Overwhelmed With Emotion (& How to Cope)

Does anger, sadness, or hopelessness go out of control and take you on a ride of thoughts that makes things worse? 

Just about every human experiences this. The difference for each person is a matter of how much, and how often. There are things you can do in the short term, and long term to change these emotions.

I’ve included here some shifts you can do to relieve some of the overwhelming emotions. Some of these steps will require practice to develop skills and strength.  The benefit of taking the time to practice these skills is that you never find yourself in these overwhelming emotions again. 

When overwhelmed with emotions it can feel like a ton of bricks have been dropped on you. The way we get those bricks off is one step at a time. When overwhelmed, we can’t lift off all the thoughts and emotions at once. If we could do that we wouldn’t be overwhelmed. So plan to make the shifts in manageable steps. 

Overwhelmed with emotions and finding relief

It helps to understand being overwhelmed with emotions is the normal human experience. That awareness can help you dis-believe the extra thoughts that want to pile from your mind about being broken or something being wrong with you. 

Overwhelmed mindset shift #1: You are not broken or failing

It’s the expectation that we should be handling these emotions immediately without any struggle, learning, or growth that are misplaced. Understanding you are having a human experience that all normal humans have can take one of the bricks off. It gives you some separation from the belief that you are broken, or that nobody understands, or could know what you are feeling. These beliefs add layers of emotions, sometimes worse than the original response.

These self-judgment beliefs create feelings of failure. Suspending belief can all them to appear less true, or not true at all. Seeing that narrative as false, can help take off the layer of isolation and loneliness. 

Suspending belief in self-judgments makes it easier to climb out of the emotional pit. When you just work on the original emotion layers often they aren’t overwhelming anymore.  Of course, developing the awareness and skills to not believe the inner Judge is part of the longer practice skill set. In the immediate, remind yourself that these are normal emotions for human beings in your circumstance, even if these emotions aren’t normal for you. . 

Overwhelmed mindset shift #2: See Yourself in the Future

One of the struggles of emotion, is that it can blind you. You can’t see that things will change, how they will get better. You feel those emotions and your mind becomes blind to seeing or believing that you will ever feel good again. In that emotional state every version of yourself is filled with that same emotion. It becomes difficult to imagine feeling any other way. 

To unblind yourself, take some time to try on the idea that at some time in the future you will feel better. Emotions are temporary and that all that you are feeling will pass. There may be some major changes in your life, and that you will still be okay. Take some time to acknowledge that what you are feeling wasn’t always there, and it won’t always be there. 

That sense of “no hope” and not seeing or imagining anything different, is a blinding lie, and one that has to be seen as a false belief about your future. It’s an important step and one that you may need to revisit and remind yourself of.  

You may not be able to imagine feeling better in the future, but you can at least hold the idea.

Overwhelmed mindset shift #3: Adopt Reasonable Expectations

Overwhelmed emotions probably didn’t happen in one day. There was likely a build-up of challenges, stresses, expectations, surprises,  disappointment, anger or frustration, etc. Then there were thoughts about getting rid of these emotions, and failing to do so. There were thoughts about changing external situations or people and that either didn’t work or you couldn’t imagine it working.  So then there were judgments about failing to change circumstances, others, or failing to get rid of emotions. That expectation and failure created more emotions about being a failure, feeling trapped, hopeless, etc. 

Are you frustrated and fed up with your job or relationship?  How long has the issue been festering?  It isn’t one thought or one event that builds things up to being overwhelmed. You added layers of stress, perhaps over years, and didn’t process out all the emotions and beliefs from each layer on the pile. 

Look at becoming NOT overwhelmed as a step by step process as well. You already have some steps taken by recognizing that you are not broken. That your judge has unreasonable expectations for how quickly this should change.  It’s a bit ridiculous to throw a child in the deep end of emotions without swimming skills and expect them to swim.  If your Judge is expecting that from you, then you could agree that it is being ridiculous also. Realizing and acknowledging this is taking a layer of the overwhelm off. 

Believing that Judge (inner critic) is like gulping water while in the deep end. It makes you cough and panic. Don’t believe the Judge’s voice in your head and you can stay calmer. That allows you to take more effective action. 

How to Deal With Overwhelm:

Learning the skills to process your emotions in a healthy way is like learning to swim. 

Sometimes people manage their emotions with food, exercise, alcohol, or get the attention of a friend and unload their thoughts and stresses.  These “manage” methods actually distract or numb emotions and keep us from processing emotions and belief paradigms in a healthy way. They also prevent us from feeling deeply which is often part of a healthy emotional process. This leaves our emotions buried in our unconscious along with the beliefs they are connected to. 

The other mechanism to “manage” our emotions is to go change the external world. This might be to yell at your partner or children so they change their behavior. Or you might end a friendship or a job because we let the emotions pile up and didn’t’ heal. 

Taking the time to notice how you got here is helpful so you don’t repeat the cycle. How much of the outside world have you been working to control?  How much have you been managing your emotions by stuffing them down or numbing them out with distractions? 

In the distract and numb approach, you don’t develop the skills needed for when the big emotions come. Those big emotions can’t be avoided. The reality of life events will ensure emotions happen. This year it is a pandemic. Later it will be a financial crisis (again) or an illness, or the death of a loved one. Life and all things happen, and this brings us into emotional experiences. 

In learning to swim in the deep end we can dive to the bottom, feel comfortable there, and maybe look around. You are comfortable because you know how long you can hold your breath, you know where the surface is, and you are confident you can get the air you need when you want. When you are practiced feeling your emotions deeply, you can go for these deep explorations into feeling while relaxed about your ability to come out of it. It’s important to know there is safety and you will get air. With emotional skills you have control over your attention, can relax, and notice other things, or adopt different perspectives. When you are not a good swimmer, and life throws you in the big waves you will probably gulp water and panic. 

Skills you need, long term to not be overwhelmed by emotions

Overwhelmed with Emotions Skill #1 – Ability to Relax

It’s not a natural thing to swim underwater and it takes some training to be relaxed in an environment that we weren’t born to survive in. By the same token, we need some skills in order to relax and to explore our full feeling and depth of our emotions. 

The ability to relax while you feel emotions is counter to our impulses. But it was probably following the impulses that have gotten us into this overwhelming emotional state. We haven’t managed ourselves, our lives, and our reactions clearly. Learning to relax involves calmly NOT following those impulses. Impulses are part of a nervous system response. 

If we keep acting on a nervous system response we are affirming it as a stronger neuro-pathway. It makes it more automatic. By relaxing we interrupt those automatic nervous responses and practice trusting that there is enough air to breathe. Even if you are underwater and there isn’t air right now, panicking uses up your oxygen faster and prevents your brain from making the best decisions. 

To help you relax, regularly listen to the How to Relax audio

This podcast is free. I suggest you practice at least 15 min twice a day. You may have to start out at just a couple min a day. Build the skill and strength and work up to 15 min twice a day. Over time you can be calmer throughout your day. 


Overwhelmed with Emotions #2 – Ability to Control your Attention

To deal with overwhelming emotions you need to gain control over your attention.  When you don’t have control of your attention you are led in your mind by all the thoughts into the dark narratives, of hopelessness, despair, anger, fear, or other feelings. These thoughts arise from your belief system. 

It works this way, you either have conscious control over your attention, which you can use to focus on things like relaxing your nervous system. Or your unconscious belief programs are running your mind and dragging you along with the thoughts it runs through your head. 

It is not necessary to have 100% control over your attention 100% of the time. You just need to begin to get some, and then practice getting more. When I began to learn about self-awareness, I had control over my attention for 30 seconds and then I lost it again for hours.  In the Self Mastery Introduction Course I guide you through a deeper exploration of what the attention is and being aware of when you lose it.  In the Self Mastery 1 Course you learn the skills to identify and change those beliefs that control your attention. 

Even being aware that you lost your attention is helpful. It is a reminder to your brain that this attention thing is important and to get it back. Meditation is a mechanism for practicing with your attention. Some practices have you focus on your breath, others on a mantra.  For an emotional change, you want to develop the skill to hold your attention present with your emotions. The critical awareness is to not believe your thoughts as you are present with those emotions.  When you believe those thoughts is when you get taken for a tumble ride emotionally in a narrative story of thoughts. 

This is a practice and one that the Self Mastery Course work is designed for.

Overwhelmed with Emotions #3 – Skepticism

Probably most emotions in your life come as a response to believing what you think. If you can see your thoughts as not true, then you have a huge advantage in gaining mastery over your mind and emotions. However, the awareness to see your own thoughts as not true takes development. The best approach is to start small and to continue to question them over time. 

It’s our default mode to assume what we think is true. Any thought was probably true or at least accurate at one time. But those thoughts that we believed at the moment tend to repeat. And the most emotional thoughts repeat the most often. If you have had these types of thoughts once, then you have had them more than once. Notice how emotional these thoughts could be if you believe them

“I shouldn’t have done that”

“I’m always screwing things up”

“I overreacted”

“What’s the matter with me?”

“It’s hopeless”

“I’ll never change”

These thoughts don’t just create emotions, they define us in a fixed unchangeable way. Believing these thoughts affirm beliefs in the idea of yourself as broken. This “idea”, or false “idea”  hypnotizes you that blocks changes you want to make. 

When you watch someone get hypnotized you see the hypnotist say the same thing over and over lulling the person into accepting the suggestion. This is what happens when we believe the same repetitive thoughts about ourselves. Except these thoughts are lulling us into powerlessness, anger,  shame, fear, and a feeling of hopelessness. 

The most catastrophic thing about believing your thoughts in this cycle is that there is no hypnotist to snap their fingers and wake you up from the state of mind you have put yourself in. You have to wake yourself up. 

Skepticism of your own thinking is a valuable skill that can wake you up from the false being of a person the voices in your head say you are.

You can learn techniques to be skeptical of those thoughts in your head using the Self Mastery program.  

Develop Emotional Skills for a Lifetime

Getting out of those overwhelming emotions, or any emotions effectively and consistently is a matter of skill. We don’t think of handling our thoughts and emotions as a skill. We tend to think of it as something we do, or don’t do. That’s limiting. Processing our emotions and thoughts in a healthy way is something we can learn and practice-changing. In my 30 years of personal transformation work, and 25 years of teaching, I’ve come to think of emotional change as a skill set. It’s something that you can get good at through training and practice. You can begin with the practices at the Self Mastery Intro Course to learn these skills. 

Self Mastery Courses can help 

You can listen to a recent podcast on Overwhelmed by Emotions – Why am I so angry? 
I cover what one client was going through and help understand the layers of our nervous system and brain that sometimes generate what we feel.