When emotions get intense, stay C.A.L.M.

When emotions get intense, stay C.A.L.M.

These last 10 months have been riddled with emotional highs and lows. It feels like we have been all over the map with our emotions (and our kids’ emotions!). This post aims to share some helpful hints to remain CALM amidst the chaos of high emotions.

C – Catch your breath

A – Adjust your face

L – Lean in

M – Make it meaningful

Let’s start by exploring each of these in more depth and realizing how each step allows the emotion of the moment to have space, while not encouraging it to grow out of control (which is what I find most people are MOST afraid of when they talk about or experience emotions).

We need not be afraid of emotions! Rather, once you realize how to work through big emotions effectively, the more you will welcome their presence in your life and the lives of your kids.

Catch your breath

I believe the very best thing you can do for your body when you are amidst high emotions is to BREATH. Taking big, deep breaths is one of the easiest ways to regulate your body as it responds to the emotion around you. There are a number of different breathing techniques you can try. Keep in mind, if one doesn’t work, keep trying. Don’t give up. Continued deep breathing will bring your body back down from a neurobiology standpoint.

Here are a few tips for deep breathing:

  • Try taking a deep breath through your nose and out your mouth. Aim to FILL your lungs with air. Breathe deeper than you typically do and notice your chest and belly rising as you extend your breath further than you typically do. Try this 3 or 4 or 5 times and notice how you feel.
  • Square breathing is another technique that has an additional visual that I think is helpful when we are experiencing high emotions. It involves creating an imaginary box with your breath. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for four seconds, release the breath for four seconds and then hold for four seconds. I like to envision an actual box as I am engaging in this exercise. For more, you can explore this website: Box Breathing: Techniques, Benefits, GIF, and More (healthline.com).
  • Remember that breathing like this requires practice! Our typical breaths are not long and deep. So know that as you practice more and more, it will feel more comfortable and natural.
  • Breathing interventions like this are best done in BOTH in-the-moment settings and during other settings. In other words, practice breathing like this even when you aren’t in the midst of chaotic emotions. This will make it easier to come back to these exercises when you are in the middle of them.

Adjust your face

This part is all about your non-verbal communication during emotional moments. And specifically your facial expressions.  I have a VERY expressive face. And I didn’t realize HOW much it impacted others until my supervisor in graduate school reminded me over and over that I had to keep a neutral face if I was going to be a good therapist.  I literally had NO idea that my face was doing any of the things he was telling me it was. And I learned over and over again how my often doesn’t really show how I am truly feeling – leaving lots of difficulties interpersonally.

I believe the lack of realization of how our facial expressions impact other people is widespread. I believe many of us don’t realize how our face might ignite further reactions from our kids or the people around us.

The very best way to realize your facial expressions is to check out your own reactions in a mirror. I know this might feel weird, but truly, until you can see how your eyebrows arch or your mouth turns down or your eyes narrow slightly with various emotions, you will not be able to adjust your face to the moment at hand. Take a few minutes to stand in front of the mirror and practice a few different emotions and see what your face does!

The other way you can adjust your face is to ask a trusted friend or partner to give you interpersonal feedback. So imagine the face you would make with various emotions. What would your face do when you are angry? Make that face and ask your friend…”what does my face say to you?” Switch emotions and try other facial expressions while asking your partner that question. Your kids and teens may also be great at helping with this!

Lean in

Many of us are uncomfortable with discussion emotion.  We might be even more uncomfortable when showing emotion. But if we have someone in our lives who is willing to be vulnerable with their emotions, it is critical that we LEAN IN and engage in the moment with them. Think about it. We’ve all had the experience where a person nearby quickly shuts down our emotion. Or they tell us we are being “dramatic”. Or to “stop crying”.  Most of us walk away from that experience feeling unheard, unvalued, and certainly not realizing that talking about how I feel in the future is a good idea.

The people around us need us to lean in. They need us to engage. Put our cell phones down. Turn off the television. Look at them and listen intently to what they feel. Don’t be afraid.

Make it meaningful

The last step to staying CALM is to make it meaningful for you and the other person. This is best done with great listening skills and empathy sharing.  Great listening involves allowing the other person to speak, truly staying focused on what they are saying and not saying, and using non-verbal gestures to keep the person knowing you are listening. Great listeners PRACTICE. Listening is a skill to be learned, practiced, and re-learned in new relationships. Just because you are a good listener to your kids, doesn’t mean you are a good listener to your friends or partner or supervisor. Be in continual reflection about your listening skills and ask others for feedback about your listening to learn for the future!


I hope this provides you with some things to consider as you manage big emotions from people around you! I would love to hear from you if you have feedback!