Tough Stuff

How to cope when your emotions feel overwhelming

TikTok is in its self-care era right now (Bubble baths! Face masks! Morning routines!). But tbh, it feels like you couldn't be further from your glow up.

We get it: All that aesthetically pleasing advice can be hard to stomach when your mental health is suffering. Sure, candles and meditation seshes are awesome, but what if your feelings are too big to be breathed away?

If you're dealing with heavy feelings that are affecting your ability to show up as your best self, you might be emotionally dysregulated. But wait—what even *is* emotional dysregulation, and how do you deal? Stick around, we're here to help.

Signs of emotional dysregulation

Lots of things can throw you off track. Major life events, grief, mental health struggles and academic pressure can impact your wellbeing. Even things like a friend breakup, harsh criticism from your coach an argument with your 'rents can have a huge effect on your mood. 

Emotional dysregulation basically means that your feelings are all over the place—and that you're having trouble coping with them in a healthy way. As a result, it becomes incredibly difficult to complete your day-to-day tasks. (Srsly, how can you worry about your term paper or soccer practice when you're cranky, weepy, overwhelmed and can't stop lashing out at your loved ones?)

If you've been having a rough time lately, try to specifically identify how that's showing up in your everyday life. Feel like your to-do list is full of endless tasks? Can't sleep because your anxiety's got you tossing and turning? Not hungry, even for your bestie's famous cupcakes? More short-tempered than usual? These are all signs that you might be dealing with some serious emotional burnout

Tip #1: Stick to comforting, nourishing meals


One of the main symptoms of emotional dysregulation is a loss of appetite. It can be hard to work up an appetite when you're super stressed, but forgoing food to get stuff done only makes you more unproductive in the long run.

Having adequate nourishment not only improves your mood and your problem-solving abilities, but it's also essential for proper brain function. Eating right has been scientifically proven to increase the production of chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which are known to improve your mental state.

If emotional dysregulation makes it hard to eat, try eating at the same time every day (this can trick your brain into expecting food, even when you're not feeling up for a feast).

Foods like salmon, avocado, eggs, spinach, lean meats and even dark chocolate have ah-mazing vitamins and minerals that can help you stay on track.

Try this: It's called "comfort food" for a reason! Sometimes we forget how big of a role food plays when it comes to feeling good. Try making a meal that reminds you of warm, simpler times (think: Mom's chicken noodle soup recipe or your fave veggie casserole). This is also a great time to revisit foods you loved as a kid. PB&J sandwiches on whole wheat bread and mac & cheese are all fair game. 

Tip #2: Practice mindfulness

You have a term paper due tomorrow, but you're still trying to get ahead on last week's assignments. Next week, you've got a meeting with the school council and then your bestie's birthday party and....

Stop for a sec.

Take a second to slow down. We don't often realize how stressed we are about the future until we're freaking out in the present. Take some deep breaths and do a quick body scan: How are you feeling? How do those feelings present themselves in your body? Are your muscles feeling tense? Is your heart beating faster?

Congratulations, you've just practiced mindfulness! Mindfulness, aka the act of bringing awareness to the here and now, is a great strategy for combating feelings of stress, anxiety and discomfort. 

Try this: You don't need expensive books, an app subscription or a fancy retreat to practice mindfulness in the present moment. You can achieve peace of mind in less than five minutes. YouTube is full of some surprisingly great meditation resources that can have you feeling zen faster than you can say "eat, pray, love."  Boho Beautiful, Goodful and Great Meditation all offer guided meditations that can offer a bit of reprieve from your hectic emotional state. 

Tip #3: Upgrade your to-do list


When tasks like walking the dog, studying for tomorrow's test and cleaning your room feel like they're all of equal importance, it can be difficult to figure out where to get started.

If you don't have a planner yet, now is the perfect time to get one (we like the Choose Happy planner from Sourcebooks). You can sort your tasks into several sections, like a weekly planner, a monthly habit tracker or a monthly goals list, all of which keep your to-do list from getting too dense. It also comes with inspiring quotes, a notes section and lots of fun stickers. Finding a way to make your to-do lists inspiring and creative can be the extra boost you need to move forward.

Try this: May we present the Eisenhower Method, and it's *seriously* about to change your life. This system separates your to-do list into four categories by using a simple formula. If an item on your to-do list is just as important as it is urgent, do it right now! If it's important but not urgent, schedule it for later.  If it's urgent but not important, see if you can delegate—or outsource—those tasks. If it's neither important nor urgent, nix it all together.

Tip #4: Identify your needs—then reach out for help


Has it been a while since you've gotten together with your bsf? Have you been avoiding family dinners just so you can hunker down and get even more work done? Try to spend your time doing some of the things you've been missing out on. Avoiding them, or even just putting them off until later could be one of many reasons your feeling out of control. (Because we all need a little socialization in our lives!)

Try this: HALT!  No, seriously: Stop what you're doing and try the H.A.L.T. method! This is a nifty acronym that can help you identify what you need right now. H.A.L.T. stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and/or Tired. Run down the list and see what might be the culprit of your crankiness.

We've already mentioned how essential good food is, but what if you're feeling downright exhausted, and that's why you've been snapping at your new beau lately? Oof, it's actually been a while since you got a good night's sleep—that might be why you've been down in the dumps.

Once you've gotten a better idea of what might be bothering you, try reaching out to friends, loved ones or a trusted counselor. Sometimes we can't do it all alone, and asking for help is totally OK. Whatever it is for you, trust your body by giving it the space to tell you what it needs most.

If you need mental health help immediately, reach out to a toll-free confidential hotline like 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-999-9999 or text HOME to 741741.


by Faith Green | 4/16/2024