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Making Room for our Distressing Emotions

Zoe Leavitt | Friday, 03 March 2017

When we experience distressing or overwhelming emotions, it can be very hard to know how to help ourselves to manage them. Often, the key is to not try and get rid of our distressing emotions but rather, learning to be more ʻacceptingʼ of whatever we are feeling. 

Typically when we experience distressing or uncomfortable emotions, we will try and push those emotions away. This can leave us feeling like we are ʻbattlingʼ with our own self, constantly trying to shut our emotions down. Alternatively, we can feel ʻfusedʼ with our emotional experience. This process can be quite overwhelming and exhausting for people, often exacerbating the situation and can become a learned coping strategy. In fact, the suppression of emotion is often known as ‘experiential avoidance’ (avoidance in the moment of ‘now’). 

A technique to manage this process is to firstly, take a deep breath and slow down. Then breathe in (to the count of 4), then hold (for 2 counts) and breathe out (for a count of 4). Do this slowly, consciously and deeply. Concentrate on your counting. Focus your mind on this for 3-5 minutes. 

When you are feeling calmer, just start to allow your emotions to ʻsettleʼ wherever they want to in your body. Continue to breathe and consciously make space for the feelings in your body. You ‘donʼt have to like them but just allow them to be there’. At the same time, continue to focus your mind on your breathing and counting. 

Just stopping for a moment in this quiet space and making compassionate room for your own internal process can be very powerful. Over time, it allows more space to open up inside and people often report they start to feel more relaxed, self compassionate and feel they can navigate their emotions more successfully.