At times, everyone experiences emotions so intense that there’s no controlling them or talking ourselves out of them. When the emotions you feel are so overwhelming that you just need to stop what you’re doing and deal with them, here are some tips for what to do. Remember that feeling your emotions, especially the painful ones, is the way through them. So the next time you feel emotionally out of control, especially if you usually deal with being upset by pretending that nothing’s wrong, consider changing your tactics and giving your emotions a few minutes of your undivided attention.

Crying Is Good for You

For years, researchers have been trying to figure out why we cry, but there are still no definitive answers to the question, Why do humans cry at emotional moments? Neurobiologist William Frey has been studying crying since 1983 and has reported something that you probably already know: crying in response to a strong emotion actually can reduce the intensity of that emotion (Levoy 1988). Many people, especially men, believe that it’s weak or childish to cry, but in reality, crying is both a natural and a healthy response that may help the body eliminate some of the chemicals that it produces when under stress. Dr. Frey found that tears shed during an emotional crying spell, as opposed to tears caused by nonemotional reasons such as eye irritation, include high levels of stress hormones (Kovach 1982).

You’ve probably experienced feeling so out of control that you couldn’t keep from crying and, after the crying spell ended, feeling calmer and more in control of yourself. But fighting the urge to cry may have the effect of prolonging the painful emotions and of making it more difficult to move through them. So the next time you feel the urge to cry, even if it means you have to take yourself out of the room or away from the situation, do it. When you finish crying, you may feel better almost instantly.

If you have difficulty giving yourself permission to cry under stressful or emotional conditions, consider the following:

  • Who told you it isn’t okay to cry?
  • What reason were you given for this restriction?
  • Is it possible that this message is actually incorrect?
  • Given what you’ve just learned about the physical aspects of crying, is it possible that crying is actually a healthy response to stress?
  • If it works for you, do it!

Release Tension with Exercise

People who exercise intensely, such as those who do daily runs, often report a runner’s high that makes them feel euphoric and eases their pain. This is due to the increase in their serotonin and endorphin levels, which are associated with intense exercise. One way to reduce the stress of overwhelming emotions is to exercise intensely for about ten minutes. You don’t have to be an athlete to do this; even a brisk ten-minute walk can help. So the next time you feel upset, consider leaving the situation and going for a quick run or a brisk walk, or doing a whole-body workout to calm down. Make sure you have the right shoes and equipment and that you use caution when exercising, especially if you aren’t used to it. If you have any physical problems or chronic conditions, be sure to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen.

Excerpt from Depression 101: A Practical Guide to Treatments, Self-Help Strategies, and Preventing Relapse by John D. Preston Psy.D., ABPP, and Melissa Kirk

Author's Bio: 

JOHN D. PRESTON, Psy.D., ABPP, is professor emeritus at Alliant International University in Sacramento, CA. He is author of twenty books and the “Drugs in Psychiatry” chapter in The Encyclopedia Americana. He lectures internationally.

MELISSA KIRK is a writer and editor living in the San Francisco Bay Area who has personal experience with depression and has successfully used many of the techniques in this book.