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Seven Tips for Coping with Difficult Feelings

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Stress » Featured Article

By Elena Makarova, MA, MFT

Elena Makarova, MA, MFTI have found that many of my patients benefit from using the following seven tips to cope with difficult emotions and situations. When you are feeling overwhelmed or just wish to keep at bay the accumulation of emotional stress, you too may find these tips helpful. However, many of these tips take time to learn to use effectively and their effectiveness will be somewhat dependent on the degree of your self-knowledge and psychological well-being.

Set up some time to reflect on what happened, process your situation, and determine how it is impacting you currently. With time, you will be able to step back and gain some perspective. You will also regain your composure and level-headedness that will allow you to focus on what can be learned from the situation so that the next time it occurs, you will be able to apply this knowledge and save yourself additional heartache.

Remember that difficult feelings are a part of everybody's life. At times we all feel upset, discouraged, overwhelmed or overly tired, or closed off from the world. Remind yourself that you cannot control everything and life often takes unexpected turns. Try to be compassionate with yourself and remember you are not alone in dealing with stress.

Effective thinking and emotional processing often works best with two people. Connect with a friend or a confidant, a relative, or someone you know who is a good listener and is apt to understand your situation. You may also want to contact someone who has been in the same experience as you or even participate in an online group that has been set up around a particular issue. Feeling understood can help enormously with how you feel.

Be aware of your inner critic and try to be objective about what it's saying about you. If you feel your inner critic is being too harsh and makes inferences that are catastrophic (assuming that the worst will happen: "I'll never be able to manage that...") and polarized (seeing things in only two categories, such as: good/bad, right/wrong), engage in the inner dialog with it and bring in some counterarguments. Use these steps:

  • First, identify the unpleasant critical thoughts about yourself, the world, and the future;
  • Second, test the accuracy of these unpleasant thoughts or judgments by enlisting rational facts;
  • Third, challenge and modify the unpleasant thoughts using the evidence of rational facts.

Differentiate between your needs and the needs of other people. Are you allowing others to dictate what you do at the expense of your own needs? If yes, then you need to rehearse the following self-statements in order to increase your awareness of your own needs and wishes: "I need ...", or "I would like to ...". Devise a plan on how you might try to gently inform others about your needs, opinions, or reactions. And vice versa: Consider whether another person's needs might require more understanding and listening on your part. If this is the case, try to show that person an understanding.

Take inventory with yourself about what activities always make you feel more happy about who you are. This could be something as seemingly insignificant as taking a walk and being in nature, meditating, cooking, bathing, reading a favorite book or watching a movie, or calling a relative. At times, when you are feeling overwhelmed, make a pact with yourself to do one of these activities. You will surely feel better for doing it.

Take care to support yourself physiologically. Make sure you get some exercise, be in natural light and fresh air, eat nourishing meals that will help sustain your mental energy during the day and provide key nutrients for the brain. Feeling bad often triggers negative feelings and thoughts about one's body. Supporting your body might give you an additional way to cope.

* Disclaimer: Please use this self-help tips with the purpose of education and increasing self-awareness. These tools are not designed to diagnose or treat any health condition.

About the Author...

Elena Makarova received her first degree in psychological counseling from the Moscow State University of Lomonosov in 1999. After moving to California in 2000, she has also received a master's degree in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in 2005. She has successfully completed the two most prestigious postgraduate programs in the Bay Area:

* An APA-accredited professional mental health training program of Richmond Area Multi-Services, Inc. (RAMS) - San Francisco, 2007;
*Psychoanalytic Psychology Program at the Access Institute for Psychological Services, - San Francisco, 2009.

Elena's clinical experience has been in providing services in the range of settings, such as: outpatient clinics of community behavioral health services, city and county mental health agencies, public schools, forensic settings, and private clinics. Elena maintains her private practice in Palo Alto, California, and with her many affiliations, she is a familiar member of the San Francisco Bay Area's psychodynamic psychotherapists community.

With many years of multifaceted, culturally competent practice, Elena brings a unique contribution to the science and art of personal change. Coupled with the benefits of her extensive training, Elena also works with a deep devotion to her patients and their well-being.

Last Update: 9/8/2010

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