Handling extreme emotions

Extreme emotions threaten our balance. A few simple practices can help. Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

Now and again, we encounter others showing extreme emotion, or we experience extreme emotions in ourselves.  Extreme emotions are different from normal emotions, in that they take over our limbic system (read more about the limbic system here).  Our mind and body are, for a period of time, given over to a survival-based automatic response.

One of the things extreme emotion does, is take attention away from some bodily functions while a perceived emergency is happening.  So we may find that we become either less hungry or more hungry than usual.  We may also find that we become either less focused or over-focused.  Our homeostatic function (our ability to balance ourselves continuously) is sacrificed while we perform the extreme emotion-based reaction.

Certain longer-term negative health effects can result, including high blood pressure, and post-traumatic stress disorders.  Essentially, if we spend too long away from emotional ‘home territory’, stressed and pressured, our body can’t keep up with the strain, and starts to take various shortcuts to functionality that are less wholistic.  We become emergency beings, constantly patching ourselves up, but never properly maintained.

Here are a few tips for handling extreme emotions when we experience them.  The tips are designed to make us stop and think of the longer term effects of such extreme emotion, and moderate our action.

  1. TAKE A BREAK – If you find yourself getting upset, one of the best things you can do is take a break from whatever situation is making you that way.  Once you have calmed down, you can make better decisions, and stop the escalation.
  2. FOLLOW A ROUTINE – Extreme emotion triggers an exit from normal routines, because there is a perceived emergency.  We can counteract this unhelpful response by sliding back into our usual routines, and making extra sure we perform them – regular meals, regular meditation, regular meetings with friends.
  3. TALK IT THROUGH WITH SOMEONE PEACEFUL – Talking channels our thoughts and feelings into a sequential path.  This is one of the reasons counselling can work so well.  The mind gets to feel more under control, because it is creating a focused story, in its own time, in the presence of someone who is trained to listen in a safe environment.
  4. MEDITATE – Meditation, in its widest sense, is the art of allowing awareness.  When we suffer extreme emotions, our awareness disappears, and we are left very much ‘in our body’, pushed around by our hormones.  We can learn certain practices designed to detach ourselves from the merry-go-round, and recover peaceful awareness.

This is why retreats are so popular among those who have trouble controlling their emotions.  The environment is designed around the above four recommendations.

As well as going on formal retreats, we need to learn to make ‘little retreats’ in our own lives, involving breaks, routines, conversations and meditation practices which ensure extreme emotion can’t hijack us.

Remember, the aim is balance.  Our peaceful mind and body are able to handle what comes along, because our homeostatic systems are working well.  Extreme emotions threaten that balance.  By incorporating the above four practices into our week, we can moderate the disruptive effect of extreme emotions, and return to balance more easily.