Have you ever felt like life is a mix of chaos and mundane—on repeat? There’s too much to do and not enough time to enjoy the little things. It’s tiresome, and the discontent feels like a steady ache beneath the surface. Our exhaustion outweighs our joy. We ask ourselves: isn’t there more?

When Intense Emotions Come to Visit

Sometimes life can feel so heavy and our hearts in so many pieces that every day feels like a battle just to get up in the morning.

Whether it’s heartbreak, betrayal, the loss of a loved one, or some other big life stressor, it feels as though the waves crashed upon us and we are swept up to the shore like driftwood. We think to ourselves: I can’t carry this much longer. This pain. This emotional intensity.

Feelings are a part of the human experience. They’re not something to fix like a broken dishwasher or analyze like a math equation. They’re to be held with curiosity and compassion.

Feelings come as visitors and although some feelings are more pleasant than others, it is important not to push away the harder ones in life. Doesn’t the sweet blossom of spring need a little rain to grow?

You can practice positive habits under the guise of “self-improvement” all day long—and don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for healthy habits. You can practice gratitude, meditate, connect to your greater sense of spirituality, call a loved one or an old friend. And yes, these all have their place.

But sometimes, we just need to sit with that internal ache. Look at it with the eyes of our heart: oh sadness, what are you here to tell me?

Emotions Are Like the Ocean

Yesterday while I was on a walk, I passed someone on the street who, to me, looked sad. My heart ached for her, wondering what it was that was causing her pain. I was already feeling an extra sensitivity to pain because a few of the people closest to me are dealing with immense heartbreak and loss; their grief is so vast, just remembering to breathe takes effort.

How is it that the human heart can carry such pain? Doesn’t it feel like too much sometimes? What do you do to cope with intense emotions when it feels like too much?

The grief people carry, the betrayal, the loss, their internalized feelings of unworthiness and questions of “What if I had done this differently?” It can feel like a hollow abyss—where does that pain go?

Everyone has hidden battles going on beneath the surface. At the same time, I believe everyone has inextricable resilience and strength when they tune into their resources (both inwardly and through external support).

I was recently at the ocean. I love analogies and metaphors and seeking wisdom in the quiet simplicity of nature. Looking out from the shore, the vastness of the water mesmerized me. The rhythm of the waves. The warm, salty air. The sand beneath my feet. The sun flickering in the water like a dance. It is majestic and sacred.

I am reminded once again: all things pass, everything has a season, and life has a rhythm, just like the waves. Even pain. But the question remains, what do we do in those harder moments?

Although there is no easy way out of intense emotions and difficult situations, there are healthy ways to cope.

Here are 4 ways to tap into your internal resources when intense emotions come to visit:

1. Witness

Become aware of the emotion you’re feeling. You do not need to analyze it or control it or push it away. This only latches you more intensely to the feeling. In order for the emotion to move through, you need to allow yourself to truly feel it.

Witness the feeling, just like you would overlook the ocean from the shore. Do you feel anything in your physical body? A tightness, a clenched jaw, an aching chest?

Observe your internal experience with as much curiosity and compassion as you can. Remind yourself: this emotion is a visitor. Let it move through you, like the ebb and flow of a wave. Keep breathing.

2. Label

Once you’ve drawn your awareness to your experience, label the emotion you’re feeling without judgment. Emotions aren’t “good” or “bad.” They’re the energy of the heart, energy in motion. Take a moment to dig under the surface.

Are you truly angry? Or, perhaps you’re feeling the sadness of something not working out the way you hoped for. You may realize you’re feeling more than one emotion at a time. That is normal. Your emotions are part of your experience, they aren’t who you are.

Reminding yourself of this creates a distance between observing the emotion and clinging to it and spiraling down. Ride the wave of the intense emotion, don’t get pulled into the undertow. Label and observe.

3. Nurture

You’ve now become aware of your internal experience, witnessed it, and labeled it. Now it’s time to befriend this visitor. This is different from dwelling or doggy paddling in your sadness and grief. It’s about tending to the emotion, like a gardener tends to the soil.

Set aside time to bravely create space for the emotions. What color is the emotion? What does the emotion sound like? Is there a song that you can relate to this feeling?

Perhaps listen to that song or draw out the feeling. You could create a list of all the different words to describe the feeling. Just as you would listen deeply to a friend in need, turn that same tender gaze towards yourself. Healing is in the feeling. Trust that this too shall pass.

4. Surrender

The last step, and perhaps the hardest one, is surrendering. Without resistance; without constraint; without judgment.

Interestingly enough, brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor relates human emotions to the ocean.

These waves last just 90 seconds. After that, we’re simply re-stimulating our internal circuitry, she says.

By surrendering the feeling, you allow it to take its natural course (and it only lasts 90 seconds!).  You let go of whatever it is that’s building inside—like a big exhale of relief.

This creates space inside—space to heal, space to fill your heart again with joy, love, and peace. Moment by moment. Breath by breath.

You can even write down what you are surrendering. You can repeat it in your head like a mantra, such as:

“I recognize this dull ache inside me. I let it take its natural course and move through me. I am strong enough to withstand this.”

You can tell a loved one if you’d like. You can visualize handing it over to your own understanding of a higher being or God. You are doing the best you can. Be gentle with yourself.

Whether it is your own painful experience, or you are carrying the weight with a loved one, know that this too shall pass. It can feel overwhelming how much the human heart can carry and how intense negative emotions can be. But the depth of emotion and capacity to feel deepens our capacity to give and receive love.

Love, compassion, and tenderness will soothe the wound, and sometimes that means walking through the heartache.

Remember the water. The ebb and flow teaches us the beauty of surrender. The waves rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall… without resistance. It is fluid, effortless, yet, at the same time, water is powerful. What if we, too, are like the ocean?

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