Most of the pain of overwhelming emotion is caused by our struggle against feeling the emotion. We fight against our situation, wishing things were different, being disappointed when our expectations aren’t met, and telling ourselves we shouldn’t be upset, depressed, sad, disappointed, or angry. The next time you feel overwhelmed by intense emotion, try doing the exact opposite of what you normally do: feel the emotion and accept it. Tell yourself, "I’m feeling __________________ right now and it is very uncomfortable. I don’t have to like it, but it is what I’m feeling in the moment, and I can accept that this is my experience right now. This emotion is only temporary, and it will soon fade."

The energy we expend in fighting off painful emotions actually makes those emotions worse. If you want to explore the feeling of acceptance further, consider starting a regular meditation practice.

Emotions can be compared to ocean waves. They rise and subside. No one can stop a wave from washing up on the shore, but like surfers, we can learn to ride the waves of emotion without letting them damage us; we can enjoy the swells and stay upright in the troughs, ready for anything. By using the tools found in this chapter, you can learn to recognize your overwhelming emotions for what they are: temporary crashing waves in the greater ocean of your life—waves that have no power beyond what you give to them.

Excerpt from Depression 101: A Practical Guide to Treatments, Self-Help Strategies, and Preventing Relapse

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.