Painful Emotional Reactions Don't Need to be Destructive



Most women will face a traumatic or challenging life event. We are emotional beings and tend to express our emotions with passion. We express the passion of anger, despair, sadness, frustration, and remorse. Passion is not only for positive emotions, but ones that can be destructive. We don't have trouble expressing our meltdowns, crying uncontrollably, and directing anger toward someone.


Based on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) there are skills you can learn if you are one who deals with overwhelming emotions in an unhealthy way. If the intense emotions are creating more self-destructive coping mechanisms you can learn to use distress tolerance skills. These skills are to help you reduce strong emotions (does not mean to not feel them) before you choose to do something that is not helping your situation.


These skills can be useful for all women. Also, appreciate your unique way of managing emotions in difficult situations. Don't compare yourself to someone who may bounce back easily from a stressful situation whereas you may still be underwater. "Distress feels worse when you believe that: 1) you can't withstand it, and 2) it'll always be at its highest intensity." (Gordon, K.-Five Ways to Deal with Distress)


The overwhelming emotions can lead to deep depression and self-sabotaging behaviors. These can include not wanting to exercise, eating junk food, relying on alcohol or drugs to numb emotions, sleeping all day, staying in unsafe situations like an abusive relationship, or self-harm which requires medical attention. People experience emotions differently and the sensitivity can be higher in someone suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and impulsive behavior.


Distract yourself from harmful behavior such as drinking too much, taking dangerous drugs, or ruminating over a traumatic event which will spiral into a deep depression. Distraction does not mean to act like the problem does not exist. You accept your problem and you are working on it with a therapist and other healing modalities. It is to create healthier responses instead of making a bad situation worse.


The following are changes you can start making today and tracking your progress. I believe mental strength and well being should be worked on a daily basis. This is especially true for women who have undergone challenging life events. The moment your pain starts activating, have a set of distractors ready. This is one step of distress tolerance skills. I have to emphasize this again. It does not mean you stop your emotions or deny your situation, it means to lessen the intensity. I hope you get some useful pointers to implement right away.


Five Distraction Action Steps


  1. Create a list of feel-good activities- Find your top five activities to distract or redirect yourself to ease hard emotions. Some suggestions are 1. Watch and follow your favorite exercise video 2. Do something outdoors such as walking, jogging, hiking, biking 3. If you need to relax and calm the body take a bubble bath with soothing music 4. Crochet, knit, color, or another craft activity where your right brain is focusing on one repetitive task. 5. Write in your journal about everything you are feeling.

  2. Help or Talk to Someone-Call a friend, family member, or therapist who can help you right away. It can be sharing what is causing severe pain, but try to change the topic once you have reclaimed your calm mind. Therapists can help you with deeper issues and ensure you are getting urgent support. If you know someone who may need your help, direct your attention to them. This will help distract yourself from your pain when you can offer yourself to help another. You are not the only person who is going through a challenge and can be there for someone else.

  3. Leave the Situation- If possible leave the situation where it is triggering intense emotions. It is bad and you don't want it to get worse. Whether that is a home environment, workspace, a public place, you need to walk away and find a place that is quiet to regroup and do deep breathing exercises This relaxes the nervous system when it overreacts. If your situation is permanent, such as a toxic home or work environment, this is something you will pay attention to and change when you manage hard emotions.

  4. Focus on decluttering your living space- You are probably thinking that is the last thing you want to do. You will be surprised that organizing and throwing away what you don't need helps heal strong emotions. It is similar to cleaning your thoughts and emotions. It feels good and you are less stressed when you have a clean space that fosters healing.

  5. Start Counting - What? How is counting supposed to help when you are overwhelmed with anger or sadness? It redirects your focus to something easy to do and will decrease the intensity of the emotions. Try it and see if it works. Choose what you want to count such as breathing (inhale one, exhale two) or backward from 10 to 1, then stop and do something that will make you feel better. If counting is not working, choose a soothing word such as "Peace" and repeat it silently to yourself. You are trying to simmer the overwhelming emotion.


Can you think of more ideas under each step? Write them down. Create your plan.


#distresstoleranceskills #emotionalhealing


If you are experiencing severe emotions from a major life event, always seek the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist. It is covered under health insurance and if you don't have health insurance check for cash patient discounts. You can also check for support groups in your community.


Follow my Instagram page for more posts on mental well being. I also have a monthly support group called Healing Minds Circle. This is a private group where we work on skills such as the one posted here to increase resilience and heal. Check under the tab for more information.




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