How to Deal with Strong Emotions: Ask a Psychologist

How to Deal with Strong Emotions: Ask a Psychologist

All of us experience strong emotions, so rest assured that it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed every now and then when a particularly powerful feeling strikes. If you feel like you’re struggling to cope with your strong emotions, don’t worry! Chloe Carmichael, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in stress management and relationship issues, and she’s here to answer your questions about processing strong emotions so that you can deal with them in a healthy, productive way.

Question 1 of 6:
How can I stop feeling so emotional in certain situations?

Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, PhD: Instead of telling yourself, “Don’t be emotional,” ask yourself, “Why am I emotional?” If you’re getting upset, excited, angry, or overwhelmed, there’s an underlying trigger there. Once you know what that trigger is, you can take steps toward addressing it so you stop reacting so emotionally in future situations. Acknowledge your behavior once you’ve identified the trigger. You might say, “Look, I know I’ve been irritable lately, but I’ve done some soul searching and figured out why. Do you have a minute to talk about it?” It’s also possible that you’re just feeling something due to your circumstances. If you aren’t eating a healthy diet or getting enough sleep, it will impact the way you feel. This is why it helps to address things like self-care, hunger, or a lack of sleep before it starts to impact your emotional well-being. You can curb these feelings before they start!
Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Additional Research
The aim here isn’t to stop your emotions, but to be in control of them. Everyone experiences emotions and a lot of them can be very complicated. When you aren’t in control, these emotions can feel like you’re on a roller-coaster. [1] X Research source Analyzing the source of your emotions puts you in the driver’s seat. Experiencing emotions is a good thing; it’s when those emotions go ignored that you end up “getting emotional.” [2] X Trustworthy Source Greater Good Magazine Journal published by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which uses scientific research to promote happier living Go to source

Question 2 of 6:
What can I do if I feel like I’m reacting too emotionally?

Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, PhD: If you realize you’re reacting too strongly, you’re already on the right path. That’s an insight that a lot of people aren’t capable of, so you’re off to a good start. As long as you recognize that you’re reacting in an unproductive way, you can work on building your self-discipline to stop acting out. Journaling, talking to a friend, and improving your self-awareness are great ways to improve your ability to control the way you respond to things. It’s really important that you’re kind to yourself over the course of this process. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up and over-react. Just acknowledge the mistake, own your emotions, and try to be better in the future. When you’re too hard on yourself, you end up stifling your emotions. This is never productive.
Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Additional Research
It takes time for your emotions to influence your behavior. There may be up to a 10-minute delay between a feeling and your reaction. The better you get at paying attention to your feelings, the more prepared you’ll be when it comes time to react to the emotion. If you’re still working on naming your emotions, try waiting! Force yourself to just wait until you’ve given the emotion a label. Then, you can minimize the magnitude of your reaction. [3] X Research source

Question 3 of 6:
What can I do if I’m feeling really anxious about something?

Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, PhD: It may seem obvious, but take action! If you’re worried about your finances, go see a financial planner or fill out some job applications. Moving forward to solve the source of your anxiety is the best way to quell those negative feelings. Now, if you’ve already taken steps to solve the problem, remind yourself that you’ve done all you can do. Recognizing that you’re already taking the right steps to solve a problem will make you feel better. If you just can’t stop worrying, make a list of 5 unrelated tasks that you could focus your energy on. Putting effort into solving a different problem that actually has an actionable solution will help you shift your focus towards something more productive. If you keep focusing on the source of the anxiety, it’s just going to make things worse. It’s kind of like someone telling you, “Don’t think about pink elephants.” What’s the first thing you’re going to do? Think of pink elephants. Having a to-do list or mental shortlist of other problems you can solve helps keep you from spinning out of control or obsessing about your anxiety.
Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Additional Research
If you know deep down that you’re going to worry, just get it out. Put on a 20-minute timer, pace around your apartment, and just talk yourself through your fears. You can write about your worries if you prefer. Then, after you’ve gotten it out of your system, stop. Say, “Okay, I was worried, but now it’s time to move on.” Challenge your negative thoughts and push yourself to move forward. [4] X Trustworthy Source HelpGuide Nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources. Go to source

Question 4 of 6:
How can I understand my own emotions better?

Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, PhD: It all boils down to your emotional vocabulary. A lot of people get overwhelmed or overloaded when they experience a feeling because they don’t have the language to communicate what they’re experiencing. It can really help to just compile a big list of emotional words and identify what you’re feeling in the most accurate terms possible. This helps you build the self-awareness necessary to actually understand what you’re feeling.
Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Additional Research
You can find a list of emotional vocabulary terms online, or make your own. Whenever you feel a strong emotion, pull your list out and sort through it. Try to identify the most accurate descriptor for what you’re feeling. The more often you do this, the faster and more accurate you’ll get. [5] X Research source This will help you build the self-awareness necessary to process your emotions. [6] X Trustworthy Source Harvard Medical School Harvard Medical School's Educational Site for the Public Go to source

Question 5 of 6:
Why does it help to name and describe my emotions?

Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, PhD: It’s soothing to pinpoint what you’re feeling and put a label on it. It also makes it a lot easier to discuss your emotions with others. You can’t develop an understanding of something without talking about it. So, if you’re looking for insight, clarity, or awareness surrounding your emotions, you need to analyze and describe them. You don’t even necessarily need to talk to someone else about your emotions (although this can help). Just being honest with yourself and exploring how you feel without disclosing anything to anyone else can be a productive exercise.
Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Additional Research
Try to be as specific as you possibly can when it comes to labelling your emotions. Yes, you could be happy, but it may be more accurate to say you’re content, comfortable, or relieved. [7] X Trustworthy Source Harvard Business Review Online and print journal covering topics related to business management practices Go to source The better you get at this, the easier it will be to manage how you feel and take control of your emotions. [8] X Trustworthy Source HelpGuide Nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources. Go to source

Question 6 of 6:
How should I discuss my emotions with people?

Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, PhD: I think it really helps to narrate your experience and walk them through your emotional journey. So, you might say something like, “I know I’ve been sad for a few days and I’m trying to figure out why, but I think I started feeling this way when…” and then you describe the origin of the emotion. Walking through the experience from the beginning helps provide context, which makes it a lot easier for people to understand where you’re coming from. If you don’t know why you’re feeling a certain way, you can still acknowledge that. It’s okay to say, “I’m really sensitive and I don’t know why,” and then just work through the emotion by exploring it.
Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Additional Research
You don’t have to go out of your way to have giant conversations about your feelings. Those hour-long deep dives with your loved ones can be really helpful, but it’s also healthy to just talk about your tough day at work for 5 minutes when you get home. Those casual chats about how you’re doing and what you’re feeling can really help take some of the pressure off of you. [9] X Research source

Question 1 of 6:
How can I stop feeling so emotional in certain situations?

Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, PhD: Instead of telling yourself, “Don’t be emotional,” ask yourself, “Why am I emotional?” If you’re getting upset, excited, angry, or overwhelmed, there’s an underlying trigger there. Once you know what that trigger is, you can take steps toward addressing it so you stop reacting so emotionally in future situations. Acknowledge your behavior once you’ve identified the trigger. You might say, “Look, I know I’ve been irritable lately, but I’ve done some soul searching and figured out why. Do you have a minute to talk about it?” It’s also possible that you’re just feeling something due to your circumstances. If you aren’t eating a healthy diet or getting enough sleep, it will impact the way you feel. This is why it helps to address things like self-care, hunger, or a lack of sleep before it starts to impact your emotional well-being. You can curb these feelings before they start!
Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Additional Research
The aim here isn’t to stop your emotions, but to be in control of them. Everyone experiences emotions and a lot of them can be very complicated. When you aren’t in control, these emotions can feel like you’re on a roller-coaster. [1] X Research source Analyzing the source of your emotions puts you in the driver’s seat. Experiencing emotions is a good thing; it’s when those emotions go ignored that you end up “getting emotional.” [2] X Trustworthy Source Greater Good Magazine Journal published by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which uses scientific research to promote happier living Go to source

Question 2 of 6:
What can I do if I feel like I’m reacting too emotionally?

Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, PhD: If you realize you’re reacting too strongly, you’re already on the right path. That’s an insight that a lot of people aren’t capable of, so you’re off to a good start. As long as you recognize that you’re reacting in an unproductive way, you can work on building your self-discipline to stop acting out. Journaling, talking to a friend, and improving your self-awareness are great ways to improve your ability to control the way you respond to things. It’s really important that you’re kind to yourself over the course of this process. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up and over-react. Just acknowledge the mistake, own your emotions, and try to be better in the future. When you’re too hard on yourself, you end up stifling your emotions. This is never productive.
Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Additional Research
It takes time for your emotions to influence your behavior. There may be up to a 10-minute delay between a feeling and your reaction. The better you get at paying attention to your feelings, the more prepared you’ll be when it comes time to react to the emotion. If you’re still working on naming your emotions, try waiting! Force yourself to just wait until you’ve given the emotion a label. Then, you can minimize the magnitude of your reaction. [3] X Research source

Question 3 of 6:
What can I do if I’m feeling really anxious about something?

Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, PhD: It may seem obvious, but take action! If you’re worried about your finances, go see a financial planner or fill out some job applications. Moving forward to solve the source of your anxiety is the best way to quell those negative feelings. Now, if you’ve already taken steps to solve the problem, remind yourself that you’ve done all you can do. Recognizing that you’re already taking the right steps to solve a problem will make you feel better. If you just can’t stop worrying, make a list of 5 unrelated tasks that you could focus your energy on. Putting effort into solving a different problem that actually has an actionable solution will help you shift your focus towards something more productive. If you keep focusing on the source of the anxiety, it’s just going to make things worse. It’s kind of like someone telling you, “Don’t think about pink elephants.” What’s the first thing you’re going to do? Think of pink elephants. Having a to-do list or mental shortlist of other problems you can solve helps keep you from spinning out of control or obsessing about your anxiety.
Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Additional Research
If you know deep down that you’re going to worry, just get it out. Put on a 20-minute timer, pace around your apartment, and just talk yourself through your fears. You can write about your worries if you prefer. Then, after you’ve gotten it out of your system, stop. Say, “Okay, I was worried, but now it’s time to move on.” Challenge your negative thoughts and push yourself to move forward. [4] X Trustworthy Source HelpGuide Nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources. Go to source

Question 4 of 6:
How can I understand my own emotions better?

Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, PhD: It all boils down to your emotional vocabulary. A lot of people get overwhelmed or overloaded when they experience a feeling because they don’t have the language to communicate what they’re experiencing. It can really help to just compile a big list of emotional words and identify what you’re feeling in the most accurate terms possible. This helps you build the self-awareness necessary to actually understand what you’re feeling.
Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Additional Research
You can find a list of emotional vocabulary terms online, or make your own. Whenever you feel a strong emotion, pull your list out and sort through it. Try to identify the most accurate descriptor for what you’re feeling. The more often you do this, the faster and more accurate you’ll get. [5] X Research source This will help you build the self-awareness necessary to process your emotions. [6] X Trustworthy Source Harvard Medical School Harvard Medical School's Educational Site for the Public Go to source

Question 5 of 6:
Why does it help to name and describe my emotions?

Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, PhD: It’s soothing to pinpoint what you’re feeling and put a label on it. It also makes it a lot easier to discuss your emotions with others. You can’t develop an understanding of something without talking about it. So, if you’re looking for insight, clarity, or awareness surrounding your emotions, you need to analyze and describe them. You don’t even necessarily need to talk to someone else about your emotions (although this can help). Just being honest with yourself and exploring how you feel without disclosing anything to anyone else can be a productive exercise.
Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Additional Research
Try to be as specific as you possibly can when it comes to labelling your emotions. Yes, you could be happy, but it may be more accurate to say you’re content, comfortable, or relieved. [7] X Trustworthy Source Harvard Business Review Online and print journal covering topics related to business management practices Go to source The better you get at this, the easier it will be to manage how you feel and take control of your emotions. [8] X Trustworthy Source HelpGuide Nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources. Go to source

Question 6 of 6:
How should I discuss my emotions with people?

Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, PhD: I think it really helps to narrate your experience and walk them through your emotional journey. So, you might say something like, “I know I’ve been sad for a few days and I’m trying to figure out why, but I think I started feeling this way when…” and then you describe the origin of the emotion. Walking through the experience from the beginning helps provide context, which makes it a lot easier for people to understand where you’re coming from. If you don’t know why you’re feeling a certain way, you can still acknowledge that. It’s okay to say, “I’m really sensitive and I don’t know why,” and then just work through the emotion by exploring it.
Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Additional Research
You don’t have to go out of your way to have giant conversations about your feelings. Those hour-long deep dives with your loved ones can be really helpful, but it’s also healthy to just talk about your tough day at work for 5 minutes when you get home. Those casual chats about how you’re doing and what you’re feeling can really help take some of the pressure off of you. [9] X Research source