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Dealing with Difficult Emotions

by Harinder Ghatora Mental Wellbeing Health & Wellbeing Balanced Living Emotional Wellbeing


We all experience times in our lives when our emotions get the better of us. A strong emotional response to any situation can easily leave us feeling overwhelmed, out of control and even frightened.

Intense feelings of anger, anxiety, despair, shame, guilt and even disappointment can appear instantly and unexpectedly, and have a negative effect on our attitude and behaviour in ways that can cause us, and those around us, to experience distress.

So, how do you deal with these episodes?


1. Understand the Nature of Emotions

At the most basic level, it is important to remember that all emotions are simply surges of energy moving around inside us. The clue is in the word itself: an emotion is ‘e’ (energy) in ‘motion’.

Although difficult emotions can make us feel uncomfortable, the energy itself cannot harm us. It is our reaction to this energy that often causes the problem. So there is no reason to be afraid of our emotions.

Due to their energetic nature, emotions come and go in waves; they rise and fall. So even though some emotions can be intense and overwhelming in the moment, it is important to remember that, given time, they do pass.

Most of us have never been taught to manage our emotions effectively. We do the easiest thing in the moment, which is to push the feeling down and try to ignore it. Whilst this can be a good short-term strategy, in the long term it becomes problematic. A point comes when this energy cannot remain suppressed and it begins to bubble up in order to be released, causing distress and turmoil on its way.

At those times, when the intensity of our emotions may be threatening to overwhelm us, there are some simple strategies that anyone can use to help deal with them more effectively.

2. Become Aware of your Breathing

The easiest and most effective way to soothe and calm intense feelings is through the breath. By taking your awareness to the breath and making each breath long, slow and deep, you send strong and clear messages to the nervous system that all is well. This allows the body and mind to relax.

Read my blog Conquer Stress and Anxiety with this Deceptively Simple Breathing Technique for detailed information on how to use this technique.

3. Take Time Out to Compose Yourself

Strong emotions can arise at inconvenient and inappropriate times. It is important to remember that if you are in company you can always excuse yourself for a few minutes to give yourself some space by saying something like “I just need a few minutes to get my thoughts together. I’ll be back in a moment”. Then use the breathing technique to help ride the wave until the intense emotion has passed.

4. Contact Supportive People and Discuss your Feelings or Situation

It is helpful to share your feelings with those you trust. Talking through an issue can make you feel less isolated and also help you to see your situation in a different light. It enables you to give expression to your emotions allowing them to gently dissipate.

5. Write Down your Feelings in a Private Journal

Journaling is a highly effective tool for managing difficult emotions. It can be done in the moment when you feel an intense emotion coming up, or it can be used to deal with feelings from the immediate or even distant past.

The joy of journaling is that it is a private and personal activity in which you can express yourself fully without the need for self-censure. The process of writing releases the emotions so that they are no longer held inside of you. It can also help you process your thoughts and stop you from ruminating. Closing and putting away the journal can be a symbolic closure on the distressing events or feelings.

If you feel you are holding onto intense energy from the past then discover how to release it safely by reading my blog How to Release Suppressed Anger

6. Speak Up When an Issue is Important to You

Many difficult emotions arise from situations where matters are left unresolved. Learning to be assertive and communicating your thoughts and feelings to others in a calm, clear and respectful way can help deal with such situations. This technique is most effective when you spend time to think about the problem and clarify your position in your own mind before you discuss the issues with others.

7. Be Kind to Yourself

Stressful times call for additional self-care. When you are going through a period of internal unrest then you need to take extra care of yourself, physically and mentally. This can take many forms depending on your preferences. Doing small things that give you comfort and provide you with a mental "mini-holiday" can make all the difference. For example, you could take a quiet walk in the park, soak in a relaxing bubble bath, listen to your favourite music, or go to bed early with your favorite book.

8. Temporarily Distract Yourself

Distraction can serve as a powerful tool in handling difficult emotions. Deliberately concentrating on something else in the moment can prevent feelings of overwhelm. One of the best forms of distraction is physical exercise or any activity in which you move your body. Not only does this provide a distraction for your mind, but it also helps to expend pent up emotional energy.

9. Do the Regular, Routine Things You Would Do on an Average Day

Engaging in familiar activities and sticking to existing routines can provide reassurance and help you feel more in control.

10. Speak to a Professional Listener

Emotions carry important messages for us all. They need to be acknowledged and understood. They are often alerting us to the fact that something in our life is not right.

If you experience difficult emotions on a regular basis then the reasons behind these feelings need to be explored and addressed.

One of the most effective ways in which to do this is through counselling. Counselling offers a safe, confidential and non-judgmental space in which you can work through your emotions.

If you believe you could benefit from short or long-term counselling then please view my counselling page and call me to arrange a no-obligation, initial consultation.