Overwhelming emotions can occur in all emotions: angry, happy, sadness or fear. For some people emotions are like a wave of emotions. If emotions overwhelm you, you may react more violently than you wanted. When you try to suppress emotions, it will have a opposite effect and make the emotions even more overwhelming when they do come out. If you suffer from overwhelming emotions you will probably recognize this. Why do some people have overwhelming emotions and others do not?

Causes of overwhelming emotions

Research shows that having overwhelming emotions is often a combination of your genes, the environment in which you grew up and what you experience in your life. If this is a safe supportive environment, you are less likely to struggle with overwhelming emotions later in life. However,  experiencing a trauma brings a greater chance of overwhelming emotions.

Strategies for dealing with emotions

It can be difficult for people who experience overwhelming emotions to deal with pain and sorrow. Some people develop strategies (also known as coping) that often give them relief in the short term, but are often harmful in the long run. Examples are:

  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing yourself and become passive
  • Being very selective in food intake or overeating
  • Many varying sexual contacts
  • Ruminating  or hurting themself

Do you recognize yourself in one of these strategies? Please, contact your doctor or practitioner for support.

Long and short term

People are often aware that these strategies have negative consequences in long-term, but when overwhelmed it is difficult to make a good choice. This makes it difficult to break a circle of this behavior.

How to deal with overwhelming emotions?

Learning to deal with your emotions requires some practice, because sustainable change takes time. Start with distracting yourself from the overwhelming emotions. Make a plan in advance so that you know what to do if the emotion overwhelms you. You can write this plan on a note and keep it somewhere with you. Or place it in sight, for example on a mirror. 

You can distract yourself in different ways:

  • Do a chore; wash the car, water the plants, clean up, do the laundry or go to the hairdresser..
  • Focus your attention on someone else. For example: call someone and ask if you can do something for them. This can be a friend or family member, but also at a volunteer organization.
  • Distract your thoughts; think of a pleasant event, focus your attention on your breath or do something creative.
  • One of the exercises that I personally find valuable is counting. It has a calming effect. You can count how many doors you walked through today (back and forth counts as two). But you can also count your breaths.

Want to read more?

If you want to read more about this you can purchase the book Dealing with overwhelming emotions by “Matthew Mckay, Jeffrey Wood and Jeffrey Brantley”. This is a book provides practical information about dealing with overwhelming emotions.

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Amanda Tjoa

Hello, I am Amanda Tjoa and I work as a psychologist at PsyQ with NiceDay. I treat anxiety and depression. In my spare time I like to play bass guitar and I like different sports. My favorite Netflix series is Atypical.

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