How to Calm Stormy Emotions and Reclaim Your Peace
It’s good to be in touch with your emotions, right? Not always.
If you become easily overwhelmed or flooded by emotions, so much so that you have trouble regaining your calm, you may need to learn emotional regulation.
Because out-of-control emotions tend to trigger more out-of-control emotions, which usually leads to more distress and a greater tendency to repeat the same pattern in the future. And, the regular expression of strong emotions can become addictive, it may even re-traumatize you.
For whatever reasons — trauma, highly sensitive person, or INFJ on the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator — I’m highly influenced by my emotions and the emotional states of others. I’m easily triggered, I spontaneously cry, and sometimes it's not easy to recenter myself.
I’ve always labeled my emotional nature as “bad.” Feeling ashamed, I would try to hold in my emotions. But for me, that’s like holding back Niagara Falls. It only creates more tension.
This is why I'm gradually learning to better regulate my emotions.
Emotional regulation isn’t about denying or suppressing emotions, tightening and constricting. It’s learning how much emotion you can field without getting overloaded, how to calm yourself if you do feel overwhelmed, and how to pace yourself so you’re not constantly dipping in and out of upset. It means listening to and learning to work with your emotions in manageable doses.
Let's look at simple yet effective ways to slow down a flood of emotions, whether you’re a highly sensitive person or not.
6 Ways to Calm Stormy Emotions
But first, it helps to know that we experience life through three different channels: thoughts, emotions, and sensation. When one channel is overloaded, you can switch to another to reduce the intensity of the input and find greater ease. And moving away from your emotions, even for a few moments at a time, will naturally weaken their hold on you.
Be aware that some of these approaches have drawbacks, depending upon your usually tendencies. Notice which ones work the effectively for you, without triggering more emotions or numbing your emotions for extended periods of time, and use those.
1. Tune into your body sensations
Tune into your body sensations.
Is your chest tight? Does your stomach hurt? Is your head pounding?
But don't focus only on what hurts. Also notice what feels good, relaxed, or neutral in your body. If you feel pain on one side, notice how the other side feels more relaxed. Take note, when you sigh with relief, take a deep breath, or feel your muscles soften even slightly. Spend time with these positive sensation, it will help regulate your nervous system.
You canals slowly move your attention back and forth between a region of tension and an area of relaxation, for a few moments at a time. The pain or the tension will often begin to dissipate. And because your mind is focused on something other than your emotions, they may calm down as well.
2. Recall a pleasant memory
Take a slow, deep breath. Recall a pleasant memory and linger there for a while. Think of a time when or a place where you felt calm, happy, or at peace. Or remember a moment when you felt especially strong, courageous, or powerful.
Notice as many details as you can about the experience or place. Continue to take deep, gentle breaths as you visualize this pleasant memory.
Alternatively, you could construct your own “safe place” in your mind, one that you can revisit any time you feel overly distressed.
By taking your mind away from the stormy emotions, they will begin to dissipate.
There’s one potential drawback to this method. For those who tend to dissociate from their feelings or experience, this approach can be a way to stay disconnected. So use this as a momentary way to address overwhelming emotions not as a way to avoid anything you don’t want to deal with. Our aim isn’t to permanently disconnect from our feelings or experience, but to be able to approach them in manageable doses.
3. Connect with the environment through the senses
Look out into the physical environment and let your eyes go wherever they want to go. Just notice without adding labels like “beautiful” or “ugly.” Continue to let your eyes go wherever they wish for a few moments.
When people move their attention into the physical environment they often report feeling more calm, settled, curious, joyful, light, expansive, safe, inside themselves, or spacious because this approach works on our neurobiology. It lets your body and brain know you’re here now, in the present moment, and safe. It can also take you out of a negative emotional loop. By moving from what’s wrong to what’s pleasurable, you give your nervous system a chance to regulate.
If you find it difficult to allow your eyes to move out into the environment, start by becoming aware of the subtle impulse of your eyes to look outwardly and slowly begin to follow the impulse.
You can use any of the senses in this way. For example, you could notice the sounds in your environment and stay with them for a while. The use of the tactile sense, however, can be more difficult because it’s challenging to differentiate between the tactile sense and the external environment
4. Ground yourself
Some of us find it more difficult to connect with the earth and with our bodies due to emotional and behavioral patterns we developed in childhood. But with practice, we can all learn how to feel more rooted in the earth. Doing so will allow you to field strong emotions with less distress.
- Inhabiting your body.
- Remaining anchored in the present moment.
- Feeling connected to the earth beneath your feet.
Practice grounding on a regular basis so you feel more solid in life as your default mode. And whenever emotions begin to overpower you, ground yourself to regain your peace.
Try out these various ways to ground yourself and see which ones work for you:
- Walk barefoot and feel the ground.
- Whenever you’re walking, walk mindfully, place your attention on your step and on the feeling and sensation of walking. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the act of walking.
- Sit or lay on the ground, and feel the stability and substantiality of the earth. Breathe it in. Let this feeling permeate and pervade your whole being.
- Practice any form of breath awareness like belly breathing or counting your breaths.
- Engage in a body-based meditation or relaxation exercise like a body scan meditation or progressive muscle relaxation. You can find simple body scan instructions in this article: Be Still, Be Well: A Simple Practice of Mindfulness.
- Exercise or try a movement practice like Tai Chi, Qigong, or Yoga.
- Imagine a cord of golden energy traveling from your lower body deep into the center of the earth.
Understandably, it can be very difficult to shift your attention from tumultuous emotions to a grounding practice if you haven't practiced on a regular basis. You might be fine for a few minutes and then feel emotions swell up once again. But you'll be able to master this skill with practice. As soon as you notice your emotions building up again, bring your attention back to grounding yourself.
The more you feel your contact with the ground, the more you'll be able handle in day-to-day life.
For some of us, however, the body may not feel like a safe place. If that’s the case for you, never force yourself to do something that feels uncomfortable or unsafe. Instead, experiment with gently feeling a connection with the earth through the soles of your feet without pushing yourself to fully inhabit your body.
5. Soothe yourself to calm intense emotions
What soothes one person may irritate another person. So tune into yourself and learn what soothes you. Once you know, you can turn on your own self-soothing when intense emotions arise.
Which of these forms of self-soothing resonate for you?
- Reassure yourself with gentle, loving words.
- Play music that calms your system.
- Bundle yourself up in your coziest clothes or wrap yourself in a blanket.
- Cuddle with your pet. They seem to have an innate way of knowing when their adult friends need comfort.
- Take a walk in nature.
- Enjoy a long warm shower or a relaxing bath.
- Engage in a form of exercise that you find especially calming.
- Gaze at the vast expanse of the sky during the day or the starscape at night.
- Buy yourself flowers.
- Journal to get your feelings out if the practice doesn’t re-trigger a flood of emotions.
Be sure to avoid addictive forms of self soothing like dousing yourself with drugs, alcohol, or food or going on a shopping spree. And, of course, resist any forms of self-harming behavior.
6. Hold Your Fingers to Harmonize Your Emotions
According to the ancient art of Jin Shin Jyutsu, you can harmonize your emotions and nourish your body by holding each of your fingers in sequence. Each finger is associated with a different organ system and a different emotion. This is a subtle yet powerful self-help approach I’ve personally used to great effect for both emotional and physical distress.
Once you know the feeling associated with each finger, you can simple hold that finger when a particular emotion begins to overwhelm you.
You can find the instructions in this article: How to Balance Your Emotions and Revitalize Your Body
Pace Yourself to Regulate Your Emotions
Whatever methods you use, learn to pace your experience.
Once you've calmed the overwhelm, you can revisit whatever situation gave rise to the flood of emotions. This might be a few minutes later, a few days later or a few weeks later — only you can know when you are truly ready.
And when you do return to a difficult memory or experience, always know you can pause, whenever you begin to feel overwhelmed, and down regulate using one of the methods above.
It's not healthy to suppress our emotions, but it is beneficial to learn to regulate them so you're not living in a state of constant distress.
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