Life sometimes feels like an emotional rollercoaster—a rollercoaster you can’t get off. You’re stuck in that ride, in a seemingly endless procession of ups and downs that leaves you feeling nauseous and exhausted after a while.
Maybe you often act unreasonable, or you repeatedly do things you later regret. If things get too overwhelming, your relationships, work, and even your physical and mental health can deteriorate. So it’s worth asking: how can you attain more emotional balance?
How not to become more emotionally centered
Let’s first cover what not to do, because too many people make things worse when trying to get a grip on their out-of-control feelings.
People who seek more emotional stability often resort to suppressing or denying their feelings, or trying to control them. These approaches will only lead to more problematic emotional flare-ups in the long run, rather than helping you stay sane.
The art of calm
A more effective strategy is to focus on increasing your emotional awareness and understanding. By becoming more attuned to your own emotions and the emotions of others, you can become more emotionally intelligent. This will allow you to better regulate your emotions and respond to them in more productive ways.
Pay attention to how you feel in different situations, and try to understand the root causes of your emotions. What circumstances or triggers lead to negative emotions? What can you do to avoid or mitigate these triggers?
Similarly, what makes you feel happy and content? Which constructive behaviors can practice creating more situations that lead to these positive emotions?
I found a particular exercise developed by Richard Schwartz to be particularly valuable in helping me understand myself more clearly, and why I feel the way I feel. If that’s something you’re interested in, you can check out this self-awareness exercise here.
Express your feelings
One common reason emotions often become overwhelming is because we don’t express them. We bottle them up inside until they eventually explode.
If you often get overwhelmed by your emotions, try expressing them in a healthy way.
Productive ways of expressing your feelings:
- Talk about it with someone you trust
- Find ways of creative expression through art
- Seek a therapist or counseling
Artists are particularly prone to emotional rollercoaster rides, and thus you find many pieces of art that try to represent intense emotional ups and downs. Songs like Juice WRLD’s emotional rollercoaster, Kate Perry’s Hot N Cold, or R&B singer Vivian Green’s Emotional Rollercoaster
Destructive ways of expressing your feelings:
- Leashing out
- Passive-aggressive behavior
- Getting back at someone else for a perceived slight
This is an important distinction: If the way you express your feelings is out of a conscious choice, it will generally much more likely to be a healthy expression. If the way you express your feelings is an emotional reaction, or comes out of a need, it will more often than not lead to negative results.
Keep a journal
Capturing how you feel in a diary is a great way to gain some perspective on what you’re going through. Especially if you look through older entries, like from three or four or five years ago, and you discover that a lot of the things that you got worked up about didn’t really matter much.
Try to be as specific as possible when you write about your emotional rollercoaster.
Some questions you can ask yourself to help you specify your feelings:
- What are the physical sensations I am experiencing?
- Is there a certain body part that feels more pronounced than others?
- What emotions am I feeling?
- What thoughts are going through my mind?
A creative journal is also a great way to express and capture feelings are difficult to articulate. Sometimes the unspeakable needs to be expressed in non-verbal ways, and art is a great outlet to process your raw emotions.
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment, without judgement. It’s about observing your thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them. You view them as if you were an impartial observer, let them pass by, without holding on to them. This will help you to not get too wrapped up in your emotions, and will allow you to see them for what they are: transitory mental and emotional states.
A regular mindfulness practice, like meditation, will train your brain to not get too caught up in the rollercoaster of emotions, and will help you react to your emotions with greater wisdom.
The emphasis here is on the word practice. Mindfulness is a skill, and you exercise it through your practice. It’s not an emergency measure—so do not try meditating when your feelings are in tumult, since that will typically aggravate your emotional state more than calm you down.
Wait for a new day
Do you often do things you later regret? You can’t think clearly in the grip of emotional turmoil. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to just wait it out, rather than making an impulsive decision.
See how you feel about them tomorrow, or even in a week. Oftentimes, the emotional intensity of the moment has dissipated, and you can look at your challenges with greater clarity.
Look at the bigger picture
Sometimes you get lost in the moment and trip up over details just because they’re right in front of you. Take a step back to look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself:
- Are these really the most pressing problems in my life?
- Will this matter in five years?
- Ten years?
- What is the actual root cause of my challenges?
- Is there something I can do to change the situation?
- Is this something I can control, or do I need to let go?
When you ask yourself these questions, typically either of these two insights emerges:
A) In the greater scheme of things, your life is good and you’re getting too worked up about little things, tiring yourself out through unnecessary drama.
B) You do have serious issues in key areas of your life, and you ought to find a way to solve them. You emotions are so volatile because you can channel the emotional discomfort the major issues cause into the little issues, thus deflecting your attention away from the key issues (which are more difficult to solve).
Whatever insight you gain from this exercise, it helps you understand why you’re on this rollercoaster ride, and what you can do about it.
Exercising can help you gain more emotional stability too, by balancing our your hormones and neurochemistry. A 2019 study showed how exercise improved implicit emotion regulation ability. After all, we’re made of flesh and blood, and especially in our digital age, we tend to neglect our physiology more than ever in human history. For most of us, simply becoming more physically active will help us be less prone to abrupt mood swings.
If you’re living a sedentary lifestyle, don’t attempt to go form zero to one hundred in a day. Take it slow. Start by going for a walk 30 minutes every day for a week. Then slowly ramp up your effort.
Sleep is vital for your mind and body to function optimally and plays a key role in the processing of emotions. Vandekerckhove and Wang found that emotional regulation and sleep are deeply intertwined, and published their findings in an article titled Emotion, emotion regulation and sleep: An intimate relationship in 2018:
Sleep appears to be essential to our ability to cope with emotional stress in everyday life. However, when daily stress is insufficiently regulated, it may result in mental health problems and sleep disturbances too. Not only does emotion impact sleep, but there is also evidence that sleep plays a key role in regulating emotion. Emotional events during waking hours affect sleep, and the quality and amount of sleep influences the way we react to these events impacting our general well-being.
In short, how you feel during the day affects the way you sleep at night, which again affects the way you feel during the day. You create either a virtuous or a vicious cycle.
This is advice you’ve probably heard many times, just like everybody else. But do you apply it? Do you have a breathing practice? If you’re like most people, the answer is no.
It seems so simple. Everybody breathes every moment of their life. And the intensity of your emotions can be overwhelming. How could something as simple as breathing help you regulate your emotions?
There’s a large body of research that confirms the efficacy of breathing to regulate emotions, and the potential impact breathing techniques can have on mental health. Jerath, Crawford, Barnes, and Harden for example wrote in Self-regulation of breathing as a primary treatment for anxiety:
the inter-relationship between respiration and emotions and the influence of respiration on autonomic changes, and subsequent widespread membrane potential changes resulting from changes in homeostasis are discussed. We hypothesize that reversing homeostatic alterations with meditation and breathing techniques rather than targeting neurotransmitters with medication may be a superior method to address the whole body changes that occur in stress, anxiety, and depression. […] We propose that these breathing techniques could be used as first-line and supplemental treatments for stress, anxiety, depression, and some emotional disorders.
I’m not an advocate of any particular school of breathing practice. Try different ones and see which suits you best. The most important thing is again, that you turn it into a practice: something you do every day, to improve your emotional well-being.
The ride of a life-time
You feel things. A lot. And intense. That’s good. Much better than being numb. It takes a lot more inner work to unearth feelings hidden behind numbness than it takes to tune down the volume of the emotions you go through on any given day.
It’s definitely not an easy task—and if you’re on the very extreme end of the spectrum, and your emotional rollercoaster ride is causing havoc in your life, seek professional help, so you’re not alone on this journey.
But it can be done. Many have done it before you, many will do it after you, and if you choose to, so can you.
I hope you found the advice shared here useful. If you have questions or comments, drop them below and I’ll get back to you.