 5 Healthy Coping Strategies You Can Try


Sunday, January 29

There are times when we feel like we've lost total control over how we feel.

Sometimes we'd drown in sadness and lose all hope and productivity, sometimes we'd get overwhelmed by unbridled rage and mistakenly take it out on other people, and sometimes we'd get so anxious and scared that we'd start making all the wrong decisions.

Having intense emotions isn't something that you should be ashamed of, especially if you've been diagnosed with a mental illness that causes those uncontrollable emotions (for example, Borderline Personality Disorder). Though it may be tough, intense emotions are manageable. Once you learn how to manage them, your quality of life will immediately improve and you'll begin to feel more in touch with your internal feelings. Here are five coping strategies you can try to help manage intense emotions:

1. Practice Mindfulness

What is mindfulness, exactly? Mindfulness is a state of mind where you focus completely on the present time and accept your feelings as they are, without denying any of them. Mindfulness is more than just taking deep breaths. Mindfulness also takes form in increasing your awareness of what's going on around you, understanding your feelings without judgment, and bringing all your attention back into the present time, instead of worrying about the past or future. Try this grounding exercise to achieve mindfulness when you're feeling overwhelmed:

Try naming

5 things you can see

4 things you can hear

3 things you can touch

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste

By trying to name all of these things, your mind will automatically focus on finding the correct answers to each part of the exercise. By calmly figuring each of them out, you will start to shift your focus back to the present time and your surroundings instead of whatever was bothering you before.

2. Practicing Radical Acceptance

Tolerating distress is one way you can manage intense emotions. In order to tolerate distress, you need to change your attitude and the way you look at life. Radical acceptance is the act of acknowledging your current situation without judgment or criticism.

Most people's first instinct towards pain is usually getting upset. After getting upset, we'd find ourselves searching for something or someone to blame for the pain; which could be our current predicament, another person, or even ourselves (which will then cause self-destructive thoughts and actions).

This instinct is natural; being overly critical of our situation and struggles can cause even more pain.

Radical acceptance encourages you to accept your situation as is. This doesn't mean that you should condone mistreatment or bad behavior, but instead of using your time and energy to blame, you must take action in a calm manner. You must focus all your attention on what you can do, which will result in clarity of thought.

Here are some statements that can help with practicing radical acceptance:

"The present moment is exactly how it should be."

"There is no use fighting the past."

"I can't change what already happened."

3. Distract yourself

Distracting yourself doesn't always mean that you're avoiding the problem. Distracting yourself can prevent you from doing any destructive behaviors as a result of your intense emotions. Here are several ways you can distract yourself to calm your mind:

  • By doing enjoyable activities

Engaging in activities that make you feel good will help you regulate the pain and distress you're feeling. You don't have to wait until you feel overwhelmed to do these activities; in fact, it's more beneficial if you were to do enjoyable things on a regular basis. Some examples of pleasurable activities include exercise, sitting outside, playing with a pet, calling a friend, reading, getting a haircut, cooking, and making a list of all the things you're grateful for.

  • By paying attention to someone else

Putting your attention on someone else can get you to distract your mind from your pain– while helping someone else while you're at it. When in distress, try calling a friend and ask if they need help with anything. Or maybe you can treat someone you know to lunch or dinner. If you want to help people that you don't personally know, try volunteering. Always plan to participate in activities that are helpful to other people. Not only are you helping them, but you're also helping yourself by staying away from the thoughts that are causing you pain and extreme emotions.

  • By distracting your thoughts

Your brain is capable of coming up with tens of thousands of thoughts each day. It's a machine that works nonstop. Unfortunately, the brain doesn't always work in our favour. Bad thoughts can come up and cause severe emotions. These thoughts can take the form of painful memories, anxious assumptions (thinking your friends are annoyed by you, assuming that strangers are laughing at you), or fear of the future.

The more you try to avoid thinking of something, the thought will just come up more often to bother you. Forcing yourself to forget about something feels impossible.

So, instead of avoiding bad thoughts, try distracting them with positive thoughts. Here's an example:

When a bad thought comes up, try remembering a pleasant past event. Replay the memory in your head as accurately as you can, from start to finish. What were you doing? Why was it so pleasant? Who were you with and what were they doing?

  • By Removing Yourself From The Situation

There are certain situations where leaving is the best option, so your emotions won't overwhelm you and eventually take over your head. When you're already overwhelmed, it's going to be a lot more difficult to control your actions and make rational decisions.

Recognize when you are starting to feel overwhelmed. Heavy or irregular breathing, strong urges to act on your emotions, and the inability to think clearly are all signs that you need to take action to calm yourself down.

Once you've recognized this, remove yourself from the situation that's causing the distress. This could literally mean leaving the room you're in, or it could also mean putting down your phone, ending your conversation with someone, or distancing yourself from the work you're doing.

  • By doing tasks and chores

Distracting yourself temporarily by using chores has two clear benefits:

1. You won't have time to think about the negative thoughts that are causing you distress or pain, which leads to a more positive attitude.

2. You'll get to take care of yourself and/or your environment.

Some chores or tasks that you can engage in are as follows:

  • Doing laundry
  • Deep cleaning your house/room
  • Washing your car
  • Cleaning and polishing your jewelry
  • Decluttering your space
  • Cooking
  • By counting

Counting is a fairly simple way to get your mind off of bad thoughts. It keeps your mind busy and is great to help you focus on something that isn't your source of distress. You can count from 1 to 100, count your breaths, count the number of trees around you (it's fun to do during long car rides!), or count the sounds you're hearing.

4. Safe-Place Visualization

Visualization is a very powerful tool that can help you calm down and get rid of intense emotions. It's done exactly how it sounds: by visualizing a place that you feel safe in.

It's important to note that this exercise should be done in a quiet and peaceful place. It's best to turn off all electronics that may cause a distraction. You must be fully relaxed in order for this exercise to work.

To begin, sit down or get into a comfortable resting position. Close your eyes, then breathe in through your nose. After holding your breath for five seconds, slowly breathe out. Keep repeating these slow and long breaths.

Once you're fully relaxed, start imagining your safe place. Use all five senses in your imagination. What does your safe place look like? Is it indoors or outdoors? Is there any furniture lying around? What can you hear? Is there music, or maybe birds chirping? What does it smell like in your safe place? Does it smell like freshly baked bread from a bakery, or perhaps it smells like the outdoors after it rains? Lastly, are you eating or drinking anything in your safe place? Imagine the taste.

Explore this safe place for as long as you want. Take in the relaxing feeling, and remember it well. Also, remember that you can come back here anytime you're feeling sad, angry, or in pain.

Once you're ready, open your eyes. You should be in a better and calmer state after the visualization exercise.

5. Using Affirmations

Your thoughts are powerful. Your frequency depends on the things you think about. When you feel good, you are actively attracting more good things your way.

Sometimes, our bad thoughts come from valid sources. We don't always experience good things in life. We may encounter losses, disappointment, or other disheartening things that may cause our bad thoughts to take over.

To keep yourself from spiralling into full-blown negativity, you can use the power of positive thoughts and words. By stating positive things about yourself and the world around you, you'll be able to reframe the way you think about your situation, thus resulting in better emotion management. These positive things that you can state about yourself and your life are called affirmations.

You can start off by saying neutral things about yourself and your life if you're not able to jump straight into a positive mindset. It helps to transition slowly, as it is a lot more realistic and comfortable to do so. By stating neutral things, you are gently pushing yourself to accept and be content with your situation. You will begin to feel grateful after accepting the things in your life as they are. After all, acceptance is the root of gratitude and gratitude is the root of joy.

Here are a few examples of neutral affirmations:

"I can accept the way things are right now."

"I haven't figured it out yet."

"Now I know that I can do better."

"I did it to help myself cope at the moment."

"I did my best with what I knew at the time."

After you've reached the point where you're no longer beating yourself up over negative emotions, you can start using positive affirmations. Here are some examples:

"I am so lucky and blessed, great things always happen to me unexpectedly."

"I don't chase, I attract. What belongs to me will simply find me."

"I am grateful for this wonderful learning experience."

"My thoughts and feelings are valid."

To remember these affirmations, you can write them down, type them into your notes app, put one on your phone's wallpaper or widget, or make it a habit to say them out loud every morning, every night, and especially during times of distress. By reading, saying, and writing affirmations, your mind will slowly believe in those positive words. Your brain is capable of rewiring itself; if you used to be a negative and pessimistic person, affirmations will help you change into a positive-minded optimist. You just need to practice using affirmations consistently in order for them to take effect and transform your mindset.

Tiara Georgina
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Tiara is a journalist at The Teen Magazine, covering topics mainly about beauty. Currently residing in Jakarta, Indonesia, she is experienced with writing articles for her school's publication in the beauty section and experimenting with makeup and skincare. She is passionate about coming up with fresh ideas and turning them into helpful, informative, and eye-opening content for everyone to enjoy and learn from. Aside from writing and makeup, she also enjoys art, traveling, cosplaying, learning new languages, playing video games, and watching animated shows.