Managing Intense Feelings

Laura Taylor and Jeffrey Kreutzer, and Taryn Stejskal, The National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care
Managing Intense Feelings

After injury, survivors and their family members often experience a variety of strong emotions. Many people describe feeling frustrated, angry, or sad about changes following the injury. Others talk about feeling worried or scared about what will happen in the future. Some people notice that their emotions change quickly, “like a roller coaster.” Feeling misunderstood is also common. Strong emotions can weaken your ability to solve problems, handle challenges effectively, and get along with others.

Recognizing, understanding, and controlling your feelings can be very difficult. The first step in controlling your emotions is recognizing how you feel and noticing when your emotions get in the way. If you can figure out how you’re feeling early on, you can get your feelings under control faster and more easily. Then you’ll be able to feel better and reach your goals more efficiently.

Take a moment to think about how you feel. On the list below, mark the sentences that describe you:

  • I often feel frustrated.
  • I get angry easily.
  • I can’t do much to make things better.
  • I don’t like much about myself.
  • I worry a lot.
  • I have made many mistakes.
  • I worry about the future.
  • I’m lonely.
  • I believe I am at fault for many of our problems.
  • I feel sad.
  • People don’t understand me.
  • I feel overwhelmed.
  • My feelings change from minute to minute.
  • I get upset easily.
  • Very few people care about me.
  • I have many fears.
  • I feel like I should be doing more.
  • I’m disappointed in myself.
  • I wish my life could be the way it was before.
  • I am often grouchy.

Review the items you’ve checked and the ones you haven’t to better understand your feelings. The more items you’ve checked, the more likely it is that you are experiencing many different and strong emotions. Is there a pattern to the items you’ve checked? Show your checklist to someone you know and trust. Do you agree on the items that should be checked?

Once you recognize how you feel, you can take steps to help yourself cope with the emotions effectively. We’ve talked to lots of survivors and their families to find out ways they cope with strong feelings. Here are a few strategies that have worked for other people. Look over this list with trusted family, friends, or professionals and pick out which ones you think will work for you and your family:

  • Remember that ups and downs are normal parts of life. Realize that your feelings are a common, normal response to your experience. Try to look forward to the ups!
  • Remember that you have the power to control your emotions. You can choose to change the way you feel and the way you react. Your ability to control strong emotions will get better with practice.
  • Stop the cycle before your emotions get too intense. Watch out for early warning signs of intense emotions. It’s harder to calm down once they get out of control.
  • Be hopeful and positive. Say positive things to yourself and others (e.g., “I will make it through this,” “I’m trying my hardest,” “I’m a good person”). Remember that persistence is the best way to solve your problems and avoid failure. Try to keep a good sense of humor.
  • Count your blessings. Think about things you are thankful for. Recognize positive feelings, good things about yourself, and changes for the better.
  • If you can’t do something to make the situation better, don’t make it worse. Sometimes you may feel like there’s nothing you can do to make the situation better. Try to avoid doing silly things that may make the situation worse. Doing nothing may be better.
  • Intense emotions often come in response to stress. Monitor your stress level and take steps to control your stress. Some stress management strategies actually work well for dealing with intense emotions too.
  • Avoid thinking too much about your feelings. Instead, focus on positive steps you can take to feel better.
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Try to understand other people’s points of view. Think about how they will feel in response to your actions or words. Remember that hurting others won’t make your life better, make people like you, or help you get what you want.
  • Don’t say or do the first thing that comes to mind. Take a deep breath. Count to ten. Get into the habit of thinking about what you want to say or do before you say or do it.
  • Wait and deal with problems when you are calm. Strong emotions will keep you from thinking clearly. Calm yourself down first — count to 10, take a break, or do something relaxing and fun. Then, think about the consequences and possible ways to solve your problems.
  • Remember that nobody can solve all their problems by themselves. Talk to trusted family, friends, and professionals about your feelings and about how they cope with strong emotions. Ask for help when you need it. Doing so will let people know you value their support and offers chances to build relationships.
  • Recognize the difficulties and challenges you face, and how hard you are working to make things better. Give yourself credit when you control your emotions and express your feelings in positive ways.

Sometimes people have trouble helping themselves feel better. Often, you can benefit from support and guidance from others. Talk with trusted family, friends, or professionals about your feelings. Also, consider joining a support group, so you can learn from others about how they’ve dealt successfully with similar emotions.

This column was written by Laura Taylor and Jeff Kreutzer from the VCU TBI Model System Family Support Research Program. For more information about the program, please contact Laura at 804.828.3703 or

Posted on BrainLine June 19, 2009.

From the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care. Reprinted with permission.

Comments (4)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

How do I have the power to change my emotions?! I wouldn’t have ANY of the problems I do if I could. Frontal lobe injury mucked that all up for me. But thanks for the guilt and shame…I get it everywhere I turn.

I do not completely understand your question completely, I believe it sounds as though the anxiety has you defeated before the wheels are even set in motion - I would call it defeatism.

I am also easily emotional about things I am passionate about: My Family, America, The Flag, The Constitution, Illegal Immigration & the Right To Bear Arms to name a few.

Dont' know about you; my TBI earned me the Right to get emotional over things I Love Dearly; if you think I am not a man or weak, because I do shed tears, we can discuss Your Issue.

I have such big feelings of love, pride, missing my grown children and grandkids! It seems I cry every time I talk to them and it either irritates them or makes them feel guilty. I really hate it but I can't even prepare myself beforehand because I never know when they'll call. (I'm not allowed to call one of them, only text.) How do I control the tears that come so easily? I don't mean to make them uncomfortable. :(

I have a very hard time dealing with all of these problems but with it all comes an intense graphic way of thinking which is really upsetting and hard to deal with. Is there a name for this so I know where to start looking for help?