Whether it’s losing your temper at the drop of a hat, unrelenting anxiety that follows you throughout the day or uncontrollable outbursts of crying that seem to have no end… When emotions overwhelm us like this, it can be hard to know what to do.
You might be thinking, why does everyone else seem to be keeping it together? It appears to come naturally so them. You may feel like you just feel things more than the people around you.
And it’s possible you do. There’s no doubt that some people are born more emotionally sensitive than others.
However, more often than not, the past – and the way we grew up – has a part to play too. As children, we learn how to regulate our emotions from the adults around us. It begins by being in an environment where it feels safe to express how we’re feeling and where our emotions are validated. If we’re not taught or modelled this then we can end up adopting maladaptive ways of coping. Some people may “shut down” or dissociate when things feel overwhelming. Others might turn to alcohol, drugs, food or sex as a means of numbing themselves from their emotions.
Emotions – both the “good” and the “bad” – are part of being human. They serve an important function, even those emotions can be painful and hard. For example, without “negative” emotions, we’d struggle to know our boundaries, how to keep ourselves safe and what makes us happy or sad etc.
And so, being emotionally healthy isn’t about getting rid of negative emotions. But rather it’s about being able to sit and experience the full spectrum of emotions. Knowing that the difficult ones will pass, in the same way the nicer ones will too.
Unable to control emotions and crying – what’s the deal?
Crying is a perfectly normal and healthy way we express sadness. And it can do us a lot of good – both physically and mentally. Ever noticed that feeling of calm that follows a good cry? You can thank your tears for that. When we cry sad tears, they flush out stress hormones like cortisol and other toxins which give us that sense of peace.
That said, if your crying feels uncontrollable and you find yourself crying most days, this could also be a sign of depression. Reach out to your GP or a private therapist if you’ve been feeling this way for an extended period of time.
How to deal with emotions in a healthy way
The first step to becoming more emotionally healthy is to develop greater mindfulness of our emotions. Our emotions are called “feelings” because they are felt in the body. And so we can begin to harness mindfulness around these physical sensations. One such practice that can help us do this is a Body Scan meditation. The more we practise connecting with our body and our emotions, the more we realise that our feelings are like passing waves. They come, they peak and then they pass. Our task is to simply learn how to sit with them.
It can also help to label our emotions. Studies have shown that this practice immediately lessens the power of the emotion, reducing feelings of distress. In order to do this, we can look for clues about what emotion we’re experiencing, and ask questions like:
What happened to prompt the feeling?
What kinds of thoughts are accompanying the feeling?
How is my body responding?
What urges do I have?
All these questions can help us form a picture of what we’re feeling. And then, we can practise labelling the emotion like, “Here’s my anxiety… I’m feeling it in my stomach”.
Once we have an understanding of what emotion we’re experiencing, we’re much better equipped to take healthy steps towards taking care of ourselves.
You can even try practising this by periodically checking-in with yourself throughout the day. Drop into your body, and ask yourself, “what do I need in this moment right now?”
While all these tips can help you move in the right direction towards harnessing your emotions in more healthy ways, if this is something you’re really struggling with, therapy is the perfect place to explore this. A therapist will help you find new, healthier ways of being in the world so that life doesn’t feel so overwhelming.