Events and interactions with others or with ourselves may precipitate negative or overwhelming emotions. Feeling stressed, down, anxious, hopeless, or overwhelmed are some of the leading emotions to trigger a relapse. It is important to have skills to help cope and manage overwhelming emotional responses.
1. Observe and describe the emotions.
Emotions have physical, cognitive, and behavioral aspects to them. It is important to observe these aspects and describe them to better understand the cycle of emotions. If we can identify and explain how we feel tense and warm when we are angry, or if we feel clammy, shaky, and loss of breath when we are anxious, we will be better equipped to implement skills and prevent unhealthy behavioral responses to uncomfortable emotions.
2. Reframe negative or overwhelming thoughts.
Thoughts play an important role in coping with overwhelming emotions. After a prompting event, we have individual interpretations to these events. Emotions are self-perpetuated and implementing alternative thoughts when we are overwhelmed can help to break the cycle from feeling frustrated, to angry, to hopeless. If we do not get a job that we are hoping for, it can be easy to cycle down into self-defeating thought patterns that retrigger hopelessness and feeling disheartened. Instead, reframe to other opportunities and experiences gained from the interview process and what you can do differently. Alternative perspectives can also help to ease the negative emotional response.
3. Become aware of your vulnerability to negative emotions.
The common expression is HALT. Are you hungry? Are you angry? Are you lonely? Are you tired? This is important to keep in mind to ease feeling stressed and decrease the chance you will act impulsively. Another vulnerability is if we are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If we are aware of our vulnerabilities then we can be at ease knowing it feels worse in this moment than it would if we had felt well rested, were sober, or if we had eaten a fulfilling meal. It is important to make note of our vulnerabilities and engage in self-care to prevent further emotional suffering.
Distraction can be extremely useful in tolerating the feelings in the moment so we do not act on them in a way that may cause harm to us later. A helpful acronym is ACCEPTS. Are there activities you can try? This could be visiting with a friend, attending a meeting, or treating yourself to a nice dinner. You can contribute to someone through service work and giving back. Compare your state with another’s perspective and increase gratefulness for your situation. You can try acting opposite to the emotion you’re feeling. If you are feeling sad or low, listen to an upbeat or empowering song. You can also try pushing the negative emotions or thoughts away. This should be a last resort to tolerating negative emotions. You can try changing your thoughts (see tip number 2 for more information). Lastly, self-soothing through bubble bath, getting a massage, or your favorite candle.
5. Accept the experience.
“The best way to heal your pain, is to feel it.” Pain is uncomfortable and it is much easier to run from it. However, long-term consequences of running from pain are continued avoidance and further emotional pain. If we work to identify and accept our experiences as they happen, then we decrease our suffering and leave room to live a life we enjoy.
Author: Stephanie Pruefer, LPC, CADC – Counselor – Footprints to Recovery