Dealing with Distressing Feelings

Marina Mails, NCC, LPC
Bereavement Counselor II

Grief can bring a flood of painful feelings that often feel scary and overwhelming. We develop an “emotional muscle” that helps us cope with these intense emotions. At first, our feelings can bring anxiety and fear, and we are unsure if we can withstand their intensity. Below are 10 suggestions for coping with strong feelings, and the anxiety they can create.

  1. Think about caring for yourself as you would care for a loved one. Self-soothing provides comfort and reassurance that can help you stay grounded in your body and in the present moment. It also provides a distraction from the difficulties you’re encountering.
  2. Self-soothing behaviors should be effective and not cause you additional harm. For example, if you tend to overeat you may not want to “self-soothe” with food.
  3. Retreat to a safe place or person.
  4. Take deep, slow breaths. Concentrate on the feeling of breathing to keep from being overwhelmed.
  5. Distract your mind and stay in the present moment by focusing on what is in front of you. Other distractions include reading, being with others, working, playing computer games, etc.
  6. Picture a calm place or look at an actual photograph of a vacation spot or loved one.
  7. Challenge your negative thoughts. If you find yourself in this situation, try to stop thinking this way and remind yourself that it is not true.
  8. Express your feelings to another person or write them down. Journaling is a powerful way to express feelings and make sense of overwhelming thoughts.
  9. Be an observer of your feelings and watch as they become more and less intense. They are a normal part of the grief process that will come and go, always changing.
  10. Take a walk and spend time outdoors.