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How to Manage Extreme Emotions Without Falling Apart

Subhajit Banerjee

September 14, 2020

Manage extreme emotions

Let me guess…

You messed up again.

You felt insulted when your boss Rowan sidelined your ideas during stakeholder meetings. This has happened a few times in a row. So you went to talk to him about his rude behavior.

In your mind, you had everything scripted. You would act cool and collected, like the smoothest zen master. You would ask him politely to consider the merits of your ideas before turning them down.

But the conversation derailed and heated up. His voice and insulting demeanor triggered you. You snapped.

The rage and frustration inside you gushed out like an eruption from St. Helens.

You ended up dropping a few F-bombs and called him a shriveled ballsack (I’ve to give it to you though, that was quite funny).

And now you are ashamed, embarrassed, and plagued with regret.

You are angry with yourself for sabotaging your own career. You are afraid of getting fired in this economy.

And yet, the thought of patching things up with Rowan makes you wanna curl up and die.

Don’t you wish if only everything went according to your plan? If only you could remain in control during the confrontation?

If only there was a way to manage your emotions and keep them in check when they are running high?

But you don’t need to feel lost and overwhelmed by negative emotions

You can learn strategies to control your emotions, even when they threaten to make you go AWOL.

Let me tell you how to manage extreme emotions…

The Hijacker Within

the hijacker within

So why do your emotions feel so overpowering?

Your limbic system, which controls your emotions, is one of the oldest parts of your brain. It’s strong enough to overpower and bypass the prefrontal cortex – the thinking part of your brain.

Your emotional brain is over six billion times more active than the thinking brain.

The result?

Your strong emotions hijack the thinking brain. And when the fog clears, you are left wondering what the hell happened.

How not to Deal with this Hijacker

So what can you do about this hijacker?

You need to manage your emotions and your response in a healthy manner.

How do you do that?

We’ll get there.

But before that, here’s what you don’t want to do:

Pretend that they Never Existed

You don’t want to suppress your emotions. You can’t just wish your emotions away and pretend that they never happened.

As Dr. Carmen Harra says, strong emotions like rage, envy, and bitterness find ways to leak out like radiation seeping out of a waste canister. Left unchecked, they will grow around you like creepers and control every aspect of your life.

But that’s not all…

And when you consciously suppress them long enough, you’ll start to subconsciously repress them. You’ll rob yourself of your ability to feel and enjoy life.

And as this Healthline article suggests, that can give rise to a ton of problems like:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • sleep issues
  • muscle tension and pain

If you continue to deny your emotions, and bottle them up, at one point they are bound to explode. And then you’ll be left with regret and a mess to clear.

Withdraw from the World

withdraw from world

You may want to take a break from everyone and be alone for a while.

And that’s perfectly fine. It charges your batteries and brings you back fresh.

But what you don’t want to do is withdraw completely. When you don’t ever want to be around others and take part in any kind of activity, that can be a warning sign of depression.

Bully or Take it Out on Others

Suppressed rage and bitterness can find it’s way out in the world through bullying.

And do you know what?

Bullies don’t feel good about themselves. So the only way they can feel better is by making someone feel bad, through violence, threat, or ridicule.

It solves nothing and it harms both the person being bullied and the bully themselves.

Inflict Self-harm

Self-harm is the most vicious and harmful form of handling emotions. Self-harmers abuse themselves in many forms:

  • cutting themselves
  • starving themselves
  • binging and purging
  • reckless and dangerous behaviors

But why do they harm themselves in the first place?

Self-harmers are racked with emotional pain. So to find a semblance of control, they try to become their own masters of doling out pain. That makes them feel in control.

Needless to say, this is destructive to the core.

Substance Use

When experiencing extreme emotions, never use alcohol and other drugs to make yourself feel better or numb. You pay for the momentary respite through brain damage and permanent scarring of your psyche.

Placating the Hijacker in a Healthy Way

Now that you know how not to deal with your emotions, here are some healthy ways to deal with them:

Pause and Take a Breather


When you feel intense and extreme emotions rising, here’s what you do first:


Take a pause.

Breathe in deep.

Visualize the breathes rising deep from your belly.

Hold your breath for a count of three, then let it out slowly.

This is where you might run into trouble…

You might find this to be extremely difficult. The hijacker is strong. It feels you are in danger. It will urge you to act now. Fight or flight.

But resist that urge. Remember that you are not in control right now. If you react now, you will regret it later.

Keep breathing mindfully until you’re back in control.

Practice this and you will be able to increase your tolerance around extreme emotions.

Give your Emotions a Name

Now that you’ve calmed down a bit, label your emotions.

What exactly are you feeling now?

Hint: “I’m feeling terrible” is not a valid answer. (Unless you’re Ivan the Terrible. In that case, you should definitely keep on reading.)

Are you nervous? Are you disappointed? Are you sad? Confused? Furious?

Before you can change how you feel, you have to know what is it that you want to change.

But there’s another catch…

You can feel proxy emotions as well. Anger is often a proxy for emotions that you want to hide, like shame and embarrassment.

And you can feel several emotions at once, like anxiety, frustration, and impatience.

So try to be as clear and precise as you can.

You have to keep adding to your emotions-vocabulary for this exercise to be effective. This is how you grow emotionally intelligent.

Channel your Inner Sherlock

Now that you have identified the emotion, let’s go do some detective work.

As this LifeHack article emphasizes, discover the ‘Why’ of your emotion.

I’ll explain…

Your emotions are neutral messengers. They are here to guide you and give you clues.

Your job is to use the clues to decode your emotions and solve the mystery.

You want to bypass the hijacker. Bring control back to the prefrontal cortex from the limbic system. Get the thinking brain engaged.

How do you do that?

First, do a wellness inventory check.

Are you hungry, dehydrated, or just tired? These basic physiological needs often manifest as negative emotions.

Grab something nutritious to eat. Drink a glass of water. Take a shower. Take a nap.

Still no good? Then dig deeper while staying present.

Do not swing back to the past for an explanation. And don’t try to predict your future either.

Instead, try to think rationally what’s unique about the current situation. Why exactly are you upset? What is causing this feeling inside you?

Did someone rub you the wrong way? Did they brush you off?

And then try to think if there’s another explanation for their rudeness.

Is it possible that they were just having a bad day? Or maybe they were in hurry? Have they ever behaved like this with you before?

Don’t assume the worst-case scenario.

When you deliberately get your thinking circuits engaged like this, your strong emotions lose their hold over you.

Spoil Yourself a Little with Mood Boosters

But sometimes, when you’re feeling extreme emotions, you need a distraction first.

That’s where mood boosters come into play.

I can almost hear you thinking…What the heck is a mood booster?

They are activities which you usually do when you’re happy. What are your go-to happy activities?

It can be:

  • Going for a walk
  • Meditate for a few minutes
  • Listen to uplifting music.
  • Reading a book
  • Talking to a friend or a loved one. Not about what you’re upset about (you’re not there yet), but some other topic of your choice.
  • Creating a gratitude list.
  • Writing a story or a poem.
  • Playing with play-doh.
  • Drawing and painting

Anything to take some of the edge off in a healthy manner.

But remember that this is only a temporary filler. Your work is still not done.

You don’t want to block or avoid your feelings. You only want to distract yourself for a while until the intensity of your emotions lowers to a manageable limit.

These mood boosters are there to get you to settle down. After that, you need to get back to dealing with your emotions.

Bring your Feelings to the Real World

Bring emotions to world

Now the fun part begins.

This is where you make your emotions tangible. Make them something real. Unleash them upon the world.

How do you do that?

Here are a few options suggested by Mental Health America. Pick your choice, the way that resonates with you the most:

  • Draw how you’re feeling.
  • Write and describe how you feel in your journal.
  • Engage in a strenuous exercise, martial art, or dancing.
  • Punch a pillow
  • Scream into a pillow.
  • Write an expletive-laden letter to the one who has wronged you. Be as graphic and furious as possible. No holds barred. Then rip the letter into pieces and burn it.

You’ll feel the tide ebbing slowly.

Now that the emotions are out of your system, you’ll be in a much better position to think everything through and come up with an appropriate reaction.

You now know what has been bothering you. And you’ll also figure out how best to respond keeping in mind your goals and your personal values.

Choose How You Want to React

This is the part you have been gearing up for.

Now that you’ve wrestled control from your feeling brain, let the thinking brain do its job.


Ask yourself “what’s the solution?”

How can you take back control? Do you need to think differently about the situation?

If you’re feeling alone and too overwhelmed thinking about a solution, then ask for help.

Go and talk to a loved one. Text a friend or someone whom you trust. Call a family member.

Listen to their opinions. It will broaden your view and give you different perspectives and potential solutions.

Has someone’s behavior upset you?

Talk to them. Confront their behavior in a polite but assertive manner. Difficult conversations are the ones that are most rewarding.

Use this template as is or modify as per your need:

“When you [their behavior], then [results of their behavior], and I feel [how you feel]. I’d prefer [how you want them to behave]”

Are you upset by an external event?

Think about what’s still in control. What aspects are not? Can they be managed?

Is something uncontrollable and unmanageable? Just accept it and let it go. You will be better in every way for that.

Now that you are not at the mercy of your emotions, a myriad of ways and options will be available to you.

Stay Resolute When the Emotions Run High

Resolute under emotions

Managing extreme emotions can feel impossible. You can feel lost and overwhelmed when these emotions take hold of you.

But that doesn’t mean it really is impossible.

When emotions are running high, take a pause and breathe. Name your emotions. Find out why they came into being? Distract and fortify yourself for a while. Then get back cracking at a solution.

You will be able to remain calm even when your extreme emotions threaten to engulf you.

But this isn’t a skill you pick up over a weekend. This is a practice that you build through continuous effort and discipline.

Keep going and it and soon you’ll start reaping the benefits.

You’ll become mentally strong. You’ll feel assured that you have the tools to keep yourself in control. You will feel confident that you can manage your emotions even during stressful conditions.

You will be able to handle your anger, frustration, and sadness and still function and excel in your professional life.

And when you confront Rowan the next time?

You will show control that will make even the seasoned zen masters envious. You will be able to conduct yourself in a bold, confident yet respectful manner. You will put your grievances and points forward in a cool and collected way.

Rowan won’t even know what hit him.

So practice these exercises to overcome the feelings that hold you back, and get back into the driver’s seat of your life.

And go be the person you really want to be.