There are moments in life when our emotions seem like tangled webs—confusing, overwhelming, and often painful. These moments are shared among us, a testament to our shared human experience. Difficult emotions are not mere obstacles; they provide us with an opportunity to gain insights into who we are and what we need. They are much like a check engine coming on our car dashboard, alerting us that something needs checked on or addressed.
What Does "Difficult Emotions" Mean?
Difficult emotions are feelings that are challenging to experience, process, or express, there is no “right” or “wrong”. They can encompass a wide range, from sadness, anxiety, and anger, to jealousy, guilt, or shame. These emotions, though tough, are a natural part of our emotional spectrum. They can be signals from our inner selves, indicating areas that might need attention, reflection, or change. Even when we are insightful and attuned with our emotions, we may still find it challenging from time to time with different emotions or even similar ones we experienced… and you know what? That is okay, there are ways to navigate these times.
Common Symptoms of Experiencing Difficult Emotions
While everyone may manifest these emotions differently, there are common symptoms that many of us might recognize:
Physical reactions: This might include a racing heart, sweaty palms, headaches, fatigue, or even digestive issues. We might account this to “getting sick”, an upcoming presentation, or even “I ate something bad”. Though all those situations can factor in, therapy can help tease these out and better understand the physical manifestations.
Behavioral changes: You may find that you are or have withdrawn from social activities, become more irritable, or engage in impulsive or risky behaviors (ex. Speeding, driving under the influence, having unprotected sex).
Cognitive symptoms: These can range from persistent negative thoughts, difficulty concentrating, to feelings of hopelessness or rumination.
Emotional symptoms: Feelings of numbness, persistent sadness, or an overwhelming sense of anxiety, fear, or anger.
Why Do I Struggle with Emotions?
It's essential to understand that struggling with emotions does not signify weakness. You may need to hear that again… Struggling with emotions does not signify weakness. There are a multitude of reasons why one might find it challenging to navigate their feelings:
Past traumas: Unresolved traumas can result in heightened emotional reactions or difficulty processing new emotional experiences. You may have experienced “heavy” trauma through assault, disaster, or other life-threatening situations. You may have also experienced what I like to consider more “emotional bruising” and by this I can provide some examples, such as, emotional dismissal (“You shouldn’t feel that way”), “light” gaslighting (“oh, you are being dramatic, I was only kidding”), and so forth.
Cultural or familial beliefs: Growing up in an environment that discouraged emotional expression can lead to challenges in acknowledging or dealing with feelings. This plays right into my mention of “emotional bruising”, cause this too needs healing.
Biological factors: Brain chemistry, hormone fluctuations, or genetic predispositions can influence emotional regulation.
Stress: Ongoing stress, whether from work, personal life, or other sources, can intensify emotional reactions.
Coping with Difficult Emotions
Though challenging, there are effective strategies to navigate and manage these emotional surges:
Self-awareness: The first step is recognizing and naming the emotion. This alone can reduce its intensity. You can then start to identify patterns and implement strategies to help when these emotions come up.
Mindfulness and meditation: Grounding exercises can bring you back to the present moment, offering relief from overwhelming emotions that may be pulling us into the past or into the future.
Establish a routine: Maintaining a semblance of structure can act as an anchor during tumultuous emotional times.
Limit triggers: If certain situations or people intensify your emotions, set boundaries or limit exposure when possible. The key here is bringing in awareness of these emotions and almost working backward to identify what happened before the emotion showed up.
Engage in self-care: Whether it's reading a book, listening to music, gardening, baking, taking a walk, or practicing yoga, find what rejuvenates your soul.
Seek support: Sharing your feelings with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist can provide perspective and validation. If you find it challenging to navigate these emotions and bring awareness in these moments, that is okay, a therapist can help! You can find better health therapy whenever you want to begin this journey. You deserve it!
While difficult emotions can be daunting, they are an integral part of our human journey. They remind us of our vulnerabilities, but they also underscore our resilience. And as we navigate this landscape, it's important to remember that we're never truly alone. There are tools, resources, and communities ready to support us every step of the way.
Are you looking for a therapist near you to help navigate difficult emotions? Cause what can be closer to you than online therapy?! Better Minds Counseling & Services specializes in treating adults with anxiety, OCD, life transitions, perfectionism, social anxiety, stress, and even work stress as part of their virtual mental health services. Brittany Webb, LPC CCATP is a mental health therapist and can help you start to find relief from the challenging emotions you are experiencing. You can schedule a free introductory meeting with her today!
Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.