Strategies for Your Emotional Well-being Toolbox


A strong cultural emphasis on “happiness” can have the unintended effect of casting feelings other than happiness as being bad or something to avoid. But life is rich with many different feelings. Trying to suppress these can actually lead to a rebound effect. The book Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life: The New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, explains why it doesn’t work to try not to think of a thought or emotion:

When you try not to think of something, you do that by creating this verbal rule: “Don’t think of x.” That rule contains x, so it will tend to evoke x…Thus, when we suppress our thoughts, we not only must think of something else, we have to hold ourselves back from thinking about why we are doing that. If we check to see whether our efforts are working, we will remember what we are trying not to think and we will think it.

Life can then become about doing the things that help to avoid that thought or feeling, which can actually keep someone tethered to the very thought or feeling they are trying to avoid.

With that being said, here are some of my favorite strategies for coping with everyday difficult or uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. I hope you might keep these in your “toolbox” to try out and see if any work for you.

A quick note: There are many causes of difficult situations, thoughts, and feelings. I am mindful that strategies may help to cope but do not address the root problems or causes. These strategies are also not intended to replace treatment by a behavioral health professional.

Signal vs. Noise

My new favorite strategy comes from a provider local to the Triangle area. Stopping the Noise in Your Head by Reid Wilson, PhD, offers many practical strategies including the distinction of “signal versus noise”. Our minds can provide a steady flow of anxious or worried thoughts. But not all thoughts require action. Those that do require action can be labeled as “signal”. Those that are “noise” do not require action. To paraphrase an example from the book:

Signal: You wake up and feel worried because you realize you overslept. This thought requires action to get moving so you aren’t late.

Noise: You wake up two hours before your alarm is supposed to go off. You worry what will happen if you fall back asleep and don’t wake up on time. This is just noise. There isn’t any action to take.

It’s become a helpful practice to question if the worried thought I am having is “signal” or “noise”. Being able to label the thought helps to inform how I want to respond.

Describing the Feeling

If it feels comfortable and safe to do so, one technique for overwhelming feelings is to describe it in detail. Ask yourself questions like: Where do I feel it in my body? What size is it? Does it have a certain shape? A certain color? A certain movement? A certain temperature?

The more you describe it, you might find that the feeling becomes less intense.

Changing Our Language

When experiencing an overwhelming thought or feeling, I might find myself thinking, “I am so angry with her” or “I am so nervous.” Sometimes it can help to alter the way we say it in our minds. Change the wording to, “I am having the thought that I am angry with her.” Or “I am having the feeling that I am nervous.”

Language is powerful. This change in wording may lessen the sense of overwhelm, increasing our ability to be more intentional in our response.

Grounding Techniques

I preach this most often so you may have already heard this one from me. My go-to for a grounding moment when needed is the 5-4-3-2-1 practice.

In your mind, as you are able, describe:

5 Things you see.
4 Things you hear.
3 Things you feel/touch.
2 Things you smell.
1 Thing you taste.

Once I have a moment for grounding, I can sometimes better face the difficult thought or feeling I am confronted with. For more ideas, this article from Healthline has an extensive list of grounding techniques to try.


What are some of the ways you’ve learned to cope with everyday uncomfortable thoughts or feelings?


About Author

Katie Seavey Pegoraro

Sr Associate Work Life Program Manager

Katie Seavey Pegoraro supports employees with issues of stress and balance, providing tools and resources to cope when life feels overwhelming. Katie is a contact for those who may be coping with issues of mental health, substance use, or grief and loss. A young professional herself, Katie is a unique support to employees who are navigating the many life transitions that occur in your 20's and 30's.

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