myStrength series: Balancing intense emotions in the new year

When we haven't learned how to cope with what we're feeling, we can be prone to using strategies that provide short-term relief but create more problems in the long run

Closeup of a man's eyes


This is the second in a series of stories about how you can use the myStrength wellness portal and app to enhance your emotional well-being.

Now that the glow of the new year is starting to fade, many of us are likely working to maintain our motivation and adherence to the goals and resolutions that we set for ourselves. As my colleague Erin Gillard wrote last month in her piece about using mindfulness, "the new year brings with it the hope of change" while also reminding us how easy it is to fall into the trap of becoming overwhelmed when trying to make too many changes at once.

In that same vein, it's important to look at what to do when our emotions get the best of us.

Positive or negative, emotions are present in our lives on a daily basis. For some of us, finding ways to effectively manage the intensity of how we are feeling was successfully modeled and taught to us as children. But this is not the case for everyone. Factors such as adverse childhood experiences and trauma can affect some people's ability to regulate how they are feeling. Additionally, others may not have been taught how to pay attention to their emotional reactions.

When we haven't learned how to cope with what we're feeling, we can be prone to using strategies that provide short-term relief but create more problems in the long run. Examples of this can include substance abuse, self-harm, social and emotional withdrawal in difficult situations, physical and verbal aggressiveness and outbursts, and zoning out by using social media. When this happens, relief can come at the expense of the other responsibilities in our lives.

But it is absolutely possible to grow and evolve when it comes to coping with uncomfortable emotions. Here are a few tips and tricks.

Take care of your body

This includes eating regularly and consuming enough nutrients, getting eight hours of sleep, moving your body regularly through exercise, and being active with others. While most of this may seem obvious, for many of us, basic self-care is often one of the first things to fall by the wayside when stressors arise. Additionally, each of these things gives you some time to reset after a period of being emotionally overwhelmed.

Incorporate mindfulness skills

Starting a mindfulness practice is as simple as setting aside a few minutes a day to focus on your breathing or to take an activity you do daily, such as showering, and allowing yourself to be fully present throughout the activity, focusing on every physical sensation rather than drifting away from the experience with thoughts.

Build your sense of achievement

Get active doing things that help you feel productive and content. Set small, attainable goals for yourself, and then work toward accomplishing them. This can be as simple as making your bed each morning or washing your face every night before going to sleep. This helps to shift your focus from what is not working toward things that are going well.

Pull in some perspective

Our thoughts significantly affect how we feel at any given time. When you notice yourself feeling a strong unpleasant emotion, pay attention to what may be driving that reaction. Some helpful questions to ask are:

  • What is setting off internal alarms for me right now?
  • Why am I reacting so strongly to this?
  • What is the best- or worst-case scenario, and how would I address each outcome?
  • How important will this be to me in 10 minutes, in one hour, in a day, a week, or even a year?

Practice acceptance and reducing resistance

Acceptance of a situation does not equal approval. In everyday events where we feel angry, embarrassed, or upset, acknowledging the reality of a situation and how it makes us feel allows us to become less concerned with avoiding or fighting against it and more focused on what we need to do to address it and get through it.

Johns Hopkins employees and their family members interested in learning more skills with regard to balancing their emotions can download the myStrength app, available in iTunes or Google Play with the access code JHU. This app has a module called Balancing Intense Emotions that provides an online skills program and activities that you can do at your own pace. The module can also be accessed online at With time and practice, you will find that growth in your ability to cope with life's stressors will bring with it improvements to your overall health and well-being.

For guidance on getting started with some of the techniques outlined above, Johns Hopkins employees and their family members can use their free 24/7 access to confidential counseling and referral services through mySupport by calling 443-997-7000.

Alyssa Toran is a mySupport employee assistance clinician at Johns Hopkins.

Posted in Health+Well-Being

Tagged hr newswire