What to do when the wave hits

Has emotion ever crept up on you? Hit you hard and totally unexpected? Leaving you feeling both confused and utterly exhausted…

It has for me! Just yesterday, I was giving a presentation in front of a room full of colleagues. It covered a topic I knew well; a topic that I am deeply invested in. Yet, suddenly, I was overtaken by emotion; feelings of sadness, guilt, and hopelessness hit me hard. Tears began rolling down my cheeks mid slide. Instinctively, my nerves kicked in, exacerbating my tears further. I fumbled the rest of the way through the presentation trying hard to steady my quivering voice and read my notes through my tears—pretty unsuccessfully. At this point, I faced two options: 

1. Wallow in my own discomfort and remain mortified and embarrassed.

2. Own what happened. Find value in the vulnerability shared.

While picking path one is tempting, and I admit, I still feel embarrassed; path two is something to strive for. And here’s why.

Emotion, while at times uncomfortable and unexpected, provides great insight. It serves as a clue into our subconscious depths and desires. So, it’s important to consider what it means, and reflect on why the tidal wave may have hit. What may have triggered this? What emotion was strongest: fear, sadness, love, shame, pride, guilt, etc.? What could the meaning behind the tears be?

It may also be a sign that further exploration is needed with the help of a trained professional. Emotional health, such as being aware of your emotions and being able to express them appropriately is an important part of maintaining physical and mental health, as well as overall productivity. A trained professional, like our team here at Wellman Psychology, can help one to uncover the true meaning behind emotion and develop management strategies and coping skills for growth going forward.

Beyond personal understating, there’s truth in the power emotion has on others. When genuinely shared, and processed appropriately, emotional vulnerability is leveling and uniting. We all feel emotion, and seeing someone else vulnerable, grants permission for others to join in. Society stigmatizes emotion, yet it’s at the root of every human action, reaction, decision, encounter, relationship and experience. It’s time we all start recognizing the power of emotion when used productively for growth, honesty, and change.   

Tips for handling emotion in the moment

In the moment, there are a few things you can do to emotionally deescalate. First, accept that it is happening. The more you fight it, the more it will fight back—and emotions usually win. Start taking deeper breaths to calm your nervous system. Slowed breathing is extremely helpful in high emotion moments. Lastly, if there is time to take pause, and maybe engage in humor, like “I must be allergic to something…” or something, jokes can help you refocus, and convince your body to accept a more positive emotion. Humor can help change your emotional channel in the short term, giving you the boost to rebound in the present moment.

Tips For those witnessing another’s emotion

Find a way to comfort through connection. If appropriate, touch, such as a hand on one’s shoulder, or a hug if suitable, has powerful calming effects. Human regulatory systems, while not directly connected, send strong signals between each other. In emotional times, touch felt from a person who is emotionally regulated can automatically help a distressed person calm down and re-regulate his or her own emotional system.


By tuning into emotion together, we can begin to tune out its stigma. Emotion is natural and vital to living happy and healthy. Consequently, it’s important that we don’t hide emotion, yet rather lean into it. Figure out why is hits so suddenly, and so hard, and what the wave is trying to bring to shore.


It’s Okay to be Vulnerable.