6 Ways to Manage Intense Emotions in PTSD


There are some strategies you can take to manage PTSD emotions

Managing intense emotions in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an important part of treatment. When people have PTSD, they are likely going to experience very intense negative emotions but finding healthy ways of managing these intense emotions can be a very difficult thing to do. As a result, intense emotions often result in a wide range of unhealthy and impulsive behaviors, such as substance use, binge eating, and deliberate self-harm. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to better manage (as well as prevent) intense emotions.

Emotions: What Are They and Why Do We Have Them?

Using Distraction as a Way of Coping With Strong Emotions

Strong emotions can be very difficult to manage in the moment. However, distraction is a coping strategy that can be used to help you get through these difficult times. Distraction is anything you do to temporarily take your attention off of a strong emotion. Sometimes, focusing on a strong emotion can make it feel even stronger and more out of control. Therefore, by temporarily distracting yourself, you may give the emotion some time to decrease in intensity, making it easier to manage. This article presents a number of easy-to-learn distraction techniques that can be used immediately.

Practicing Self-Care to Improve Your Emotional Health

Many of the healthy coping strategies listed in this article are focused on what you can do when you are experiencing an intense emotion. However, there are a number of things you can do to prevent the occurrence of intense emotions. Taking care of yourself (for example, getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising) can do wonders in reducing your vulnerability for intense emotions. This article describes some ways that self-care can improve your emotional health.

Self-Soothing Coping Strategies

Uncomfortable and intense emotions can sometimes occur unexpectedly. Therefore, it is important to learn emotion regulation strategies that you can practice on your own. Emotion regulation strategies that you can do by yourself are sometimes described as self-soothing or self-care coping strategies. Effective self-soothing coping strategies may be those that involve one or more of the five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound). Learn some examples of self-soothing strategies for each sense.

Practicing Mindfulness of Your Emotions

Mindfulness is an excellent strategy for managing intense emotions. Intense emotions can be very distracting, and they can take all of our attention away from the present moment. Mindfulness can help bring us back into the present moment, as well as reduce the extent to which we get caught up in our emotions. This article takes you through a basic mindfulness of emotions exercise.

“Grounding” Techniques for Managing Intense Emotions

As the name implies, grounding is a particular way of coping that is designed to “ground” you in the present moment. In doing so, you can retain your connection with the present moment and reduce the likelihood that you get caught up in, or overwhelmed by, an intense emotion. Some basic grounding exercises are presented in this article.

Anger Management Techniques

People with PTSD can experience high levels of anger and irritability. In fact, irritability is even considered to be one of the symptoms of PTSD. Anger can be a very difficult emotion to cope with, and it can be destructive. Fortunately, there are some healthy ways of regulating anger when it occurs. This article describes one such strategy, taking a personal time out to give your anger some time to subside.

By Matthew Tull, PhD, Reviewed by Steven Gans, MD