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When Emotions Feel Too Big

How do we deal with intense emotions that flood our entire being?

When Emotions Feel Too Big

Esther Goldstein LCSW

Emotions ebb and flow. Each of us has a different perception and awareness of our own feelings. Some of us may feel nothing — dead to emotions. Others feel that they could explode at the drop of a hat, and most of us land somewhere in between.

Different seasons and particular circumstances trigger larger emotions. And throwing fits or spiraling into uncontrollable crying isn’t considered “acceptable” behavior. So what do we do? How do we deal with intense emotions that flood our entire being?

Here are some tips to navigate emotions that feel larger than life:

  1. Unconditional Acceptance
    While the world may tell us our rage, terror, or crippling despair is unacceptable, we need to wrap our arms around those feelings with compassion and unconditional acceptance. Emotions aren’t good or bad, they just exist, often as flags pointing to something deeper. Have gratitude to your body for letting you know something is off. Notice the sensations coming up. Breathe into the tension and try to visualize oxygen moving to the areas that need attention. As you breathe, create space for yourself to feel, give yourself permission to be just as you are.
  2. Name the Feeling
    Often, with intensity comes a sense of chaos or loss of control. Pause and listen to what’s happening within. Notice every feeling that’s emerging, identifying and naming what’s bubbling up. If needed, use a helpful tool like the “feelings wheel.” Don’t deny it, or try to talk yourself out of emotion. Don’t judge. Nuance and complexity and simplicity are all welcome.
  3. Acknowledge That Emotions Aren’t Forever
    Feelings are stored and felt in our body, and our mind isn’t always caught up. Regardless of what we feel in the moment, “this too shall pass.” Feelings often follow actions. Try to act in light of the truth you know, not the feeling you feel. If possible, recall examples of times you felt like something was permanent but it wasn’t. Tap into your logical brain and practice speaking truth to yourself: This feeling is here to guide me to something deeper; I won’t always feel like this.
  4. Get Curious

Emotions are here to tell a story. Wonder about what’s beneath the surface, see if something needs attention that’s been ignored. You may need to have that uncomfortable conversation you’ve been avoiding. When we let emotions communicate a need, we can make a change. This will almost always help lessen the intensity of the emotion.

  1. Let It Be
    Sometimes in the therapeutic realm you hear “let it go.” It sounds so simple — yet so out of reach. When your fist is clutching something for so long, it can feel too difficult to let it go. Consider the option of letting it be. You might not have the energy to look deeper into yourself, or dig to find the cause. Maybe you don’t need to know the root of the emotion. Practice trusting yourself and your body to deal with the emotions as they come. If it feels like too much for you to let it lie, then reach out for support. A counselor or friend might help you hold space for those big emotions, allowing them to be and mindfully processing them as your mind, body, and spirit are ready.


Esther Goldstein LCSW is an anxiety and trauma specialist who runs a group practice called Integrative Psychotherapy & Trauma Treatment, in the Five Towns, Long Island, New York. Esther also has a trauma training program for therapists.


Hear What Wasn’t Said

Zipora Schuck MA MS

Sometimes our children or students really push our buttons, acting out or speaking with what appears to be chutzpah. It’s tempting to quickly put them in their place. But what are they really trying to tell us?

A prominent rav was instrumental in starting many yeshivos, Bais Yaakovs, and chadarim. One day, he went to visit a school and was observing the outdoor recess. It was cold, and an elderly gentleman was selling cups of warm sugary tea to the young boys.

He offered one student a cup, and the child rudely replied, “I hate tea,” and made a face before running off. The student’s rebbi was embarrassed and went to reprimand the child, but the great rav stopped him and said he’d take care of it himself. He approached the elderly gentleman, paid for a cup of tea, went over to the boy, smiled, and offered him the cup.

The boy took it quickly and drank the tea down. The rav then engaged him in conversation for a minute. After returning, the incredulous rebbi bombarded him with questions. “I thought you’d discipline him, tell him how he spoke without derech eretz. Most importantly, he told you he hated tea! Why did you bring him a cup?”

“Oh, you heard ‘I hate tea,’ ” the rav responded, “I heard ‘Ein li shekel — I don’t even have a shekel to buy it.’ ”

Listening to what isn’t being said requires us to understand avoidance motivation. Sometimes, children would rather appear bad than inadequate in any way, and will say or do things in an attempt to cover up how they really feel.

When a child acts or talk inappropriately, wonder if this behaving is an attempt to avoid facing something. Listen and deal with this first. Then, when the child feels you understand him, and have his best interest at heart, let him know that all feelings are accepted, but not all behavior is.


Zipora Schuck MA MS is a New York state school psychologist and educational consultant for many schools in the New York–New Jersey area. She works with students, teachers, principals, and parents to help children be successful.


Cut Carbon Monoxide Risk

Dr. Jennie Berkovich

Each year, around 20,000 people go to the emergency room for carbon monoxide poisoning, and nearly 500 people die from it. Carbon monoxide poisoning can’t be seen, smelled, or heard, so CO poisoning can easily happen without being detected.

When a child breathes carbon monoxide, it harms the blood’s ability to transport oxygen. Although everyone is at risk for CO poisoning, it’s particularly dangerous for children, because they breathe faster and inhale more carbon monoxide per pound of body weight.

Make sure your home has carbon monoxide detectors installed. Hotels, rentals, and resorts may not always have CO detectors installed. When traveling, consider taking a battery-powered portable carbon monoxide detector.


Dr. Jennie Berkovich is a board-certified pediatrician and serves as the director of education for the Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association (JOWMA) Preventative Health Committee.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 798)

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