We tend to think of strong emotions as something to be managed. Extreme happiness is not usually a daily occurrence and not unwelcome when it comes, but sadness and anger are ones that we try to avoid. When they are strong, we often think that if we ignore them, they go away, right? Here’s the thing…
…emotions that are ignored, minimized, or judged tend to grow.
Our job is not to manage them, it is to care for them, and in doing so, care for ourselves.
Here are the ways to do so:
1. Name them
Take a moment and consider what you are feeling. Check out the emotions wheel to be very specific about your feeling.
2. Notice how your emotions affect your body
Where do you feel sensation? What kind of sensation is it? Tightness? Heaviness? Tingling? Churning?
3. Evaluate their intensity
Put them on a scale of 1-100. When we are in the midst of emotions, they can feel VERY intense. If we start scaling the intensity of emotions that come in response to various situations, we can compare them to previous situations to see the variance and better evaluate their intensity. The level of intensity will help to determine how urgently action might be needed.
4. Consider the origins of your emotions
Start with the present and simplest and move on to more difficult problems…
Are you tired; hungry; in pain; too hot or cold; fighting an illness? (Check out ‘Chronic’ – 5 ways to Increase Coping Skills for Chronic pain and/or illness for more on pain and illness). Also note the way alcohol and various drugs can impact mood. For example: alcohol is a depressant and marijuana can cause anxiety in some people. If you are wanting to use less drugs or alcohol but are struggling to reduce their use, consider speaking to a counsellor about this. (Also check out Addiction, Your Best Frenemy?)
Personal environmental causes
Most people are affected in some way by lighting, weather, tidiness, colours, noise (Check out How to Make a First Aid Kit for Your Emotions for more on ways to increase positive sensations in your environment – note, it won’t help with the weather:().
Is your work load, schedule, finances, caring responsibilities for parents or children contributing to the intensity of your emotional responses? Obviously some of things things might not be within your control to change, particularly when you are caring for children with high needs (or any kind of children) or aging or unwell parents. In these cases, reaching out and expanding your support network will be a place to start.
Look at long term hopes and goals for wellbeing and balance and determine if there are changes that can be made towards that end. (Check out The Rat Race Ain’t Made for Humans – Get out in 4 easy 😉 steps for more on work/life balance).
Unresolved interpersonal conflicts
Do you have current conflicts in your workplace (See How your Job can Damage your Mental Health (and what to do about it) for more on this).
Conflict with family, partner or friendships?(Check out How to Ask for What you Want; or 8 Reasons to Re-evaluate a Friendship or A Quick Guide to Setting Boundaries with Your Family of Origin for more on these things).
Current social environment
Are you living or working in a place that has unhealthy and or toxic attitudes towards some aspect of your identity: i.e. gender, race, ability, religion, sexuality, etc? If you’re on planet earth, this is likely to be the case and contributes greatly to mental health. (Check out When the Stakes are High – Caring for Your Mental Health When Debating Things That Matter)
Social or global issues
Is climate change, the human migration crisis or other social or global issue affecting your emotions? (Check out Climate Grief and 5 Mental Health Hazards to avoid for Allies/wanna-be’s Trying to Stay Woke and 9 Mental Health Survival Strategies for the Current Apocalypse).
Consider past influence on current emotions:
What does, or who does the situation remind you of? Are you experiencing emotions that are familiar to you. When did you last feel the way you did? Has that previous situation or situation been resolved. For example, Is the sadness about your neighbours lost cat triggering memories of when you lost your cat as a child when your parents were in the middle of their divorce? Consider unresolved grief or trauma that might be adding to the intensity of your emotional responses to situation that remind you of these things. (check out When Grief gets Complicated or Same Trauma, Different Outcome – Why some people have a harder time getting “over it.” or Men & Trauma- Anger, Anxiety, Addiction & Depression or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – The New Hysteria).
5. Don’t judge your emotions
There is no wrong way to feel about ANYTHING. It is, however important to know what it is you are feeling strongly about and then how to respond to the message that you need to take care of yourself in some way. (check out 9 Myths about Emotions for more on this).
6. Take care of your physical needs
Consider your definition of self care and why it might not have been working for you by checking out What do You Really Need? – A 6 Step Complete Self-Care Assessment Guide.
7. Ask for emotional and/or practical support
if you don’t know who to ask, do a mental friend and family survey to remind yourself who has shown themselves to be trustworthy in the past or offered support int he past? If you are still stuck, it might be worth talking to a counsellor about how to grown your support network. (check out How to Ask for What you Want).
8. Take action to make changes, resolve conflict, and/or hold others accountable
Sometimes your strong emotions are signifying that radical changes are needed or that there is relationship work to do or that it is time to advocate for change for yourself. (Also check out ‘Forgiveness,’ A Dirty Word? ).
Your strong emotions are not the problem, they are a helpful sign that you need some care. Not only do you deserve to care for yourself, it is your responsibility to do so. This includes asking for help when you need it, setting good boundaries and reaching out for support.