The 90 second roller coaster: A primer on how to deal with overwhelming feelings

Feeling used to be so scary because of what I thought they meant.

Sadness means I have to wallow. (And I don’t have time for that.)

Joy, Gratitude and Affection mean I better enjoy it while it lasts because who knows when it will come back again.

Anticipation means I can’t wait. That desire is painful because it means I’m selfish.

Love means I better hold back so I’m not too vulnerable and get hurt.

Pride means I’m not humble enough.

Resentment means I’m a bitch.

Courage means I shouldn’t be so afraid. Never mind that I’m doing that scary thing anyway.

None of that is true.

Sadness means just that–I’m sad.

This morning I’ve felt sadness, joy, anticipation, love, affection, gratitude, pride, stewed resentment, and courage.

And it’s only noon.

I’m not overwhelmed and I’m not trying to make it stop. These feelings haven’t gotten in the way of anything else that I wanted to do because I accepted them and let them roll on through.

Feelings only last 90 seconds.

A feeling is just a sensation in the body. It’s a response to a stimulus, often a thought or a belief. It is not a reflection on your character or moral fiber. It doesn’t mean a damn thing.

Actually feeling the feelings doesn’t take very long. The quickest way to stop feeling bad is to let yourself feel bad. Step into the present moment with the feeling and let it pass through. This goes for the so called positive feelings as well as the negative ones.

Nuh-uh, you’re saying. My feelings last a lot longer than that.

No they don’t. Each feeling only lasts a short time. Fighting them and telling yourself over and over again that you shouldn’t be feeling that for whatever reason, means they’ll get stuck. They act like a broken record repeating over and over. When you play the song through, you get to hear the next one.

I walked a woman through a full out panic attack once. She was hyperventilating and hysterical. Her sobs came in waves that lasted about a minute. Then she got a break. Every single time.

My son is almost two and has no ability to regulate his emotions. When he throws a full on tantrum his hysteria only lasts about a minute. Then he stops. He might start it up again when another wave comes, but each fit comes in waves.

It’s the same thing for you and I. Our feelings will come up, get very strong for a minute and then roll out. Every single time.

Try this

Call up an experience that you know will produce a strong feeling. Time the feeling itself using a second hand or the stopwatch feature on your phone. Notice how long the entire feeling lasts.

You can do this. You can handle anything for 90 seconds. Anything.



5 Responses to The 90 second roller coaster: A primer on how to deal with overwhelming feelings

  1. Susan December 24, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    Thanks! I *really* needed to hear this! Knowing this allowed to let go of the hope of connecting with someone special to me. I let myself feel the loss and just told him I’m done with the chase.

    Now I get to go into the the new year free!!!

    • Sarah December 25, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

      Love. This.

      You go, Susan. And do it peacefully. XO

  2. Jano Brindisi December 24, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    This 90 second insight CHANGED MY LIFE!
    One of the single most empowering things I have ever been taught-

    • Sarah December 25, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

      This makes me so happy Jano. You are a treasure. xo

  3. Suzanna December 26, 2012 at 9:48 pm #

    Good reminder! I think I could check every one on that feelings = interpretation list myself! LOL And lemme add a few more:
    Disappointment means I’m (too) demanding. Should be happy with what it was, what I have, who they are, whatever happened, etc.
    Annoyance means I’m a selfish bitch.
    Regret means I can’t trust my own decisions.
    It’s not the 90 seconds that’ll wear on ya. It’s that sometimes the 90 seconds is on lather-rinse-repeat! ha ha
    Thanks, Sarah, for a message that probably should be hung from every major intersection in the city this holiday season! I suspect that there have been MANY hectic holiday-ers feeling frantic-frazzled-blessed-pissed-overjoyed these last few days — all wrapped up with a red bow on it. 🙂

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