How to Deal With Your Emotions

Two Methods:Coping with Complicated Emotions in the MomentLong-Term Ways to Deal with Your Emotions

Everyone has emotions. Some emotions are easier to deal with such as joy or happiness. Some emotions are harder such as fear, anger, or sadness. Whether you’re dealing with anger, depression, or frustration it is important to have good skills to address any emotions causing you distress both in the short term and long term.

Method 1
Coping with Complicated Emotions in the Moment

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    Identify the emotion you’re feeling. Identifying a specific emotion can be more difficult than you think. If you are struggling, start with the four basic categories: anxiety, sadness, anger, or happiness. By simply identifying exactly what you’re feeling, you can begin taking the power away from the emotion as you work through what’s causing it. Though your feelings may vary in intensity, most fall into one of these broad categories.[1]
    • Anxiety often takes the shape of “what if” questions. What if they don’t like me? What if I’m not accepted? Etc.[2]
    • Sadness tends to happen when we focus on things we cannot change such as death or loss.[3]
    • Anger is the response after being attacked, such as our values.[4]
    • Happiness is positive thought often around a gain, such as a compliment from a friend or a reward like a promotion at work.[5]
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    Try breathing relaxation techniques. Taking steps in the moment to deal with a difficult emotion is one common coping strategy. You can help deal with an emotional response by focusing on something else that you can control, such as your breathing. Research shows that practicing breathing control has a positive impact on your stress response or “fight or flight” response.[6]
    • For example, a simple technique is to count to five while inhaling, hold for five counts, and take five counts to exhale. Focus on your each part of your breath.
    • Another way to focus on your breath is to use a deflated balloon. Blow up the balloon and watch it deflate.
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    Try a self-soothing technique. Self-soothing techniques are another way to focus on something aside from a difficult emotion. One specific example is the five senses technique to help you improve your state of mind. Sit in a comfortable position and focus on your breathing. Then isolate each of your five senses and spend one minute each focusing on the specific sensations of each. Consider the following:[7][8]
    • Hearing: What sounds do you hear around you? Focus on external sounds, such as cars going by, people talking, birds chirping. Focus on internal sounds, such as your breathing or digestion. As you focus on hearing, do you notice anything you did not before?
    • Smell: What do you smell? Is there food near you? Or maybe flowers outside? You might notice smells you did not before like the paper in an open textbook beside you. Try closing your eyes. Sometimes this helps decrease visual distractions.
    • Sight: What do you see? Take notice of details such as colors, patterns, shapes, and textures. Look for variations in hues of colors you haven’t noticed on common objects before.
    • Taste: What do you taste? Even if you do not have food in your mouth, you can still taste. Notice any aftertaste of a previous drink or meal? Run your tongue over your teeth and cheeks to help you become more aware of subtle tastes.
    • Touch: What do you feel without moving from your seated position? Feel the sensation of your skin being touched by clothing, your chair, or the floor. Feel the texture of your clothes or the chair with your fingers and focus on that.
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    Try progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Progressive muscle relaxation is a type of coping skill that focuses on tensing and relaxing different muscle groups. The benefits of progressive muscle relations include helping you become more aware of physical sensations in your body.[9] Try starting with your toes and then isolating different muscle groups in your body all the way up to your head.[10]
    • Tense each muscle group for five seconds, and then spend the next thirty seconds slowly relaxing them.[11]
    • You can use your imagination to help the process as well. For example, when you get to your face muscles, imagine eating a lemon to help you tense them up, and imagine eating something sweeter as your relax them.
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    Try meditating or praying. Meditating has been shown to improve positive emotions, satisfaction, health, and happiness. Also, it decreases anxiety, stress, and depression.[12] There are many different types of mediation, but the goal of all mediation is about calming the mind.
    • For example, start in a comfortable position. Focus on a single thing—such as a candle flame, a repeated word of prayer, or counting beads on a rosary. As you focus, your mind will wander. Let those thoughts go, and bring your concentration back to your focus point.[13] This might sound easy, but focusing the mind is challenging. Do not be disappointed if you can only focus for a few minutes at first.
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    Try throwing the negative thought away. Some people find it helpful to write down the negative emotion as they question it. The physical action of throwing away the paper on which you’ve written the negative emotion can assist with letting it go mentally as well.[14] Though symbolic, associating a physical, controllable action with letting go of the negative emotion may be helpful to you.
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    Use positive imagery. You may find it easier to interrupt your negative thoughts by replacing them with positive imagery. This can especially help if you’re fixating on a memory with a difficult emotional impact.[15] Start with an image or mental picture that is positive or peaceful. It can be a memory or a place. Think of a time/situation/place in that location that made you feel calm and happy.[16]
    • Try to remember all the details of this memory or place. Focus on locating all five of your senses in the positive place. How did it sound, smell, feel, etc.?[17]
    • Some people find it helpful to carry a physical picture with them in their wallet or purse to help remind them of a positive moment.[18]
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    Talk to a friend. Being alone with sad or painful emotions can create an echo chamber where you can’t help but fixate on the emotion. If a good friend in your social circle is available, then reach out to him or her. Emotions—including happiness—are contagious.[19] Sharing time with one of your positive friends might be just what you need to help you relax.

Method 2
Long-Term Ways to Deal with Your Emotions

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    Keep a journal. Many people find journaling a helpful way to clarify and process tough emotions.[20] Sometimes the difficulty of an emotion is simply feeling unable to express it. Write down what has happened, what you feel, and the duration and severity of the emotion. Even by organizing these thoughts into an entry, you often begin processing the emotion.
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    Identify the source of your difficult emotions. Once you start journaling about your emotions, you may find patterns in the sources that weren’t as obvious beforehand. Try to locate the source that’s causing each emotion.[21] If you recognize common causes, then ask yourself how you can make changes to either weed out the source or reduce its impact on you.
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    Challenge your negative thoughts. People tend to despair over difficult emotions and immediately entertain negative thoughts around the emotion that simply aren’t true. By isolating and questioning these thoughts, you can separate out the negative thought reactions that often accompany tough emotions. The process of challenging and correcting your own thoughts can take time and patience. Begin by asking yourself:[22][23]
    • Is the thought true?
    • If you think it’s true, what’re the facts supporting it?
    • What are your reactions to the negative thought?
    • What effect on your actions or behaviors would you experience by not having the thought?
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    Use thought interruption techniques. Once you’re familiar with how to question your negative thoughts, you can also begin recognizing the patterns associated with them. This will allow you to simply interrupt the cycle of negative thinking and replace it with more positive or productive thinking.[24]
    • You can start with a verbal interruption (such as telling yourself to snap out of it) or even a physical cue (such as a rubber band on your wrist when you recognize the negative thought). This helps stop the thought by recognizing it is happening.
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    Sublimate your difficult emotions. Turn to your hobbies during times of difficult emotions. Using those feelings as a conduit for creative and artistic expression is a process called sublimation.[25] A lot of energy goes into tough emotions, and funneling that energy into projects, skills, and other positive outlets can help you cope in a productive way.
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    Seek help from your support system. Don't try to take on the world by yourself. Talking with someone with whom you feel comfortable can help ease all manner of difficult emotions or negative thoughts you may have. They may also come up with a solution to your problem or a way for you to cope that didn’t occur to you. Hiding your problems will always create more problems than it solves. Seek support in good friends, loved ones, relatives, or even a professional therapist or counselor, if other methods haven’t helped.
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    Talk to a professional. If the long-term stresses of coping with difficult emotions have left you feeling withdrawn or overwhelmed, then you may want to talk to a professional counselor or therapist.[26] A professional also offers an alternative if your emotions stem from something you’d prefer not to share with friends and family members. Your therapist will provide an understanding ear, confidentiality, helpful suggestions, and additional tools and resources to help you cope.
    • If your counselor thinks that medication will help as you work through your emotions, then either he or she will be able to provide a prescription or refer you to someone who can.


  • Find a relaxing spot in your home such as a bedroom, office, or living room. Choose one with a calming atmosphere and something comfy to relax on.
  • Get out of the house regularly. Social interactions are some of the best ways to help reduce the severity of difficult emotions.


  • Never harm yourself in any way. Once you start cutting yourself, you will find it harder and harder to stop. Always seek help from a professional if you have any thoughts related to self harm.

Sources and Citations

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Article Info

Categories: Emotional Conditions