How to Control Overwhelming Feelings in PTSD
In the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook, Glenn Schiraldi writes, “Life is feeling. Not to feel is to be dead.” That’s quite a statement considering, with PTSD, our biggest goal is to avoid our overwhelming feelings! It’s a tough conundrum: Coping and managing with PTSD requires you to dampen your emotions so that you can just get through the day. Healing, however, requires that you do feel your emotion – and get used to it. What’s a survivor to do?
Overwhelming Emotions Can't Kill You
One of the biggest fears I had was that the strength of my emotions would cause me to self-destruct. It’s why I avoided talking, thinking, sharing or acknowledging anything about my trauma. I literally felt if I let any of that overwhelming emotion come up I would go crazy all alone there in my head, have to be sedated and straight-jacketed and locked in a padded room. Well, that’s what it felt like anyway, and that was my biggest fear.
Imagine my surprise when in recovery I did start to look directly at my memories, learned to sit still through the emotion, and discover the truth: Emotions can’t kill you. They are feelings and while those feelings can be very strong and seem overwhelming it is possible to learn to be present with them, assert your own strength (yes, you do have it even though you may feel you don’t), and move through the moment with a successful exit.
6 Steps to Quieting Overwhelming Emotions
While this process is best learned in the presence of a trained mental health professional there are tips you can practice on your own. Schiraldi offers these steps for transforming feelings:
1 – Recognize the feeling as it arises: Mindfulness is a great facilitator for this, as is being aware of your bodily cues and responses.
2 – Become one with the feeling: Invite your mindful self to shake hands with the feeling and merge together, allowing the mindfulness to anchor any feelings of fear.
3 – Calm the feeling: Breathwork is terrific for this. Try inhaling for four counts, holding for 4 counts, exhaling for six counts, holding for two counts – repeat the cycle ten times.
4 – Release the feeling; let it go: Breathing into the feeling you want to release, imagine that it sits on your tongue. As you exhale the breath imagine the feeling rides off on the wind of your exhalation.
5 – Look deeply: Examine the causes of the feeling. Feelings are based on thoughts which are based on beliefs. What beliefs, perceptions and (supposed) understandings lead you to that feeling? Are they accurate? What other ways could you see the same facts/event/details? How does that change your feeling?
While it’s true, PTSD recovery will be filled with moments that can really challenge your sanity, it’s also true that your mind and your self are stronger than they may at times feel. Gradually, as I learned to trust myself and discover ways to help my mind and I work together, I became more adept at handling emotions, which made living a whole lot easier. Eventually, feeling my feelings made living a whole lot more fun, too!
Rosenthal, M. (2012, November 14). How to Control Overwhelming Feelings in PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, February 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2012/11/ptsd-feelings-how-to-transform-the-overwhelm
Author: Michele Rosenthal
Great article, exactly what I need to hear.
Thank you so much. This is exactly what I needed to read in this very moment.
I'm so glad you liked it, Renee! So often with PTSD we really need to clarify, verify and strategize in order to take back control. Feel free to update me here with how the process works for you and the changes you experience!