Have you ever been calm, cool and collected one moment only to swing into full anger, outrage, or panic the next? Literally within seconds our emotions can change. Whether it’s something hurtful someone says to you, a crisis at work, or some other type of disaster, we can suddenly be filled with an intense, negative emotion.
For emotional eaters, this moment is critical. Out of habit, we look for something comforting like food. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suddenly felt upset and my first action is to go get some candy or chocolate to feel better. But unfortunately, using food for comfort is a temporary fix, not a lasting solution. After we’ve “eaten our feelings”, those intense emotions are still lingering and we probably don’t feel any better. Instead of turning to food as a reaction to our strong emotions, we need to learn to manage those emotions in the moment.
Here are some tips to help you manage strong emotions in the moment – so that you don’t have to reach for food.
Stressful events trigger our fight or flight response which heightens anxiety and our emotions. We can turn our fight or flight response off by taking several slow, deep breaths. Lengthen both your inhales and exhales for several breaths. This can help to calm you down physically which may stop you for impulsively reacting (i.e. reaching for food).
2. Bring Focus to Your Body
Many individuals find vigorous physical activity to be a great way to deal with strong emotions. But in the moment, it may not be possible to drop everything and go for a run or hit up a kickboxing class. Instead, take a moment to feel your body. If you’re sitting in a chair, notice how your body feels in the chair. If you’re standing, bring awareness to your body sensations in that moment. This helps to bring focus into the present moment, instead of getting caught up with your emotions.
3. Be Mindful
Practicing mindfulness trains our brains to stay in the moment rather than focusing on the past or worrying about the future. When you’re overcome with a strong emotion, take a moment to notice your surrounds. Walk to a window and take a look outside. Notice your sensations – what do you smell, hear, or see? By practicing mindfulness, you can slow down instead of getting caught up in your emotions.
A proven technique, repeating a mantra such as “It’s okay to be upset”, “this too shall pass”, “everything happens for a reason” or “I am comfortable with the uncomfortable” can help to calm you down. Alternatively, have an inner dialogue where you explore the storyline behind your emotion. When you’re experiencing an intense emotion, try to discover the root cause of that emotion. Perhaps a stressful event triggers thoughts such as “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not valued” or “I’m a failure”. Noticing these negative thought patterns is the first step to reversing negative self-talk into positive self-talk. Ultimately, if we can reply on more positive self-talk, when faced with intense emotions in the moment, we’re more likely to manage those emotions without turning to food or over-reacting.
When strong emotions hit, it’s okay to take some time to process them. There’s nothing wrong with feeling deeply or intensely. But if strong emotions feel overwhelming or trigger emotional eating, try these tips to manage those emotions in the moment.