How to calm your emotions

by Jo Flack | 30 Apr 2020

Jo Flack, Trainer of The Mental Health Toolkit by Suffolk Mind, explains how to calm your emotions during these challenging times.

High emotional arousal, when our emotions feel strongest, can make it harder to keep ourselves both mentally and physically well. When in the grip of strong emotions, it can be more difficult to think clearly and use the rational mind that we have been given. However, our emotions are an innate resource that can help us to meet our needs.

Emotions are a guide to how we are feeling. For example:

  • if we feel bored, our mind is telling us to seek out something stimulating to do
  • if we feel lonely, we need to try to meet our need for community
  • if we are sad, we need to seek out someone or something to make us feel happier

Emotions are also a guide to how others are feeling. So, if we burst into tears, we would hope someone around us would seek to give the comfort we need.

Emotions, then, are a resource that can help gauge our feelings and motivate us to meet our needs in balance. Our emotional brain, however, does not solely influence how we feel but also how we think.

Our emotions and rational thinking work together to guide how we respond to events. As is often the case, we need a balance between the two. We need emotions to motivate and guide us, but too much emotional arousal can reduce our ability to think clearly, and then we resort to thinking in black-and-white.

This is fine if we need to react quickly in an emergency, like slamming the brakes to avoid an oncoming collision. But it’s not so helpful in situations which need careful thought and reflection, or consideration of other people’s needs and viewpoints. 

So how can we help ourselves to keep a balance between emotion and rational thinking so that they can work together? The key is to do what we can to calm strong emotions.

Top tips:

  • Practice breathing techniques, such as 7/11 breathing, that produce a physical response to calm you and relieve feelings of anxiety
  • Find relaxation methods that work for you, such as taking a long bath, doing some yoga, practicing meditation, or mindful colouring
  • Write a list of things you like to do to improve your mood and pop it on the fridge (or somewhere you’ll see it often) to refer to when you need it
  • Make sure you meet your need for privacy. Find some time for yourself, because selfcare is not selfish but a core emotional need
  • When it comes to accessing news and information, avoid exposure to media sites that may ramp up worry
  • And finally, take care of your physical needs for movement, sleep and a balanced approach to food and drink

Updated August 2023

by Jo Flack
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