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Tips for Coping with Emotional Pain

Dealing with emotional pain is extremely difficult. Learning how to cope and heal from this pain in, a healthy way can be even harder. Emotional pain can come from many circumstances such as grief, loss, trauma, stress or toxic relationships. Developing good coping skills is really essential to the process of healing. We all need outlets. We need healthy ways to express our feelings and emotions. Actually healing from emotional pain is so important and powerful, versus getting stuck and letting negative feelings hinder you from moving forward and living to your full potential.

Most people attempt to avoid emotional pain that they are feeling and this often causes them to get trapped in a cycle that actually ends up holding onto negative emotions. Some people may use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol or other substances as a means of numbing bad feelings. Often, this is unconscious. This, unfortunately, just temporarily masks the pain and does not actually help in the healing process.

Another common response to negative emotions is simply trying not to deal with them at all. Unfortunately, when we engage in this behavior, emotions do not heal and they will work themselves to the surface, but often in a very negative way. For example, with unresolved grief or other emotional pain, a person may find that they later have an increase in periods of high anxiety or acute stress. They may also notice more physical symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping, upset stomach, constant worry and rumination or even high blood pressure. It is crucial to learn healthy and appropriate ways to work through these difficult emotions. Learning good coping skills and self-care can heal pain and help to move forward. 

10 Tips For Healthy Coping:

1. Write in a journal 

Writing about emotional pain can be very powerful and help to actually release the emotions. Journaling allows you to mentally think about and process your feelings while you are “expressing” them, by writing, which can, in turn, release them and encourage the healing process. There have been many positive benefits seen from journaling about emotional pain. To start journaling, find anything that you feel comfortable writing in and just begin! If it’s more comfortable to be structured or use prompts then think of questions for yourself, such as “how did I get to the place where I am today?” “in my darkest place, I felt …” or “what have I learned from this experience?” The point is to write about your experience in great detail and write thoroughly about how you are feeling. This allows for the “expression” of the emotion and the symbolic “release,” which is critical to healing.

2. Use Your Creativity

This could be drawing, knitting, art, dance, photography, music, pottery, or really any activity that you enjoy. This exercise is similar to writing in a journal as it allows for the release of emotions. Through activities, we are able to find fun, freedom, distraction and often times, relief from holding onto negative emotions. This is another avenue that allows you to process and express emotions; therefore, release and heal from them.

3. Find a Healthy Support System

This could include talking to a friend or family member or even joining support groups. Having a social and emotional outlet is important. Also, speaking with someone and actually saying the words out loud about how you are feeling can be beneficial to healing. One word of caution with this step; however, is to not get too bogged down with just repeatedly venting where it can turn into unhealthy rumination and you get stuck. It’s important that you are using your support system to discuss how you are feeling, in a healthy way.

4. Use Self-Reflection

Think about your own role in the situation that is upsetting you and look for ways in which you can improve. Most of the time, when we become angry at someone else, we finger point and look to blame. We may focus on the ways in which the other person has hurt us or what they have done wrong. It can be important to express how we have been wronged and discuss that with the person who wronged us, but it is also helpful to look at ways in which we could have handled things differently, what we can change about our own behavior or how we can approach a situation differently in the future.

Another example is when people experience a bad situation that is outside of their control and they were victim to something. This can lead people to feel helpless and as though they had no control over their situation. While this may be true, it’s important to focus on what things they can do or change for the future. Perhaps it’s focusing on the positive and building their current relationships or focusing on bettering their health. These are things that we can control and keep us focused on the positive and moving forward.

5. Try Relaxation Techniques

There are many different types of relaxation techniques that can be helpful during the time of emotional pain and stress. These include using simple breathing techniques, meditation or mindfulness activities or it could even include grounding exercises, which are helpful in situations of trauma or acute stress. The point with these activities is to slow yourself down, to be very present in the moment and give yourself an opportunity of calming and healing.

A simple breathing exercise could take just a few short minutes to do and have very helpful effects. Here is an example of a simple breathing exercise: breath in and count to 5 as you are doing so, now hold your breath and count to 5 again and then exhale for 5. Repeat. This will allow you to slow your breathing and pay more focused attention on how you are feeling. After a few minutes of this calm focused breathing, you will notice a calming in your mind and your overall state of being.

6. Distract Yourself

There are times when our emotional state can be overwhelming and difficult to manage. This is when having a distraction could be helpful in coping. A distraction could be something as simple as watching a movie or having coffee with a friend. It just allows you a moment to not think about your emotional pain and in some ways, regain composure and control over how you are feeling.

7. Exercise

Physical exercise is a key component of mind-body wellness. Movement can allow for our negative emotions to become unstuck and actually move; therefore, allowing us to process these emotions and release them. So, do not discount the importance of going for a walk or going to the gym. Exercise can also help in reducing any negative impacts that stress has caused to the body. If you are not someone who exercises often, then a simple 20-minute walk around the neighborhood may be a great place to start to get your body and mind moving.

8. Identify Unhealthy Thinking Patterns

Learn to identify unhealthy patterns with your thinking, such as rumination or negative thinking and work toward changing those patterns. This is a common cognitive-behavioral strategy that is often seen in the management of stress or even depression and trauma. For example, when you notice yourself engaging in negative thinking or ruminating over the bad situation that happened, use self-talk to change that pattern. You can say things like, “I will get through this,” “I am strong” or “I am brave.” First, you must identify when we are not thinking in a healthy manner and then work to change that. Changing the way that we think can have a very positive impact.

9. Sit With Your Emotions

Now, this is the opposite of what I described above with distraction, but both can be healthy and healing in their own way and at the right time. As difficult as it can be, there is importance to just sitting and being present with how you are feeling. This allows you to be very aware, in the present moment with how you are feeling and to not dismiss or hide from painful emotions. It allows for an opportunity to reflect and validate your emotions and how you are feeling. It also allows for you to express these emotions to yourself and perhaps allow yourself time to cry or grieve. This again will help you to process how you are feeling and work toward healing.

10. Look Forward

It is important in the process that we do not get stuck in a negative cycle for too long. It’s crucial to keep moving forward. Of course, you should always allow yourself time to heal because this is an extremely difficult process. However, it is also important that you are working toward progress and looking for a future time when these emotions do not weigh heavily on you. This could include setting goals for something in the future or perhaps making plans for an activity as something to work toward and look forward to. This action of thinking about the future can be helpful. When people are overwhelmed with difficult feelings in the moment, it can be hard to think about the future or even picture a time when they aren’t experiencing this emotional pain. So it’s a challenge, but a purposeful one that can actually be quite helpful. This can get you setting future goals and thinking positively, which helps with healing.

Positive thinking can have a major impact in a good way toward healing. Many people underestimate the power of positive thinking, but it can help us to adjust our mood and the way that we think overall. When we have gone through a difficult situation and are working toward healing from emotional pain, it can be extremely challenging yet helpful to find something positive and meaningful in our situation, such as something we learned from the experience or how we can take a bad experience and move forward in a positive way.

Working through painful emotions is never easy. The importance here is that you are finding healthy activities and coping mechanisms that will promote your healing in a positive way. Each person is different and the situation that they experienced is very different; therefore, the coping strategies and personal preferences will also be different. It’s essential to find things that work well for you and stick to it. Painful emotions take time to heal so don’t give up right away. Keep moving forward and working on your own self-care. Healing will come and you will get through this.

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Blog written by: Dr. Shelley Sommerfeldt, Clinical Psychologist, Relationship Coach & Founder of the Loving Roots Project, an online wellness practice specializing in personal growth, mental wellness, & relationship betterment.

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