Seven Ways To Get Through Intense Emotions

Whether you're going through a break-up, grieving a loved one, feeling shame over an action you took or furiously angry at someone, intense emotions can bring the most resilient of us to our knees.  Because we live in a culture that assumes that intense emotions are pathological and unmanageable, we are rarely taught how to properly ride these emotions and get through on the other side.  Here are seven tools I like to suggest to my clients to get through the most intense emotional moments of our life.

  • Sleep on it.  Something very magical happens to the part of our brain responsible for emotions when we dream.  Believe it or not, the intensity you're feeling today will dissipate after just one good sleep.  Keeping this in mind can help us feel less anxious about how awful we feel. 
  • Try to see this pain as a beautiful, yet dark place (Like a dark, musty forest) Its scary and lonely, but also uniquely beautiful and solitary.  Seeing the pain as exquisitely human and uniquely yours can put things in a new light.
  • Try to remember that even the most intense pain passes over time, like a weather system.  We live in a culture that teaches us that if something is wrong we need to do something to fix it.  But sometimes we just need to feel it and let time pass.
  • Journal...let yourself draw and write with total freedom. I remember, after a particularly difficult break up, nearly breaking through the paper with my pen as I drew a deep and painful spiral and wrote all the words that were coming to my mind on top of it in big, ugly letters.  Putting word and art to our emotions changes the brain chemistry.
  • Avoid fighting the feeling. Fighting the feeling leads to increased anxiety and depression symptoms.  I like to think of intense emotions as quick sand.  The harder you fight, the tighter their grip.  Oftentimes the anxiety about having an intense emotion makes the emotion more intense.
  • Nurture yourself like there's no tomorrow-- without guilt.  If you just don't want to make dinner-- order take out.  If you don't want to go to the gym, sit in a tub.  You need kindness right now and you are fully capable of giving that to yourself.
  • If these feelings are due to loneliness or rejection, I like to remember (even though it can feel like a bit of a dark thought) that there is only one person you can guarantee will be with you the day you're born, the day you die and every day in between. Everyone else is good and important company, but solitude is a gift in the task of knowing and loving the self-- your only guaranteed companion in life.