Coping strategies for emotions

Published Categorized as coping strategies, emotional literacy, soothing

Increasing emotionally intelligence is about noticing your emotions more: the pinnacle of which is noticing them in the moment they arise so you gain more control over how you respond. As simple as this sounds, its not something we are generally encouraged to do and it does take focus and practice to achieve. But once you have achieved thi,s an obvious question is: what’s the next step?

Well of course this does depend upon the emotion.

If it’s fear and you’re in danger, you need to get yourself to safety as quickly as you can! That’s the job of fear. If it’s fear and you’re not in danger (e.g. fear of the dark, of social situations etc) then different strategies are needed …see below.

If it’s anger (or shame, embarrassment or any other emotion that arises very quickly and intensely) then chances are you’ll initially need to create a space between the trigger of the emotion and your response. This is because you’re unlikely to make sensible choices in the grip of emotions that arrive quickly (like anger). Once you’ve ‘paused’ yourself, you’ll then need to work out if something needs to happen to address whatever triggered your anger and if so, go and be assertive and sort it! If you realise you need or have to let the anger (or other emotion) go …see below

If you feel sad, you’re probably experiencing loss of some kind. Sadness usually means you need to take time out …see below

If it’s guilt, we need to work out if we’ve done something that truly warrants our guilt and if we have, we need to work out how to make amends to anyone we affronted. If guilt is lingering for something we probably shouldn’t feel guilty about …see below

If it’s anxiety or any other emotion that lingers in an all-consuming way …see below

In a nutshell, some emotions do require action to sort out the situation that triggered them. However, with other emotions (like worry), we need to learn to manage or process them so they don’t cause continuous suffering. Therefore, once we’ve done everything we can to sort the situation out, if the emotion is still there, we need to manage it using coping strategies like these…

So once you’ve done everything you can do to sort out a situation that triggered an emotion. What could you try next to manage any persisting feelings?

Talk it through: Most of us have friends who are really good at listening and who help us feel heard and to process difficult situations. Sometimes it can also be helpful to find someone to talk to, who has been through the same as you.

Challenge unhelpful thinking: Are you catastrophising and ruminating? Are you getting carried away and making assumptions about what others might do or are thinking about you? Have you decided you won’t be able to cope?

Reframe: Ask yourself, could this have been worse? Ask yourself if you have ever behaved in the way anyone else involved has to consider what might be going on for them. Check whether you have made an assumption about somebody else’s actions. Could you interpret the situation in a different way – maybe a more forgiving one?

Ask what your emotions might be telling you: Some emotions have straightforward messages – like fear: you need to protect yourself; anger is often about someone doing something irritating, causing you some inconvenience or cost or transgression (somebody doing something you think they shouldn’t); guilt is usually telling you you’ve done something wrong that you’d like to sort out.

Think about when you coped before: Chances are, you’ve experienced the situation that’s triggering uncomfortable emotions at some point before. Chances also are that you coped well. Most things do turn out to be OK and even if they don’t – you will also end up coping with the worst case scenario too!

Empathise: Ask yourself what could be going on for anyone else involved and look for reasons why they might have done what they did.

Learn from the situation: There is some consolation in considering what you’ve learnt from a situation that triggered unenjoyable emotions – even if there was some ‘cost’ to arriving at what your learnt. (It’s best to learn to let that ‘cost’ go and not ruminate about it, as you probably can’t change it.)

Self-soothe: Find ways to feel better e.g. listen to music, go for a walk, bring yourself into the moment through meditation or mindfulness – or even tidying a messy drawer, have a cry, take time out, do some exercise, massage your feet, write your thoughts down, remember all the things you are grateful for, look at old photos, do something creative, phone a friend, make a plan, do a puzzle etc

Use perspective: Changing how you see a situation can often help. Ask yourself will you always feel this way? Think about a time when this is in the past and it’s no longer bothering you. Come to terms with the idea that we can rarely be certain about how something is going to turn out. Think of the things you are grateful for about the situations, and beyond. Visually imagine the situation getting smaller, becoming black and white and with a funny music sound track running in the background. Ask yourself, in the big scheme of things, is this really important? Remind yourself that it’s totally normal not to feel happy all of the time.

Know others will be feeling the same way too: this can provide some consolation and make you feel less alone and remind you that your response is just part of being human!

Remember all feelings pass with time: A cliché – but we often forget this when we’re in the throes of an unenjoyable emotion. It’s a bit like how we can’t imagine being hungry again when we’re full up! Emotions can be all-consuming.