How to Avoid an Emotional Meltdown, and What to Do When It Happens Anyway?


Have you ever been completely frustrated? We’ve all been there: you’re stuck at the DMV, waiting in line for hours just to get a number and wait even longer; you’ve worked hard at work to prove yourself and make sure you get that promotion you deserve but your lazy colleague gets it instead; or, more simply put, throughout the day little things go wrong and you feel emotionally down.

Whatever made you feel defeated, you are on the verge of an emotional breakdown. For some, that means their eyes are filled with tears that threaten to fall out at any moment. For others, that means racing hearts and shaky hands. However, for most, it means an influx of stress, negativity, and a bad ending to a bad day. How can we best manage this emotional breakdown and prevent it from wreaking complete and utter havoc?

In the stressful and overstimulating world, we live in, we all can find ourselves feeling so overwhelmed by our stress that it significantly affects our behaviour (an emotional breakdown). An “emotional crisis” is not exactly a medical diagnosis. It is used in popular discourse to describe when we are emotionally overwhelmed when we hit a breaking point.

For some people, a breakdown can seem like uncontrollable crying. To others, it may seem like you are yelling at others or lashing out in anger. For others, it can mean panicking or running away from a stressful situation. An occasional breakdown is perfectly normal. “You may suddenly burst into tears or get angry because you feel out of control, overwhelmed by pressure and things in your life that are unpredictable. It doesn’t mean that something is “wrong” with you.

However, it can be an indication that you are going through a difficult time and that some of your personal and emotional needs are not being met. The good news is that you can recover from a meltdown. You can also learn to manage the stressors in your life that threaten to push you over the edge so future crises are less likely.

Identify How You Are Feeling

Giving names to your feelings can help you better understand your feelings. Thinking something like “I’m scared right now” or “I’m disappointed” can help you clarify what’s going on with you. Studies show that labelling an emotion takes some of its stings out. Simply identifying your emotions can help you feel a little better right away.

You could just think about what you’re feeling and try to name it or you could write in a journal to help you figure things out. You may also find that talking to someone and naming your emotions out loud helps you feel better.

Determine if Your Emotions Are Useful or Useless

Sometimes People Talk About Feelings as if They Are Good or Bad. Emotions Are neither Positive nor Negative. All Emotions Can Be Useful or Useless.

Take Fear, for Example. Fear Is Helpful When It Warns You of Danger. If Your Fear Alarm Goes off When You’re in an Unsafe Situation (Like Standing Too Close to the Edge of a Cliff), You’re Likely Reacting in a Way That Makes You More Confident. In This Case, Your Fear Is Helpful.

However, if You Avoid Giving a Potentially Career-Boosting Speech Because Public Speaking Causes Too Much Anxiety, Then Your Anxiety Is Not Helping. Likewise, Anger Can Be Helpful When It Gives You the Courage to Make Positive Changes. It’s No Use if It Makes You Say or Do Things You Later Regret. If Your Emotions Are Helpful, Perhaps You Should Embrace Them. If Your Emotions Aren’t Helping You, There Are Steps You Can Take to Control Them.

Experiment With Healthy Coping Skills

Healthy coping skills help you process difficult emotions without numbing, repressing, or ignoring them. They can temporarily distract you to make you feel better, or they can help calm your body or improve your mood. Coping skills that work for one person may not work for another, so finding the coping skills that work best for you is important.

Examples of healthy coping skills might include exercising, reading a book, taking a bath, listening to music, spending time in nature, or calling a friend. Be aware of unhealthy coping skills that can bring new problems into your life or make you feel worse over time. Alcohol use, drug use, or overeating are just a few examples of coping skills that may help you feel better temporarily but will cause bigger problems in your life in the long run.

Accept How You Feel

Sometimes it’s best to sit with an uncomfortable emotion. This can mean acknowledging what you’re experiencing and then going about your daily routine anyway.

You may notice that you are feeling sad or anxious and decide to continue working on a project, or you may even take a break just to pay attention to what you are experiencing. How do your emotions affect your thoughts? How do they affect you physically? If you, for example, are angry, your thoughts can remain focused on the negative. And you may experience physiological responses such as an increased heart rate.

Just being aware of these things without judging yourself can be helpful. When you start thinking things like, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” remind yourself that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling and that the feeling is temporary. At some point, it will be over.

Reframe Unhelpful Thoughts

Be aware of unhelpful thoughts that are fuelling your uncomfortable emotions. Things like “I can’t take this!” or “I know something bad is going to happen” will only make you feel worse.

If you catch yourself having unhelpful thoughts, take a minute to restate them. You could come up with a simple phrase that you keep imagining, like, “This is uncomfortable, but I’m fine.

You might also ask, “What would you say to a friend who has this problem?” You may find that you would offer them kind and compassionate words of encouragement. Try offering yourself the same kind words.

Act Like You Feel Happy

While it’s sometimes helpful to accept uncomfortable emotions for a while, you don’t want to get caught up in them either. Feeling sad for too long or being angry can keep you stuck in a dark place. Sometimes it helps to proactively change your emotional state. One of the best ways to do this is to change the way you behave.

Instead of sitting on the couch and doing nothing when you’re sad, you could ask yourself, “What would I do now if I were happy?” Maybe you would go for a walk or call a friend. Do these things now, even if you don’t feel like it. You may find that changing your behaviour changes how you feel. Pretending to make yourself feel better can help you feel better.

Common Meltdown Triggers

The details of why meltdowns occur are unique to the individual and situation, but certain conditions increase the likelihood of a meltdown in many, if not most, people. 

  • Being Too Tired: Too little sleep, especially night after night, can make you more irritable, short-tempered, and prone to stress.
  • Hunger: Even if you’re consuming enough calories on any given day, not eating for too long can cause blood sugar levels to drop so low that you feel low on energy, tremors, headaches, and have trouble concentrating. 
  • Being Overwhelmed or Overwhelmed: Taking on too many responsibilities at once or even taking on too many social activities is a sure-fire recipe for feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Major Life Transitions: Getting or losing a job, starting, or ending a relationship, moving to a new home, getting married, having a baby, graduating from college, and many other normal life transitions make you emotionally more vulnerable. 
  • Unaddressed Relationship Issues: The closer the relationship, the more important it is to address differences as soon as they arise. Escalating conflicts usually leads to small disagreements, which aren’t problems in themselves (like fighting over which movie to see), but rather bigger problems. Some can be easily resolved, like making sure you eat more often. Others may require more work, e.g., learning better communication skills.

How to Stop a Breakdown When You Feel It Coming

You can’t avoid difficult situations, but you can change the way you respond to them. The next time you feel signs of acute stress (your face gets hot, your hands get cold, your breathing gets shallow), pay attention to how you’re feeling and if you’re not being called to save someone’s life, take steps to do to calm down. Before trying to react to what happened.

“It is important to stop when we are experiencing an overwhelming emotion. Our brain works differently during these times and is unable to make logical decisions. Grounding techniques such as focusing attention on your feet, bringing your fingertips together, and breathing exercises can help calm yourself.

Five Step Deep Breathing Routine

1) Inhale deeply for four seconds.

2) Hold your breath for four seconds.

3) Exhale for four seconds.

4) Pause for four seconds before breathing again.

5) Repeat until you feel calmer.

Remember that these steps will not undo a difficult situation or make the problem that triggered your strong emotional response go away. But calming down before you react will help you approach the situation from a less emotional and more thoughtful place.

Recovery From an Emotional Breakdown

How do you feel after an emotional breakdown? Do you feel embarrassed or embarrassed when you behave or let others know how you feel? Are you relieved to have expressed your feelings or justified in letting them out? Are you scared or afraid of the potential impact of your breakout?

While most people would like to forget a crisis as soon as possible, it can be a learning experience. For example, if you find that you tend to break down when you try to do too much at once, you can use this information positively by learning to manage your time better or to say “no” more often. If you’re embarrassed about showing your feelings in public, you can examine how you feel about your feelings. Why isn’t it okay to be angry, sad, or need something from another person?

Being ashamed of your feelings won’t help you deal with them better in the future. Hence be nice to yourself. What if you feel relieved after a breakdown? Sometimes expressing your feelings, even in the form of an emotional crisis, can relieve stress if you are in control of your emotions.

Wouldn’t it be better to learn to express your feelings before you reach the point where you burst into tears or lash out at others? It’s not easy, but it’s possible to express your feelings healthily so that you don’t hold them back inside.

Also know that while you never need to apologize for your feelings, you may have to apologize for your behaviour or the way you expressed your feelings. If your crisis has involved raising your voice to other people or behaviours like throwing or hitting an object in front of other people, apologize and plan to manage your feelings differently the next time you get upset or are stressed.

If you find that this type of behaviour is common to you and you are having trouble coping, consider contacting a therapist to help you develop alternative coping strategies. An emotional breakdown is never an excuse for abusive behaviour, be it verbal or physical. Be nice to yourself. We all feel overwhelmed at times, and it doesn’t help to be ashamed of it.

Get Professional Help

If you’re having trouble controlling your emotions, talk to a professional. You can start by talking to your doctor. Explain how you have been feeling, and your doctor may want to reassure you that there are no known medical causes for your change in well-being.

You can also consult a licensed psychologist. Difficulty controlling your emotions can be a sign of an underlying mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression. Talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both can help.


It’s okay to be an emotional person. Crying when you watch movies (or even commercials), feeling passion for the things you love, and getting angry at social injustice are signs that you are human, not red flags that you need help.

Being emotional only becomes a problem when it creates problems in your life. If your emotions are making it difficult for you to maintain healthy relationships, stay productive at work, or succeed at school, you can seek professional help.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.