What do you do when you start to feel overwhelmed by emotion? Turn on Netflix and pretend the thing that is bothering you doesn’t exist? Distractions can be helpful at times, but they don’t get to the root of the problem and often the emotion is still there when the episode is over. Here are some coping strategies that can help deal with and manage those emotions so they don’t take over! They may not do anything to solve the underlying problem or the situation causing the emotions, but if you feel your emotions are more under control, then you’ll likely feel more confident in your ability to deal with it.
Journaling: Write about what is making you feel that way, write about the feelings themselves, or just write whatever comes to mind. The act of writing on paper, even more than on a device, has the benefit of getting things out from your head and having some organization – if only in word format. This alone can help the emotion to feel less confusing and overwhelming.
Talk it out: Talk to a trusted friend or relative about what is going on. Similar to writing, talking about things can help it feel less intense and start to make some more sense of it. If you don’t have a person, talk to a pet, a stuffed animal, or your reflection in a mirror. These options don’t talk back, which sometimes can be even better since you won’t get interrupted while getting it all out.
Watch something to validate your emotion: It might sound counterintuitive, but watching something sad when you feel sad can help you feel better. Having something that says “it’s ok you are feeling this way! Let it out!” can be comforting and encouraging to feel that emotion and give it the space it’s asking for. On the flip side, watching something funny or familiar can also be comforting and lift the spirits.
Go for a run or another form of exercise: for some, running or boxing or yoga can be great ways to let emotions out. Some people include a visualization, in that while they run they imagine leaving their frustrations behind. The brain chemicals that come from exercise are also known mood-boosters, so it can be a double win!
Cry: As a kid, I had a tape of children’s songs. The lyrics of one song was something along the lines of “it’s alright to cry, it might make you feel better.” It’s true – when there is a lot of pent up emotions that we haven’t been expressing, sometimes we have a natural reaction to cry. This is the body’s way of letting it out. Give yourself the space to have a good cry, and chances are you’ll feel some relief.
Meditation: There are so many apps around now to help people learn to meditate. Some, like the My Life app, are great because they tailor the suggested meditations to how you are feeling in the moment. Meditations allow you to face your emotions and address them while in a calm physical state. Regular meditation practice has been shown to have many positive physical and mental health benefits.
Art: Draw, paint, scribble, sculpt, sing, play an instrument – getting in touch with your artistic side can be a great way to get emotions out. Even if you’re thinking “well I’m not artistic!!” it doesn’t really matter. Scribble to get out frustrations. Take some crayons and paper and keep scribbling until you feel calmer. If you are more artistic, creating something to represent your emotions can help make sense of it and have it take up less space in your brain.
Music: Similar to watching something, listening to music that either validates your current emotions, or gets you feeling more positive if you don’t want to feel upset, can be great. Whether it’s your favorite song, or a symphony designed to evoke emotions, music and mental health have a huge connection.
If you have been trying to deal with emotions on your own for a while and things haven’t been working, it is OK to ask for help! Talk with a counselor or therapist if you feel it’s too much to handle on your own. That’s what they are there for!