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Coping with Intense Emotions

Photo by Photo Boards on Unsplash

Sometimes we can get stuck in an emotion or be overwhelmed by the intensity of the emotion. When this happens, we may act rashly and do things we later regret. Or if we’re stuck in an emotion we can’t get past it to go on with the rest of our life; this can disrupt our life and take a toll on our mental health. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy, there is a technique for dealing with these situations. It is called “Opposite to Emotion” and sometimes referred to as O2E as a shorthand.

When we are stuck in an emotion, whatever we’re doing isn’t working or helping us. By choosing to do the opposite, we may be able to free ourselves so we can move on. Here’s how it might look for a couple of emotions.


When you are intensely angry or stuck in anger, avoid the person you are angry at until you have calmed down. During this period, spend quality time with others, such as a friend, a pet, or family. Make sure that you don’t take your anger out on any of those people! It may also help to try to feel compassion for the person you are angry at by remembering that very few of us like to have other people angry at us. If it was a mistake, it might help to remember that we’ve made mistakes, too.


Two common reactions to guilt are to avoid or hide from others when we feel guilty or to try to blame or avoid responsibility for our actions. The O2E approach is to address what we did. We apologize to the person we affected and try to make amends. Be aware that the other person may remain angry for some time after the apology, so be patient. Also remember that the apology is for the other person and not merely to avoid or soften consequences for ourselves.

Anxiety or Fear

When you are anxious about something, what are you likely to do? Avoid it, right? You might also ruminate on it. The O2E approach is to move toward the fear. Some fears you might make small steps toward. Others you might dive in like you would a pool. You can also learn to accept anxious thoughts. This means not holding on to them (and ruminating) but it also means not trying to shove them away. If you are able to acknowledge an anxious thought it is likely to soon be replaced by a different thought.


If you are feeling sad or down, O2E might look like engaging in some activity that you know you would normally enjoy. Or it might mean listening to upbeat, energizing, or fun music or watching a movie that is a comedy. If the feelings have you wanting to isolate, O2E says you get yourself out and around other people, whether at a coffee shop or with friends.

If you struggle with overwhelming emotions, you might find it helpful to work with a therapist to develop your own toolbox of tools that you find helpful. If you’d like to arrange a free 30-minute consultation, call or text me at (816) 226-4678.

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