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How to Manage Intense Emotions

This is the second in a series of blogs about emotions and focusses on how to manage intense emotions. As humans, we are designed to experience a whole spectrum of emotions – and rather than instantly labelling then “good” or “bad”, we can simply see them as messengers, sources of information that can be extremely valuable to us. This blog looks at some simple ways to think about and start to manage our emotions: 

Plan ahead

Identify the kinds of situations that tend to trigger your intense emotions. Anticipate these situations, and plan how you will cope through them in advance. For example, you may know from past experience that staying with your in-laws for a few days can push you to extremes of emotion! What skill(s) will you use to get yourself through a difficult situation? Do you need to make the visit short and sweet for all your sakes? Do you need to ‘pick your battles’ and not allow yourself to get annoyed at small things, but at the same time, be ready to step up and calmly but firmly make your feelings known if certain boundaries are crossed? Sometimes it means avoiding a particular situation altogether if you can.  

Check the facts

Inaccurate or extreme thinking can play a large role in activating negative emotions. Consider the example of a person who thinks, “my boss really hates me, he is trying to get rid of me”, in contrast to someone who thinks, “he is pretty annoyed with me right now, but he is under a lot of pressure himself today.” Which of the two will be more upset? Who will have a rougher time emotionally?

When you feel intense emotions, try to take a step back from the situation and try to identify any extreme or inaccurate thinking that’s happening in that moment. In the situation with the boss above, are your work colleagues also experiencing difficulties with him at the moment? Is there a deadline coming up that is causing extra pressure all round? It may NOT be all about you, even though it feels intensely personal! Checking the facts will likely help you to form more accurate interpretations about the event. This will decrease the intensity of your emotions and help improve your mood.   

Do the opposite!

This is an interesting but sometimes extremely effective strategy. Each emotion is associated with an action urge. For example, when we feel sad, we have the urge to withdraw or isolate. When we feel angry coming off a difficult phone call, we may feel like hurling our phone across the room. Fear and anxiety are associated with the urge to run away and avoid. Research shows that when we give in to our action urges, we may reinforce painful emotions and often end up feeling worse. Acting opposite to an emotion’s action urge can help. It’s difficult to do, but it can help you change your negative emotions. This can mean getting active when you feel sad, or being a little nice to those who irritate you. It can mean approaching scary situations rather than avoiding them or confiding in someone you trust when you feel sad or lonely.

Distract yourself

Distraction methods are particularly useful when your emotions become so intense that it’s hard to carry out the above strategies. They help you direct your attention away from painful thoughts and feelings.

Some distraction techniques include:

  • Engaging in neutral activities – going for a walk, making a cup of coffee 
  • Focusing on your senses – looking out of the window at the wind in the trees, putting on some favourite music in the background, stroking the dog or cat
  • Filling your mind with neutral thoughts (such as singing a song in your head, count backwards from 100)
  • Contributing to someone else’s well being – switching our focus to someone else, making THEM a cup of coffee and talking about THEIR day, can serve to pull us out of our narrow focus.

Use Mindfulness

Mindfulness is one of the most effective tools there is for those of us looking to manage our emotions in a healthy way. It helps us get some distance between ourselves and our emotions so that we are in charge, not our emotions. All mindfulness means is being aware of what’s going on both outside of us and inside of us. More about this in a future blog. 


As mentioned above, learning how to effectively manage your emotions requires time and practice. Be patient with yourself, and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can!   

Book a counselling session today!

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


See also: Why do I feel so emotional?  Managing Emotions  Managing Stress