The Rise and Fall
of Intense Emotions
By Maureen Pollard,
Emotional Health Editor
Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW is a registered
social worker with a private practice in Cobourg, Ontario.
Humans have a wide range of emotional experience, and the ups and downs can be pretty wild at times. It’s easy to twisted up with intense reactions to our surroundings, to other people and to events that happen in day-to-day life.
There are ways we tend to react when we don’t have a good handle on what to do with intense feelings:
Explosion: a rage reaction, when we blame forces outside of ourselves and take our feelings out on others.
Implosion: holding it all in, bottling our feelings up and stuffing them, taking our feelings out on ourselves.
Shut Down: a state of helplessness, when we push our feelings away or turn them off temporarily, refusing to react.
Each of these approaches to intense emotion can cause problems, with ourselves and in our relationships. We can build better emotion regulation following a few simple strategies.
Increase Self Awareness
Pay attention to your feelings. It sounds simple, but we often react so quickly to situations that we don’t stop to notice what we’re feeling either before or after the reaction.
Ask yourself these two questions regularly:
What am I feeling right now?
Where am I feeling it?
Get familiar with your usual roster of feelings. Consider keeping a journal to see if you notice any patterns. Some might be obvious – maybe you are always happy on Friday and always grumpy on Monday. Some patterns might be harder to notice unless you’re paying close attention – maybe you tend to feel sad when you spend time with one friend.
It can also be helpful to notice how your body feels when different emotions roll through. Do you clench your jaw? Do your neck and shoulder muscles tense up? Do you make fists? Does your stomach churn? When you notice physical effects of difficult emotions, you can begin to find ways to cope.
When a powerful feeling washes over you, it can be very hard to accept. We sometimes think we must be happy and calm all the time, and our more difficult feelings aren’t appropriate. The truth is some situations are tough to cope with. We all have a full range of feelings and we don’t have much say about when or how they show up. This means we need strategies to handle whatever comes our way in life.
Mindfulness is a great way to build your tolerance for your many feelings. There are three basic steps:
Notice your feelings and try not to react.
Don’t judge yourself or your feelings.
Try to simply stay with the feelings for a little while.
As we experience life, we naturally experience all kinds of feelings. Emotions are temporary. Just as our situation is always changing, our feelings are always changing, too. If you pause, breathe, notice what you’re feeling and accept it, it gets easier to let emotions flow through you without judging yourself for this human experience.