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7 Ways to Handle Emotional Distress and Avoid Self-Harm

Updated on August 31, 2016
Anastasia E profile image

Anastasia Egleston is a professional content creator who writes self help articles on emotional chaos and loves to code html/css.



It might have been something you struggled with your whole life through childhood or maybe it was an immediate heartbreak that life threw in your face.

In an effort to end all the noise in your head as quickly as possible, you may have ended up hurting yourself. Perhaps you decided to trade those difficult emotions raging through you for some physical pain, even though you were counting on yourself to be there for you. You couldn't be there right then, you didn't know how to be there with that kind of pain.

Whether you've been thinking about it or have already taken your quick fix to rid yourself of the pain for awhile, I need you to understand that it's important you stay present with those difficult emotions. Don't give into things that will hurt you more than the thing that started this hell.

You of all people must stand your ground and be there for yourself when it feels everyone else has left you in the dark. Let's make a promise together right now, a promise that you'll not leave your pain alone only to come back again. Learn how to turn your emotional distress into happy feelings so you're stronger and living your life knowing you'll be okay even when times get uncertain. This is your survival kit when you feel the urge to do something rather unpleasant to yourself.

1. Meditate For The Win


Believe it or not, you were already meditating when you first chose how to handle your pain. You were deep in your thoughts seeking the quickest solution despite whether it was a good or bad decision for you. You're your own worst critic when you face failures in life. When you don't meet the expectations of yourself or other people, the verbal abuse ensues inside your mind and you'd tell yourself things you'd never say to a close friend.

The really sad part about all those disturbing harsh words and thoughts, is that you're judging yourself for messing up, for feeling a certain way, for not being enough to meet expectations. By the way, for some reason we know it's bad to abuse other people, but, we never consider the abuse we do to ourselves and that it's also just as bad.

So what you can do to get a hold of yourself and stop the abuse is to feel everything in the moment of pain without taking action. Let those feelings rise and fall without any self-talk, don't judge the thoughts or words that appear. Observe those emotions and let your mind speak for itself. The only self-talk I'd suggest right now is to ask your emotions what they're feeling.

Sounds awkward?

Yes and it may feel awkward the first few times you try it, but this is by far the best way to be there for yourself. By asking your emotions directly, you become focused and sensitive to the feelings the emotions are giving you. It's going to be painful and confusing having those racing thoughts.

But, they'll slow down once you allow your strongest emotion to be felt first and the others will follow. One by one each emotion will get a chance to speak to you. During this time when your emotions do show themselves don't shun them because they are difficult to bear, accept the condition they're in and be present with them.

2. Listen to Music You Enjoy


Music has often been used as an aid to meditating, however, I find it's best for telling the hate-talk in your head to shut up. It's also useful for helping uncover those painful emotions and allowing them to be accepted instead of buried or pushed aside. When you listen to a song that you can relate your emotions to, it allows you to not feel so alone and be able to focus on vocals/sounds expressing the same feeling.

By feeling with the music you can embrace your emotions to release themselves until the pain you were feeling is lessened. I do warn against listening to music that urges you to take action in a bad way. Any music that motivates you to keep going forward in life or allows an emotion to surge inside you but then quiet down is perfectly fine.

I once held a music battle with myself, it was filled with tears and even a bit of laughter, it was oddly fun and allowed my emotions to work themselves out. This is how I played it out, I would observe the emotion that most wanted to be felt and then I would try to remember a song I enjoyed that matched the feeling of that emotion. I went through at least ten songs before I got myself together again, however you can do more if you feel the need to do, but don't forget to live your life.

3. Sing


Another way you can use music to help your emotional disturbances is singing. You don't have to be the best singer that ever lived, you need to sing for yourself. Because, it's about being there for yourself so why not sing a melody to your emotions?

Whether you choose to join a group or sing solo, singing can fill you with a new perspective of your feelings. When you accept both pleasant, sad, and even disturbing emotions by singing them out to your favorite tune, you subconsciously tell yourself it's okay to be where you are right now.

Even when you're singing with a little criticism involved, you're allowing your emotions to be expressed with the criticism; whether towards yourself or other people. So by voicing out your emotions in the lyrics, it feels like nothing of yourself is being left out in the dark.

4. Keep a Journal


Keeping a journal doesn't have to be all about those painful times in your life, you can fill it with happy memories too. But for those times when your mind is in an uproar and the music is just plain, annoying noise, writing your thoughts and feelings down is good to try. It doesn't have to make any sense at all, it can be disorganized, you can even throw grammar out the door.

Having the pencil in hand and applying your thoughts to paper is useful for when you can't even think straight enough to quietly meditate. The rule still applies here as it did with meditating, no hate-talk, only write down the emotions you're feeling. This is also the time where you can discuss what you fear, sure you already know, but writing it out can do wonders for your mind.

In addition, I have one small tip for you, don't read your thoughts on paper while writing them out, save that for when you're feeling better. It's more confusing and stressful to go over your written work than it is to wait for when your mind is clear.

5. Exercise


So this is where you can get that endorphin rush you were looking for when you wanted a quick fix right? Actually all the activities presented in this article provide either endorphin or dopamine release naturally. In case you're wondering about these two wonderful chemicals that are produced in the human body...

Endorphins are internal opioids that are the body's natural release in response to physical injury. They are natural painkillers that give persuasion to experience good feelings and reduce emotional distress. Dopamine plays a role in a variety of bodily functions, but the most common role it's known for is creating feel good sensations when experiencing happy things.

Back to number four on this list, exercising is a safe option for getting those endorphins to release as long as you don't overdo it. A simple walk for thirty minutes to an hour is a great option to help deal with the painful feelings. It's even better if you can remove yourself from the environment where you've experienced the pain so you can return to a more collected mindset. However, assigning a small room you go to when you're in emotional distress is as helpful as actually leaving the place altogether.

I chose to dance for my daily exercise, it's active enough that I feel more engaged and able to express my emotions than simply taking a walk. It's good to exercise daily so you routinely let out emotions in small portions instead of letting them build up.

6. Have a creative hobby


Having hobbies can give you a sense of purpose, even if it's purely for fun. But more importantly, they can be used as a release of tension. Two of my favorite hobbies are reading and drawing, however I'll say this, it has gotten very difficult to release emotions through drawing.

The reason for that being, I believe drawing my emotions out can sometimes become too intense for me and scare me to shut down. So if you can relate, I recommend doing a different hobby or one of the other six activities in this article beforehand.

If you need a hobby idea, I'd like to suggest learning a foreign language. I have done this myself and it turned into more sub-hobbies since I enjoyed the cultural background as well. By the way, if you feel the need for extra privacy, but still want to express your emotions fully, try singing in another language. There, now you have two hobbies you can do at the same time while expressing and having fun with yourself.

7. Socialize for Instant Therapy


I don't advise unleashing all your agony out on a random stranger, talk to a trusted friend if at all possible. I've gotten good advice from strangers talking about my problems in a vague manner, but talking with my close friends gets me the best advice and relief.

Please remember to visit your friends on your good days as well as your bad and don't think you're a burden when you need a friend to talk to about your distress. Everyone has their days where their candle needs to be re-lit in the face of discouragement.

I don't recommend speaking about your problems in a negative way, try telling your friend what you're feeling and maybe see if they have good advice to offer you. Another type of friend to consult would be your pet, whether it's a dog, cat or fish, pets can demonstrate more empathy than even your human friends.

Getting hugs and kisses from loved ones, whether animal or human will help your brain release a chemical called oxytocin. It's a bonding hormone that can relieve stress making it easier for you to experience happy feelings and receive comfort that you're loved.

Life is down right brutal sometimes and with no breaks in between. I hope this article has provided you with encouragement to use these techniques to get yourself back together again, press on!

Have you tried one of the 7 methods above?

What worked for you?

See results


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    • Anastasia E profile imageAUTHOR

      Anastasia Egleston 

      24 months ago from United States

      Thank you WalkingEagle for sharing your views. Yes I've been in some mentally dark places and my goal is to help others when they're in that place. Music indeed can revive the pain but sometimes that can be good so that we can deal with that emotion. I've listened to songs that bring up the pain in its rawest form and then others that only feel like distant memories. I believe that by handling each emotion instead of running away allows time to heal the wounds faster.

    • profile image


      24 months ago

      I am so glad you wrote this article. It sounds very much like you have 'been there' to me. My childhood was filled with intense pain and discouragement. Came close to suicide many times. I am glad I am still here. Listening to music is so often the thing that helps me gain perspective although it can bring up more pain too. Emotions can so easily send us off in the wrong direction. Thank you for being willing to help others in this very common area.

    • Anastasia E profile imageAUTHOR

      Anastasia Egleston 

      2 years ago from United States

      Thank you denise.w.anderson for sharing your experience in dealing with emotions. Being able to accept what we feel and find healthy coping methods is indeed a very important aspect in our daily lives. I hope with all my heart these words written will find others in need of relief and help them in their time of hardship.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I have used a combination of the above seven ways to help me deal with my feelings at various times. Our emotions are such an integral part of ourselves, and the more we understand them and work with them, the better we are able to deal with the difficulties of life. Thanks for writing about this important issue, especially in addressing what we can do to avoid self-harm.


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