Feelings are natural. Feelings are normal.
Some are easier to recognize, regulate, and tolerate than others.
Most of us can easily list the feelings we like, and the feelings we would rather avoid. Who wouldn’t choose joy over anxiety? The perennial pursuit of enjoyable feelings and avoidance of unpleasant feelings are what fuel addictions, overeating, and mindless screen time viewing.
Feelings, though, are just feelings. They are biochemical events that ebb and flow. Feelings do not last indefinitely. In the moment, though, it feels like they will last forever.
Emotional overwhelm may manifest as anxiety, anger, irritability, crying, or depression. It can appear in physical form, like a fast heartbeat, tension, or sweaty palms.
Here are three ideas for managing overwhelming feelings. These techniques will also quell the physical symptoms that accompany feeling overwhelmed.
BREATHE. There are lots of wonderful breathing practices to help elicit the Relaxation Response. Conscious breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, whose job is to help us feel calm. Try taking 10 slow inhalations and exhalations. Make your exhalations longer than your inhalations. Perhaps inhale to a count of 4 and exhale to a count of 6. Inhale through your nose and exhale either through your nose or your mouth. Keep it simple.
PRESENCE. Another benefit to breathing consciously is that it brings us back to the moment. Overwhelm is associated with feeling pressured about something in the future. Slow down your breathing to slow down your mind. Bring yourself back to the NOW.
REFRAME your thoughts. Feeling emotionally overwhelmed is a result of unhelpful self-talk. If you think that you will never be in a healthy relationship, for example, you may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of dating. Reframe your thinking so that it is more accurate and neutral. Examples: “Just because I have not been in a long term relationship, doesn’t mean I will never be”; “In order to be in a healthy relationship, I have to start dating. I WANT to start dating”; “My fear is not a fact; being afraid of never being in a healthy relationship doesn’t mean I will never be in a healthy relationship”.
Learning how to ride the waves of emotion is like a surfer learning how to surf ocean waves. Riding the waves with acceptance and presence WILL help you manage your feelings.
Practice makes progress. Breathing more consciously, bringing mindful awareness to the present, and ensuring that your thoughts are adaptive and accurate will help you be an expert at managing overwhelming emotion.
I can’t guarantee it will make you a better surfer in the actual ocean.