How To Control Your Most Overwhelming Emotions

How To Control Your Most Overwhelming Emotions Shutterstock

Under no circumstances should you be bottling up your emotions — feeling them is healthy! However, when they hijack your behavior and make you do things you ultimately regret later, that’s where some coping skills come in. Think of it like training for an emotional marathon; you’re not trying to make sure you never get out of breath, but you do want to increase your stamina so you can regulate yourself through the tough parts. Here are some things you can do to calm your overwhelming emotions and gain some equilibrium.

1. Name It to Tame It.

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“I’m freaking out!” is broad. Getting specific helps: “I’m enraged at my coworker” or “I’m terrified this plan will fail” are more descriptive and will help you identify exactly what it is that’s going on in your head and heart. Plus, labeling the exact emotion lessens its power. It’s the first step towards choosing a response, rather than just blindly reacting, Harvard Business Review explains.

2. Tune Into Your Body.

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Where do you feel the emotion most strongly? Clenched jaw? Racing heart? Shallow breathing? This helps externalize it. Rather than “I am angry,” it’s “Anger is making my shoulders tense.” That subtle shift puts you in the observer role, which increases your ability to manage the situation.

3. Take an Empowering Pause.

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Reacting in the heat of the moment often leads to regret. Instead, tell yourself, “I don’t have to do ANYTHING about this feeling for the next 5 minutes.” That pause might be deep breaths, going outside, or whatever it takes to disrupt the impulsive reaction loop so that you can let the initial wave of intensity subside a bit.

4. Change Your Physical State.

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If you’re fuming, intense exercise can redirect that energy (bonus if it’s hitting something, like boxing). Overwhelming sadness? A hot shower can mimic the physiological comfort of being held. Our bodies and minds are linked; shifting one impacts the other.

5. Fact Check Your Inner Critic.

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Anxiety especially loves to catastrophize. “This mistake means I’ll be fired!” is rarely true. Write down what your brain is screaming, then force it to provide evidence. “Have I been fired for past mistakes?” Often, the harsh inner narrative crumbles under scrutiny, reducing the emotional intensity.

6. Pre-Plan for Triggers.

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If you know that giving presentations makes you panicky, rehearse until it’s automatic so that you feel less overwhelmed. Or, if you know you’re going to see the rude relative always starts drama, have an exit strategy (“Must use the bathroom!”) so you know there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. This doesn’t eliminate the emotion, but gives you a sense of control over the situation, which makes it less daunting.

7. Remember That the Feeling Is Temporary.

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Remind yourself in the moment: emotions pass, even if unpleasant. This takes away some of their power. Tell yourself, “I can endure this wave. It won’t last forever.” It’s like holding your breath underwater — knowing you’ll surface soon makes the discomfort more bearable.

8. Mini-Mindfulness is Your Superpower.

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No hour-long meditation needed! Focusing for just a few minutes on your breath, the feel of your feet on the ground… this pulls you into the present. Emotions are often fueled by dwelling on the past (regret) or future (fear). Anchoring yourself in the NOW lowers their volume significantly.

9. Identify Your “Emotional Drain” Outlets.

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Journaling a furious rant you’ll never send, ugly crying to a sad song… sometimes you need to let the emotion out in a safe way. This is cathartic! The key is to do it consciously as a release, not letting those expressions become your only way of processing feelings.

10. Create Your Comfort Toolkit.

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What reliably soothes you? A specific playlist, silly animal photos, or a scented candle might be just what you need. Have these on hand for when the initial wave of an emotion hits. This doesn’t erase the feeling, but makes it feel less all-consuming, giving you space to then use more complex coping tools.

11. Reframe the Emotion as Information.

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Jealousy signals something you value. Anger shows a boundary was violated. Instead of fighting the feeling, ask: What can I learn from this? As Psychology Today explains, this turns an unproductive emotion into a guidepost towards positive change: working to earn what you admire, or standing up for your needs assertively.

12. Find Some Compassion for Your Flawed Human Self.

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If you lash out when overwhelmed, beating yourself up just compounds the bad feelings. “I messed up. I’m stressed, that’s why I snapped. I’ll apologize” is far more productive. Everyone struggles sometimes! Accepting that builds resilience, making it less likely you’ll spiral into shame after a setback.

13. Repeat the Following: “Just Because I Feel It, Doesn’t Mean It’s True.”

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Insecurity tells us we’re unworthy. Loneliness insists we’re unlovable. This is your emotional brain on overdrive, not fact. Talk back gently: “I’m having a lonely thought, that’s common sometimes. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me.” This challenges the harsh narrative without denying the feeling itself.

14. Shrink the Overwhelm with Micro-Tasks.

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Big projects spark anxiety. Break them down to absurdly tiny steps – “Open new document” is doable, even in panic mode. The sense of accomplishment from these tiny wins lessens the overwhelm, making the next step seem more manageable.

15. Embrace Proactive, Not Just Reactive, Coping.

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Waiting to deal with emotions until they’re a crisis is like ignoring your fitness until you injure yourself. Daily practices that build your “emotional strength” – therapy, mindfulness, etc. – make you less likely to be blindsided by intense surges. Think of it as preventative medicine for your inner world.

16. When It’s Chronic, Professional Help is Invaluable.

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If certain emotions constantly derail your life, therapy teaches skills beyond quick fixes. They can explore the roots (past trauma, etc.) that need healing for lasting change. This isn’t admitting failure; it’s asking for the best tools available, just like you would for a physical injury.

17. Embrace Vulnerability with Safe People.

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Venting endlessly to anyone willing to listen burdens relationships. But sharing authentically with carefully chosen people builds bonds. It also helps you feel less alone. Feeling witnessed in our messy human moments is deeply healing, reducing the shame that fuels emotional outbursts.

18. Don’t Expect Overnight Transformation.

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You’ve been wired a certain way your whole life! Progress is often two steps forward, one back. Celebrate every instance you managed an emotion more effectively than before. Over time, those victories chart a clear course towards becoming the calm, self-assured person you know you can be inside.

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Originally from Australia, Emma Mills graduated from the University of Queensland with a dual degree in Philosophy and Applied Linguistics before moving to Los Angeles to become a professional matchmaker (a bit of a shift, obviously). Since 2015, she has helped more than 150 people find lasting love and remains passionate about bringing amazing singletons together.

Emma is also the author of the upcoming Hachette publication, "Off the Beaten Track: Finding Lasting Love in the Least Likely of Places," due out in January 2025.
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