How to cope when dealing with overwhelming emotions
Jan 28, 2021. 28/365 days of Daily Writing Practice + life lessons journal of sorts. I’m committing to writing ~100-word article daily. Short or long-form. Ugly or brilliant. The objective is to write daily for 15 mins without fail, even when life happens.
Sharing here some coping tools in my Life Toolkit that I revisit every time I feel overwhelmed with emotions.
If you’re feeling intense emotions today, I hope these help you deal the same way they’ve helped me countless times in different ordeals:
With a set timer, list all the things you’re grateful for at this moment. Doesn’t have to be grand. Access to the internet or water to drink right now usually make my list.
Similar to the gratitude log, set a timer and write all your past successes. Graduating HS or college or learning to ride a bike is on my success list. Makes you remember you have won a lot of moments in your life. It’s especially helpful to remember when you’re feeling like a failure. When nothing you’ve done lately is working out accordingly.
In this exercise, you write all the things that could’ve gone wrong but didn’t. Death, illnesses, tripping in public, losing my phone, broken Macbook are usually the bad things on my list that make me feel thankful aren’t real.
Vipassana meditation has been a lifesaver for me so this is an important tool in my kit. When I can’t do a 1-hour meditation, I do a 10-minute session just to calm my thoughts, acknowledge them, observe them and my body’s reaction towards them. This technique moves me from a reactive state to an observer state. When I’m in an observer state, it makes me see how I’m reacting to the situation — poor or overreacting. Eventually, I calm down and get a better perspective.
I also breathe better during meditation, something so simple but we often forget when we’re stressing over something.
When anxiety-inducing thoughts are overpowering, I sit down and write them all down. It allows me to give a place for the thoughts so they can stop looping in my head. If I have to, I answer the thoughts and give them perspectives. I process it if you will. Thoughts eventually settle on the pages of the paper and they stop bothering me.
Reading the daily devotional or a random passage in the Bible and pray. Talk to the higher power to give me wisdom or signs.
This doesn’t have to be religious. You can do this with any force you believe in. Ask them for guidance. Remember their tenets. Let their wisdom serve as your north star. Let it remind you how to live, think, love, let go, forgive, act. For me, reading the devotional is a soothing activity. It always has something to say that’s calming and grounding for me. When the devotional is done and I’m still uneasy, I open a random page in the Bible and let the words speak to me. You can probably do this in a random book if you believe this kind of thing.
Talking to friends
Releasing your overwhelming emotions to the right someone has always been a source of relief. Having a sounding board to help you process the dilemmas and conflicts helps sort out arguments and blindspots. Or sometimes, talking to a friend makes you feel foolish for even feeling and thinking that way. The moment you feel the shame, you immediately move from overreacting to sobriety.
Hugging the dogs
As a fairly new dog lover, this is a new item in my coping toolset. Sometimes, overflowing, almost heart-bursting emotions can be eased by a tight hug from your favorite dog. It works well with humans, too, if you have someone at your disposal.
When you hug someone, it relaxes muscles, increases circulation and releases endorphins in your body. This can reduce tension and may even help soothe aches and pains. Elevates your mood. Hugging can also increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, which can boost your mood and relieve symptoms of depression. That’s PIHhealth.org’s explanation.
I didn’t have to know all that science stuff. I know it just feels good.
Helping someone in worse condition
They say the best antidote to your own misery is to focus on helping another person in misery, instead. It’s either you get busy helping your focus shifted, or your anguish got replaced by gratitude for having it way better than another.
Watch movies or Youtube
Entertainment is just to numb or dull the emotions and escape it for the mean time. This is usually my recourse when I don’t have the energy to deal with it yet, I just want to stop obsessing over it for now. It helps quite a bit. The downtime lets me regain energy to deal with it later on. Sometimes, taking your mind off your agony is the best solution. This is especially true if the suffering is mostly in the head — nonexistent worries, future catastrophizing. Pausing the broken record is a beautiful silence.
Walk outside and listen to a fun/ny podcast
Walking in itself clears the mind, boosts your energy, increases oxygen in your polluted head. Listening to a fun/ny podcast while pumping your bloodflow makes you laugh and gather some more oxygen in your head. Shifts your attention, too.
Oxygen in your head is always a good solution to most human conditions. :) Diverts focus on not dying on the treadmill or the mat, too.
I take photos
Photography helps me redirect my attention to what’s beautiful. Sometimes, we only need to adjust our perspective. There’s a reason why silver lining has become a buzzword. It’s isn’t just a cliche. It actually works.
Reread Tools of Titans and get reminded how successful people deal with the same situation
This mammoth of a book is an excellent reminder to tackle troubles strategically especially when emotions are taking over. This playbook is a wealth of options for how people dealt with things you’re dealing with now. As they say, the stories of your struggles might be someone else’s survival guide.
Travel or road trip
Just another way to clear the head and focus on something else. Also an opportunity to see beauty and/ or struggles being lifted another lighter way.
I remind myself that this is a test
As a child, I’ve come to a conclusion that anything hard is a test. And a test is the barrier that evaluates if I’m ready to move to the next level. If I remind myself that this is just a test, I tend to detach myself from the situation and see it from a competitive test-takers point of view. I’m good at taking tests and I know there’s a pattern/ a strategy/ an intention behind the test, and I love figuring that out. It suddenly becomes a game to me.
Sometimes the best thing to do is to abandon the conquest and shut down the world. You’re tired. Rest. Tomorrow is another day. Come back fresh.
As you can notice, most of these activities involve shifting the focus from the distress to something else. Most torments are mental. That’s why they keep saying take control of your mind. When you have full dominion over your thoughts, you can glide through life. Our life is what our thoughts make it. Work on making it something you’d love to live in.
And I say work on it because it is work. With all that we’ve been through and how our archaic mind was conditioned to prevent harm, we anticipate a lot of things to “get ahead”. Until this has become our way of life. And it’s a life full of worries and what-ifs.
Well, it doesn’t have to be anymore. There aren’t wild boars out to get us in the wild. We can actually relax and see every day as it comes. Enjoy it without watching our backs for arrows or knives.
So we have to unlearn these survival skills and work on reconditioning our minds. Sometimes our beliefs are set in stone, hardened by time, sealed by fears and negative experiences. To soften these, to shake them, to unpack layers upon layers is going to be years of work. It can be quicker if you’re more open or longer if you’re going to be stubborn.
Either way, keep working on your mind. If you can train it to give better meanings, you’re up for some good life. And that’s the secret. Choose better meanings. Your meanings are definitely something you can control. If it rains and you think it’s nice because it’s cold instead of an annoying hassle, then you’re better for it.
Train your mind to choose better meanings. There is always a better, more positive meaning. It doesn’t mean you’re not realistic. It only means you care about feeling better over appearing smart.
Yes, in my 30s, I’d rather be at peace than all the other “covetable” things that will take away my light.