6 Tips for Managing Strong Emotions in the Moment

Stay informed without getting triggered by your newsfeed.

Technology gives us immediate access to a vast amount of information.  With so much information available, news outlets must find ways to grab our attention and they often do so by creating highly evocative and emotionally charged messages. Disasters, tragedies, and a wide array of injustices are often the mainstay.

So within a nanosecond we can go from calm and collected to completely freaked out and full of outrage.  How can we stay informed without getting so distressed that we’re constantly disrupting our daily lives – and compromising our ability to be present for and help others?  Here are some tips to help you stay informed without getting triggered.


Six Tips to Manage Strong Emotions

1. Breathe

When we see something distressing, it activates the fight/flight response and our breathing becomes fast and shallow, which increases our anxiety and gives our emotions momentum. Research shows that slow, steady deep breathing activates the vagus nerve which comes from the brain and controls the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response.  A few deep breaths will help you feel calmer.


2. Feel your Body

When strong emotions arise in the moment, feel your feet on the ground and wiggle your toes. Bend your knees slightly if you are standing, and feel your butt in the chair supporting you if you’re sitting.  Be aware of body sensations and imagine yourself holding the sensations and emotions as they move through your body. Regular physical exercise releases built up tension and can also help you manage emotions in the moment.


3. Look in the Mirror

Strong emotions can lead us to forget ourselves and take actions we later regret. Emotion contagion occurs when we “catch” an emotion from others and temporarily forget our individual identity and act on the group-felt emotion. You can break the momentum of being caught up in distressing emotions by simply looking into your own eyes in the mirror. This will shift your focus and increase self-awareness.  Our research shows that simply taking a minute or two to see your own image in the mirror can reduce stress and anxiety and increase self-compassion.


4. Take Probiotics

Research has found that the bacteria in your gut is closely linked to emotions. If you’re already feeling irritable with foggy attention, it may be due to your gut bacteria, and you’ll be more susceptible to having your emotions hijacked by your newsfeed. By taking probiotic supplements to keep your gut bacteria healthy, you may have fewer mood swings in response to the news, and you’ll likely experience an improvement in your mood generally.

5.  Be Mindful – Slow it down

A regular meditation practice such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction can help you to slow down and stay present in the moment. Take an observer or meta-cognitive perspective on your reaction by putting down your device and observing your emotional reaction with detachment. This will help you be less likely to act impulsively on your emotions.


6.  Use a Slogan or Mantra

Another highly effective meta-cognitive technique is having a personally meaningful slogan or mantra like, “This too shall pass,” “May all beings be happy and free,” “I intend to be kind,” or “I’m comfortable with uncertainty.”  This can help you remember the bigger picture – and your positive intention for yourself, others, and the world in general.

Copyright Tara Well, 2017


For more information on using the mirror to manage stress and increase self-compassion, visit The Clear Mirror, follow me on Twitter and Instagram, join The Clear Mirror community on FaceBook, and take the 28-day Mirror Meditation Challenge delivered via daily posts.



Benson, H. (1975). The Relaxation Response. Wings Books.

Forsthe, P., et al. (2010). Mood and Gut Feelings. Brain, Behavior and Immunity, 24, 9-16.

Garland, E.L., Gaylord, S.A. & Fredrickson, B.L. (2011). Positive Reappraisal Mediates the Stress-Reductive Effects of Mindfulness: An Upward Spiral Process. Mindfulness, 2, 59-67.

Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J.T., & Rapson, R.L. (1993). Emotion contagion. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2, 96-98.

Jerath, R., et al., (2015). Self-Regulation of Breathing as a Primary Treatment for Anxiety. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 4, 107–115.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. Revised edition.  Bantam.

Salovey, P. (2000). Emotional States and Physical Health. American Psychologist, 55, 110-121.

Well, T., et al. (2016). The Benefits of Mirror Meditation. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association Convention in Denver.

Originally published at Psychology Today

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