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Coping with Intense Emotions

Do you experience difficulty coping with intense emotions?

Even though emotions can be complicated, every human being, in every culture and part of the world, experiences the same set of emotions.

white background with light blue speech box, to the right of speech box is a person with curly brown hair, in a blue sweater, with their head resting on their right hand. Image reads “Do you experience difficulty coping with intense emotions? Distress Tolerance Skills could help you!”

Have you heard of ‘Distress Tolerance Skills’ before?

‘Distress Tolerance’ refers to one’s ability to manage an emotional incident without feeling overwhelmed. These skills are rooted in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

‘Radical Acceptance’ is one aspect of distress tolerance skills. We often run into situations that are out of our control. During these times, it is easy to think “this is not fair” or “I should not have this problem”, even though these thoughts increase the pain/difficulty we are experiencing.

According to Therapist Aid, Radical Acceptance refers to a healthier way of thinking during these situations. Instead of focusing on how you want the situation to be different, you will recognize and accept the situation as it is. Remember, accepting is not the same as liking or condoning something. Learning to accept problems that are out of your control, will lead to less anxiety, anger, and stress when dealing with them.

Example situation

You find out that you were not accepted for a job where you felt that you were the best candidate

  • Typical thinking: “This isn’t fair; I did everything right! I was the best one there. They can’t do this to me!”

  • Radical Acceptance: “It’s frustrating that I didn’t get the job, but I accept that they felt someone else would be a better fit.”

Negative emotions will usually pass or become less intense over time. When you are in the heat of a difficult emotion, it can be valuable to distract yourself until the emotion subsides. The acronym A.C.C.E.P.T.S. serves as a valuable reminder:

Activities: engage in activities that require thought and concentration, such as a hobby, work, school, a game…

Contributing: focus on someone or something else other than yourself. You could volunteer, do a random act of kindness, or anything that will contribute to a good cause or person.

Comparisons: Look at your situation in comparison to something worse. Remember a time where you were in more pain, or when someone else was going through something more difficult. You will get through this.

Emotions: Try something that will create a competing emotion. Feeling sad? Watch a funny movie. Feeling nervous? Listen to soothing music or focus on deep breathing.

Pushing Away: Do away with negative thoughts by observing they are happening, and then releasing them. Imaging writing the problem you are experiencing on a piece of paper, crumpling it up, and throwing it away.

Thoughts: When your emotions take over, try to focus on your thoughts. Count to 10, recite a quote/affirmation in your head, or read a book.

Sensations: Find safe physical sensations to distract you from intense negative emotions. Splash your face with cold water, eat something sour like a lime, wear a rubber band and snap it on your wrist, hold an ice cube in your hand…

Information retrieved from:


About the Author

Image of author Caitlin

Caitlin (She/Her)

Hello friends! My name is Caitlin (she/her) and I am in my last year of the BSW program. I am excited for this opportunity with Healthy U, and grateful to help others on their journey. Topics that interest me include mental health, neurodiversity, and micro-practice counselling. I love hiking, paddle boarding, camping, traveling, connecting with people, and adventuring the mountains in my free time! Have a great year and hope to see you around!


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