By: Marsha Smith, LCSW

I am a therapist, mindfulness, and focusing practitioner. One of the most frequent questions people ask me is, What can I do when I’m emotionally overwhelmed?”

Beautiful woodland path
Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash

When you’re feeling pressured, under stress, or find yourself in demanding situations, it can be harder to keep your emotions balanced. When you’re feeling strong emotions, practicing simple mindfulness techniques -and using your body- can help you get your bearings and navigate through stressful situations.

One woman’s story illustrates how mindfulness and body awareness can help. When she felt tense, sad or angry, she would worry that the feelings would take over. Her usual reaction was to distract herself from her feelings and to judge herself for having powerful emotions. She was silencing herself and hadn’t tried to listen to her feelings. When she learned to listen to her feelings she said “something in me relaxed and I became clearer about what I needed to do”.

To bring mindfulness to a situation that is triggering strong emotions, take these simple steps*:

  • First, pause and notice with a friendly, caring attitude what is happening to you. If are upset, or angry, being compassionate and using your body can bring you back to a calm self.
  • Use the language “something in me is feeling…” to acknowledge your emotions. Imagine yourself turning toward that hurt part inside you and being compassionate with it. Bring a caring, kind, curious, patient and calming presence toward yourself. You will feel bigger caring, kind, curious, patient and calming presence toward yourself. You will feel bigger than the problem or emotion, which will naturally lead to feeling calmer and clearer.
  • In the next step, let yourself pause to sense what you need and what would work for you to be okay in the situation. This may simply be a few deep breaths or soothing yourself with kind words you might say to a friend.

*Note that this method is different from thinking about our feelings, instead you’re getting out of your head and noticing your present experience and sensing what you feel.

In my classes and individual therapy, I offer approaches that help to enhance your ability to cope with stress and overwhelming emotions and shift from a negative inner critic to a mindful, focusing attitude, enabling you to reconnect to your calm and competent self, get unstuck and make difficult decisions with more ease.

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