The negative effects of overwhelming emotions often have more to do with our reaction to the emotion than to the emotion itself. If you feel extreme rage and act on that rage by breaking a window or physically assaulting the person you’re angry at, the problem then becomes the damage you’ve caused rather than the emotion of anger. If you allow the anger to pass through you without reacting to it, there would be no problem. Emotions themselves, even the painful ones, can be neutral and soon pass. It’s when we do things under the influence of strong but temporary emotions that we experience difficulties and then regret what we’ve done. The two-minute reality check works by interrupting the emotion-reaction cycle, giving you time to regain your perspective.

Step 1. When you find yourself in an emotionally overwhelming situation or dealing with the aftermath of such a situation, ask yourself the following:

  • What just happened? What are my feelings, and why do I feel this way?
  • In the grand scheme of things, how important is this situation? (Pretend to be a person close to the end of life. What would an elder think of this situation?)
  • Given my strong feelings about the situation right now, how upset will I be in twenty-four hours? Fortyeight? A week? A month?

Step 2. Scan your mind for "should/shouldn’t" beliefs. You may even want to write them down to clarify your thoughts. What part of the situation are you struggling against? Try reframing your "should/shouldn’t" beliefs into "I want/don’t want" statements.

Step 3. If your overwhelming emotion is anxiety or nervousness, try doing two rounds of an eye movement exercise. It may help quite a lot.

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.