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Coping with Overwhelming Emotions in the Short & Long Term

Marissa Widener

Struggling with overwhelming emotions is a common occurrence in the human experience given life’s relentless demands in all areas, be it personal, work, social, or even financial-related. Merriam-Webster indicates that the verb “overwhelm” is related to being overpowered or overcome with feelings and thoughts. 

That being said, feeling overwhelmed does not indicate personal inadequacy or incapability of any kind, nor should it be perceived as a failure to balance life stressors appropriately. While experiencing overwhelming emotions  can be stressful and challenging for our self-image, many tools can be utilized to combat these feelings  both in the moment and in the long-term.

Grounding Techniques A Strategy for Coping with Overwhelming Emotions in the Short-Term 

One of the many coping tools learned in therapeutic spaces is utilizing grounding as a mechanism to bring one back in touch with reality, focus on the present moment, and relax the mind and body. Grounding is especially helpful in moments of immediate need, when one is overcome with this feeling that it has interrupted functioning in the moment or even escalated to severe anxiety symptoms, such as a panic attack. Although grounding techniques are commonly used as coping skills for trauma-related symptoms, they are also excellent tools to use when experiencing anxiety related to overwhelming emotions. 

One of the most helpful and versatile grounding techniques is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. This exercise involves integrating the five senses by naming five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. By being mindful of the senses, we are taking the focus away from the stressful stimuli around us and achieving relaxation to revisit the stressor from a calmer state. The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique is adaptable to a variety of situations, such as at work, home, or even while driving, which makes it one of the best to have in the “healthy coping skill tool belt”. The purpose of grounding techniques, such as the 5-4-3-2-1, is to revert focus back onto the present and away from the stressors at hand in a healthy way.

Fostering Resilience – A Strategy for Coping with Overwhelming Emotions in the Long-Term

Now that we are prepared to cope with emotional feelings in the short term, how can we continue managing this emotion throughout the long-term? 

Fostering resilience is an excellent example of such. Resiliency enhances our ability to cope with stressful situations and stimuli in a healthy way, and to be able to apply previous success in coping with stress towards future events. 

The ability to bounce back from difficult situations is a major component in building resiliency, but often it does not account for individual factors, such as environment or learned experience. Resiliency is very much a skill that can be learned and improved upon using healthy coping strategies (like the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique mentioned before) and things like setting goals and improving problem-solving. The latter is in fact a wonderful resiliency skill – it allows one to apply critical thinking to the situation, identify crucial aspects and next steps, and create space for implementing effective solutions. The more we can improve upon problem-solving skills, the easier it is to apply to tougher situations that contribute to feeling overwhelmed.

Equip Yourself with the Right Tools for Coping with Overwhelming Emotions

As adulthood becomes more complex and reaches unique challenges, these stressors may begin to pile up and overwhelm us. This natural experience of being overwhelmed can feel defeating at times, but using grounding techniques to slow us down and fostering resilience with problem-solving skills can help  alleviate the overwhelming emotions here and now, but also in the future.. 

The truth is that we will all become overwhelmed at many points in our lives in a plethora of ways. However, the right coping tools and strategies can create room for us to feel a bit more comfortable with this feeling and confident to conquer it. 


Jeremy Sutton, Ph. D. (2023, October 17). What is resilience and why is it important to bounce back?. 

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Overwhelm definition & meaning. Merriam-Webster. 

Therapist Aid. (2020, September 22). Grounding techniques (article).

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