Many life experiences are difficult to put into words. Love, joy, and pain are all feelings that you may be aware of but find difficult to express. And the words you choose to describe them may be quite different from those used by another individual.
Similarly, depending on who you question, the meaning of emotional distress can differ.
According to Adrienne Clements, a licensed marital and family therapist and the founder of Head and Heart Integrative Psychotherapy, emotional distress arises when you are feeling a high amount of negative emotions.
For example, you could call any unpleasant or unwelcome emotions that arise as a result of problems or difficulties “emotional discomfort.” Many individuals also use the term to refer to any unpleasant mood experience, including mental health symptoms such as depression and anxiety, as well as emotions such as wrath and grief.
While emotional discomfort is not a mental health diagnosis, it can nevertheless feel overwhelming — so overwhelming, in fact, that you may struggle to manage your daily routine, according to Clements.
The in-depth examination of emotional discomfort provided here will help you better understand it, identify it early on, and take steps to mitigate its impact.
Emotional distress symptoms
Clements adds that emotional distress almost usually involves modifications in your typical personality and daily function, however, the way it feels differs from person to person.
Perhaps you’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty in your life, and your usual can-do positive outlook has shifted to a more pessimistic one. You suddenly feel helpless, find it difficult to concentrate, and begin missing critical work deadlines.
Or perhaps you’ve recently relocated across the nation for your partner’s employment. Leaving your friends and family has brought on a flood of sadness and fear. And your favorite pastimes, such as gardening, walking, and reading, have lost their luster
Emotional discomfort can cause a variety of symptoms. Clements suggests paying attention to the following:
- emotions of despair, anxiety, or numbness.
- decreasing work or school performance withdrawing from loved ones or keeping to yourself more than usual feelings of shame or hopelessness difficulty making decisions or processing information unexpected irritability or hostility.
- Oversleeping, difficulty falling asleep, waking up early or in the middle of the night eating more or less than usual suffering physical symptoms such as general exhaustion, headaches, or stomach pain.
Potential sources of emotional distress
Emotional distress symptoms, like potential triggers, can vary greatly.
Clements points out that many situations can produce emotional distress, and that whether something causes a significant emotional reaction may depend on your nervous system capacity at the moment of the trigger.
Some people are more sensitive by nature than others. For example, if you are highly sensitive, you may be quickly startled, frazzled when there is too much going on, and unsettled by change. Things that upset your equilibrium may be very different from things that impair the equilibrium of someone who enjoys working in a crowded, fast-paced atmosphere.
Clements mentions a few distinct triggers, such as:
- witnessing or being a victim of tragic events.
- as a neurodivergent individual navigating a neurotypical culture.
- handling everyday ableism as a disabled person
- experiencing financial troubles.
- losing a career, a loved one, or a comfortable habit.
- dealing with increasing work responsibilities or toxic behavior from coworkers.
- being subjected to racism, discrimination, oppression, or microaggressions.
How can you be affected by mental distress?
Emotional anguish can have a significant impact on many aspects of your life.
Ongoing emotional discomfort may cause:
- prevent you from obtaining enough good sleep
- cause modifications in your usual dietary habits
- influence your mood
- participate in relationship conflict
- cause poor academic or occupational performance
- make it more difficult to focus and finish daily duties
Furthermore, each of these events could have a cascade effect, resulting in additional consequences.
If you lie awake night after night, pondering the source of your distress, you may fall short of the 7 or 8 hours of sleep you require.
Sleep deprivation, in turn, can impair your focus and memory, as well as make you irritable. You may lose patience with your partner and children more easily, miss crucial engagements with family and friends, or make several errors at work.
Over time, psychological discomfort might also contribute to health difficulties. A 2018 UK study trusted Source included data from 16,485 participants who investigated the association between anxiety and depression symptoms, dubbed “psychological discomfort” in the research, and health risks.
According to the findings, even low or moderate levels of discomfort can increase :
Managing Emotional Distress
Anyone can experience emotional anguish, but it does not have to be unavoidable. Sometimes you can prevent it from happening in the first place.
Even if you can’t totally avoid distress and overwhelm, keep in mind that helpful habits and everyday routines can typically lessen their degree and impact.
Clements reminds us that “life-changing experiences are just that: life-changing.” It’s critical to remember that emotional pain is not a sign of weakness.”
When faced with stressor after the stressor, you may find yourself caught in fight-flight-freeze mode, making it impossible to take restful breaks and calm internal unrest.
Still, it is possible to find inner strength and resilience. These five tactics can assist you in tapping into your inner tough reserves.
Recognize and accept your emotional experience.
It’s common in stressful situations to spend a lot of time denying the reality of the situation. You can find yourself thinking stuff like:
- “How come this has to happen to me?”
- “This isn’t right.”
- “What if I had made a different decision?”
- “What if it hadn’t happened?”
- While these reactions are understandable, they might also exacerbate your distress.
Accepting your reality, or the outcome of events may help to lower the degree and intensity of your emotions.
Accepting your reality does not imply pretending to enjoy what is happening. It just means being present with the feelings that arise.
Clements argues that when you oppose or don’t comprehend what your emotions are attempting to communicate, it might feel like a threat to your nervous system. However, naming such emotions can assist your nervous system make sense of the event and your brain come out of fight-or-flight mode.
You’re not sure what you’re feeling. This collection of emotions can assist you to figure out what’s wrong.
Always have an emotional toolkit on hand.
In times of stress, you may become so overwhelmed that you temporarily forget about your typical coping tactics.
That is why it is critical to know ahead of time which coping tactics work best for you. In other words, making a list or a physical box of coping tools is another excellent technique to assist reduce mental suffering.
You can prepare ahead of time by writing down a range of relaxing strategies and activities, such as:
- Exercising your deep breathing
- yoga poses for relaxation
- simple pleasures journaling
- methods based on nature
In a real toolbox, you might include items that are relaxing, such as:
- a pleasing aroma images of pets or people you care about
- a favorite book that makes you feel peaceful
- happy affirmations on index cards or decorative notepaper
That way, when you’re worried and overburdened, you won’t have to go looking for respite.
Use compassionate self-talk.
Emotional excess can awaken your inner critic and set off a chain reaction of negative self-talk:
- “You’re being absurd.”
- “Take control of yourself.”
- “Just accept it.”
- “Perform better!”
- “What’s the matter with you?”
Of course, all of this self-criticism usually exacerbates your emotional reaction and makes you feel worse.
Even if you already know that self-kindness and self-compassion can help you feel better, it may be difficult to turn over your self-talk immediately — and that’s perfectly normal.
Not quite ready for a full dose of self-compassion? Instead, sprinkle in gentler remarks that acknowledge the difficulties you’re facing as well as the effort you’re putting in.
Clements suggests sliding into self-kindness with comments such as:
- “What if I’m doing my best?”
- “What if I’m stronger than I give myself credit for?”
- “Please allow me to attempt to be kind to myself as I handle this circumstance.”
Accept your values.
“When life gets dark, values may be a tremendous guiding light,” adds Clements. In situations where you feel powerless, your values can guide you toward helpful, constructive acts.
Consider what is most important to you while determining your values. You can then develop a list of your top values, as well as a few actions you can take when you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
What effect might this have in practice?
Assume your value:
Honoring this value may entail requesting assistance from loved ones when necessary, spending more quality time together, or making a point to connect regularly.
Honoring this ideal could involve starting to read the Torah, exploring new ways to connect with nature, or beginning a morning meditation practice.
Compassion. Honoring this value may entail reaching out to close friends for assistance when required, developing a weekend volunteer habit, or remembering not to pass judgment on others.
Healing rarely occurs in isolation, and many people want a sense of connection and community to begin moving ahead, according to Clements.
Social and emotional support can come from anyone.
For example, you could find it beneficial to discuss your difficulties with a loved one who is a good listener and can hold space for you as you process your sorrow.
That being said, you may not always feel ready to express your pain to others, and that’s fine. Other tactics, such as journaling and other emotion-focused coping mechanisms, may also be beneficial.
Another alternative to think about? A therapist can help.
You do not need to have a diagnosed mental health disorder to benefit from counseling. Mental health specialists can help you obtain a more complete grasp of:
- your basic feelings.
- items that cause emotional anguish.
- negative thoughts and acts that exacerbate your distress.
Therapists can also assist you in developing methods for:
- coping with difficult emotions more effectively.
- addressing deeply embedded ideas and behaviors that contribute to distress.
- adopting more beneficial actions in the present.
- building resilience to deal with future adversity.
Emotional anguish does not take the same form for everyone, and some people cope better than others.
Lingering distress, on the other hand, can have far-reaching repercussions on daily life, ranging from interrupting sleep to deteriorating your health over time.
Whatever the source of your pain, you can take steps to address it and lessen its impact. These actions may involve identifying your emotional experience, employing calming techniques that work for you, and getting help from loved ones and specialists.