Rx 16 Five Tools for Handling Painful and Runaway Emotions

By Dr. S.D. Shanti Copyright ©2020

Excerpted from my book The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing.

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that this information is solely for educational purposes. It is not a substitute for help from a licensed mental health professional or other medical professional.

Your ability to clarify your thoughts can help you untangle yourself from negative emotions. When you act with intention to reduce the number of negative thoughts you have, you are taking deliberate steps toward the healthy side of The Spectrum of Wellbeing.

1. Stop Sign—Putting the Brakes on Runaway Emotions

If you feel your negative emotions careening out of control, visualize a stop sign. Stop the swarm of thoughts in your mind. Then step back, and take a deep breath. Disengage from the situation and return to it when you calm down. It’s that simple—but it works.

2. Hit Your Reset Button—Clearing Your Mind and Committing to Your Priority

When your mind is filled with too many negative thoughts, worries, or self-sabotaging remarks, stop thinking. Silence the chatter. Clear your mind and let it go blank. Then start over fresh and define what is most important in the moment, commit to it, and pursue your priority.

To get rid of negative words and thoughts, try picturing the reset button on a computer and envision yourself pushing it. Then let your thoughts fall away and restart with what is most important. 

Words and thoughts are important. But in excess, they can literally be “too much” and block your flow and feed into distress. Having an onslaught of excessive thoughts is like having too many computer files—text, images, music, and presentations—open at the same time; when they run in parallel, they slow down your computer and frustrate you.

When you hit your Reset Button, clear your mind and open only the most important file! Then, with a focused mind, identify your goal, commit to what needs to get done, and do it.

You can vary the Reset Button metaphor to suit your preference. To get you started, here are a couple of variations on the theme:

  • Picture a chalkboard in a classroom, so full of words and diagrams that the amount of information makes you feel tense. Erase the board. Then write only what is most important.  Commit to that and go forward.
  • Alternatively, you might find the image of a toilet handle helpful. It is graphic but effective. When you feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts and emotions, do a “flush and focus”—flush the handle, let the excess of words and thoughts flow away, then focus on what’s important.

3. Teflon Mind—Letting Upsets Slide Away

This tool, created by Marsha Linehan, a professor and researcher at the University of Washington, has you picturing your upsetting thoughts on a non-stick pan and then letting them slide off, the way eggs or pancakes do. Use this image any time someone upsets you. Tell yourself immediately to do a Teflon Mind so the distress doesn’t stay with you like stuck-on batter. Instead, take deep breaths and let your upsets slide away, and go on with your day.

4. Time Out—Getting Some Space to Gather Your Thoughts

When you find yourself in a tense situation, take a Time Out to get some space and gather your thoughts. This tool allows you to put the brakes on your runaway emotions and keeps you from making potentially damaging or embarrassing remarks.

An ancient Sanskrit proverb says that the spoken word is like an arrow. Once released, you can’t take it back. No matter how you release it, whether in person, by voicemail, or by e-mail, what is said is said, and what is sent is sent—there is no retrieving it.

The next time you feel yourself spiraling into a heated argument, take a Time Out before you say something you’ll regret. Do something to help you disengage from the upsetting situation so you’re more in control of yourself and not flooded with anger or other negative emotions.

Tell the other person you need some space before you can continue the discussion. Go into another room and take deep breaths. Get a drink of water. Go surf the Internet for a few minutes. The point is to do something neutral—anything—to shift your focus and reduce your tension. Then come back to the discussion when you are more grounded.

Caution! Don’t use a Time Out to avoid an issue. Let the other person know that you plan to return to the topic when you are calmer. Time Outs save you lots of heartache and regret.

5. Calming Visualizations—Accessing Peace in Stressful Situations

Let your imagination support you in feeling calm. By visualizing calm scenes, you can access peace in stressful situations.

Close your eyes and picture an image or a place that gives you a peaceful feeling. Breathe gently and slowly as you let yourself become fully absorbed in your imagination.

Exhale and let your body relax. Conjure up this pleasant image whenever you are feeling stressed or you are about to enter a situation that is outside your comfort zone.

Rx 9 To Be At Your Best Emotionally – Brush Your Mind

Please share this so we can get everyone engaging in mental hygiene regularly, in the same way many millions of people practice oral hygiene. Thank you!
Please scroll below for translation of text in the image.

Rx Do for your mind as you do for your teeth everyday: Brush Your Mind Everyday

  • Breathe with your belly and exhale slowly
  • Move your body – dance, walk or anything positive
  • Sing or chant – even if you think you can’t
  • Connect with a friend or loved one – via phone call, text, email or video, even if you cannot meet in person
  • Remind yourself of what is going well, even if your life is not as you would like it to be.

Use the Mind-Body Connection to Your Advantage

by S.D. Shanti, PhD.
Originally published September 2001 at HealthAndAge.com. Updated and modified March 2020


Ancient cultures and philosophers made reference to the mind-body connection long ago. Now modern research confirms that this connection indeed exists. One place where this connection is strong is the relationship between your emotions and the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (also called adrenaline).

When people experience heightened emotions due to stress they produce more stress hormones. Frequent or lasting stress and feelings of upset translate into more hormones being secreted. These in turn contribute to increased wear and tear on your heart and a decrease in your immune system’s ability to respond and protect you from bacteria and viruses. It also can contribute to increased risk of anger or aggression.

Stress, Emotions and Health

While stress and negative emotions are two different entities, they are often intertwined. Sometimes, stress can trigger negative emotions. Other times, negative emotions such as anxiety and worry may cause a person to behave in ways that generate even more stress for themselves.

Stress in and of itself is not bad, and a little bit of it helps us to improve our performance. But when stress becomes too much or prolonged, it is harmful.

Likewise, everyone experiences negative emotions from time to time. In small amounts these are not harmful to health. But when negative emotions become part of an on-going way of responding to situations, the risk of illness increases.

Research shows that an excess of anger and anxiety (along with variations of anxiety such as excessive worry), can be harmful to your heart. These emotions increase your physiological responses to situations; and in turn, this creates an added burden for your heart. Too much stress is also associated with an increased risk of depression.

Being proactive against your negative emotions will help you achieve two things:

  • You will reduce the risk of harmful consequences of stress upon your body and upon your interactions with other people;
  • You will have a clearer mind that allows you to respond in the best way possible.

Understanding Negative Emotions

Emotions are made up of two components: thoughts and your bodily reactions. How you view a situation will affect how you will react to it.

If you are feeling scared, worried or anxious, chances are that you are expecting something bad to happen. If you feel angry, it is likely that, underneath your anger, there is a feeling that you have been wronged or that the situation is unjust.

When you feel such emotions, it is likely that your breathing and heart rate become faster than normal. The muscles in your shoulders, arms and back may become tense. You may experience unpleasant feelings in your stomach.

Stop Negative Emotional Reactions

You can reduce the intensity of your emotional response to a situation by looking for the underlying assumptions or thoughts. If you are worried, ask yourself “What are you worried about?”, and “Why are you worried?” Perhaps you fear a “worst possible outcome,” when in fact, it is not likely to happen.

If you feel angry, try to understand why you are upset. Look at your thoughts that underlie your anger. Many times people feel angry when they think that someone has deliberately hurt them or offended them.

Find an Alternate Perspective

If you are angry, worried or upset, challenge yourself to find a different perspective or explanation that can reduce the intensity of your emotions.

When someone is unpleasant towards you, you can tell yourself that maybe they are having a bad day. Looking for alternate explanations that are not personal can help to defuse your anger or other negative feelings.

When situations and people upset you, try to see things in terms of the big picture. Most likely your entire happiness does not depend upon one situation or one person. While it is true that situations and people can make your life unpleasant and difficult at times, you can take steps to control the impact on your health and emotional well being.

What You Can do When Your Anger is Justified

Of course there are times when anger is justified. However, the problem is that when we give in to anger, it clouds our ability to see and think clearly. And when anger escalates, it also increases the risk of aggression and violence.

In such moments when you feel angry, you must remind yourself of the following phrase: “Am I controlling my anger, or is it controlling me?”

In such instances, you have to engage in self-talk that soothes your upset and calms you down. You can try phrases such as “I need to stay focused on what is most important in this moment” or “This is wrong but getting angry won’t help me to solve the problem.” You can also say things like “By calming myself, I will be much more effective in responding to whatever is making me angry.”

You can also use your body to support your efforts to defuse your anger. Breathe deeply from your belly and exhale slowly. Do this as often as you need.

You can also engage in physical activity to help blow off steam. If you are homebound and cannot go outside for a walk, then look at what you can do in the privacy of your room. For instance, can you dance or do jumping jacks? Alternatively, can you do the dishes or vacuum your home?

Constructive physical activity in response to anger is like pulling your foot off the gas pedal of a car.  You make it go slower and thereby reduce the risk of a crash. Once you do that, you will be better able to respond to the situation from a calm place.

When you calm yourself, you are more likely to respond constructively rather than in unhealthy or in ways that are potentially harmful to you and others.

When anger is justified, it makes sense to speak up or speak out in a calm and constructive way. Other times it is best to just back off and cool off because the consequences of expressing your anger in an unhealthy way will be counter-productive. If you are dealing with another angry person, then giving into your own anger will only fuel escalation and can even lead to aggression.

Lastly, never punch a pillow – or anything else – to vent your anger. It is counterproductive and in fact can increases the risk of aggression by escalating negative emotions.

Pay Attention to Your Breathing

When you find yourself angry or upset, stop and take a look at how you are breathing. Has your breathing become suddenly faster? If so, breathe more slowly and deliberately. For more information on how proper breathing can help you manage your negative emotions, please see the article “Take a deep breath… and relax.

Practice Your Skills to More Effectively Manage Your Negative Emotions

Leveraging the mind-body connection consistently to your advantage takes practice, but the results are worth the effort.

Practice consists of regularly doing focused deep breathing for periods of ten to fifteen minutes a day. If you don’t have that much time, then do what you can. Even a little bit is better than none.

Additionally, you can practice searching for alternate perspectives when you experience negative emotions.You can take examples of upsetting situations from your past and use them to practice this skill.

Review these situations without being critical of yourself.

Ask yourself if you could have avoided a misunderstanding by changing your perspective. Try to identify the thought that was underneath the anger. Then try to challenge that thought with a perspective that is less upsetting.

Start first with simple examples of past experiences. These can be situations which were annoying but not overly significant. One example is an experience you might have in a store while shopping. Then, you can build up to more significant incidences that involve your family or co-workers. Again, seek to find alternate perspectives that may could have eased a tense or upsetting moment.

Please bear in mind that these are general principles and need to be adapted to your particular situation.

If you are worried about your escalating emotions such that you may pose a physical risk to yourself or others, you must seek professional help immediately.

Try to find a mental health professional who can help you or a hot line where you can connect with resources. While you are doing so, it is important that you take regular breaks to practice deep slow breathing such that you are always brining yourself back to your calm center. For a quick reminder, here is a rapid Rx for Hope.

Seek Positive Mind-Body Synergy

When you do the above steps, you train yourself to respond in ways that reduce the likelihood of negative mind-body synergy. Instead, you increase your chances of creating a healthier, more positive mind-body synergy.

Deep belly breathing, accompanied by slow exhalation increases your feeling of calm. It also helps your body by reducing the release of excessive stress hormones.  

The faster you can switch to deep belly breathing with slow exhalation, the faster you will feel better.

You may still experience negative emotions, but you will feel them less intensely; and the less intensely you feel them, the better you can function. And the better you can function, the better you will feel about yourself, even if things are not going as you would like them to.

Why Practice?

The benefits of practice include less stress, anxiety or anger in response to upsetting situations. Remember, anger, anxiety and worry interfere with your sense of wellbeing. They are a waste of your energy and will leave you feeling drained. More important, too frequent and too intense negative emotions will harm your health.

Lastly, ask yourself whether it is better to invest a bit of time now and reap the long-term benefits of good health, rather than getting sick or damaging relationships that you value.


Pay attention to your thoughts! Find alternate perspectives and slow down your breathing whenever you are upset. Engage in healthy and constructive physical activity. Doing so, will turn the mind-body connection to your advantage, even in exceptionally difficult circumstances.