Coping strategies for extreme emotions

Whether you’ve lost someone you love, your are struggling with thoughts of suicide, or you are suffering under the weight of any extreme emotion, there are strategies for managing the tsunami.

Here are four responses to extreme emotion.

  • Change in temperature
  • Intense exercise
  • Paced breathing
  • Cheerleading

To employ any one of these strategies, you have to create a pause. That’s a mindfulness technique of stopping yourself and taking one deep breath. There are times in life you don’t have time for a deep breath.

Change in temperature

A change in temperature, usually cold actually has an effect on your body and can shut down a crisis. I do remember when I was struggling with a particularly overwhelming episode of grief in the winter, I would go outside in the cold and walk really fast up and down the street. I ran when it was twelve degrees for two years (only in the winter). The colder it was, the better it worked for me.

There is also a technique of dunking your face into ice cold water. While many would rather not, if you are sober and thinking of getting high, or thinking of suicide, do it. Because it can save your life.

Video: (Three minutes) Stop, Drop & Roll for Emotional Fires. In the linked video, she makes several recommendations on how to avoid overdose, relapse, or suicide.

This is a video for ice cold water to the face.

Many of those who are grieving have said that ice-cold water on the wrists works for extreme episodes of grief.

Intense Exercise

This one has been my go-to for me. I have often combined this with going out in freezing cold weather but that’s not always available. Since radiation for a brain tumor, I can no longer run but I can walk or do an elliptical until sweat is rolling down my back. Again, if you are concentrating on this, you can’t ruminate and I think of it like using a punching bag in a healthy way.

Paced breathing

This is diaphragmatic breathing. In and out, in and out. Carla Helbert demonstrates this technique here:

More breathing techniques are here.


Positive self-talk is a technique I have used since I was 15 years old. I recognized after being with friends who all sat around self-criticizing ourselves (my nose is too big, my thighs are too fat) that I didn’t feel good after these sessions so I stopped participating and engaged in positive self-talk. I call them my alter-ego conversations which is what the one comment moves to once I’ve pulled myself together from an emotional emergency and had a moment to reflect. This was and still is a go-to strategy for me because I could employ it at any time at a second’s notice when I needed it.

This requires a pause so one has to take a deep breath in order for this to happen.

“This feeling won’t last forever.”

“I can survive this. I will.”

“As bad as it is right now, it will never be as bad as getting the news.”

“I will work through this.”

“I will pray for help in finding the strength to endure this difficult period.”

“Something is gravely wrong in that person’s life to have said something so cruel to me.”

“I am stronger than my thoughts.”

“I am capable and strong, I can get through this.”

“My thoughts do not have to become actions.”

“I am worthy. I can do this.”

“It will be OK. I’ll figure it out.”

Choose one that works for you and in that pause, insert one of the tools in your coping strategy toolbox which may be in progress.

Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am an emotionally naked TEDx speaker, and author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk. I raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost my younger son, Charles to substance use disorder and suicide on June 5, 2015. I help people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse and find life after loss. My motivational, training and workshop topics include suicide prevention, addiction, mental illness, coping strategies/resilience, and grief. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory. Professional Speaker Website. Trained in ASIST and trainer for the evidence-based 4-hour training for everyone called safeTALK.

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