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3 Ways to Combat the Emotional Roller Coaster

I was a fairly cautious child. I wasn't the risk taker of the family, which often worked against me during trips to Busch Gardens as a kid. I liked to have fun but I played it safe. Needless to say, roller coasters were not generally my thing. Nope. See you at the bumper cars thank you very much.

emotional roller coaster

I remember the first time I went on my first big roller coaster. It was something I had successfully protested for the first 13 years of my life. (Yep, you read that right. 13. Middle School.) It was the summer of Alpengeist. It looked terrifying quite honestly. I mean, not only did it take you upside down but it had you dangling ... while upside down. At top speed. Over concrete. Did I mention you dangled upside down?!

I was on a school trip to Busch Gardens. You can imagine that being afraid of roller coasters doesn't exactly endear you to a group of Middle Schoolers. Luckily, I was in good company. One of my friends was just as scared. So, we stuck together, which she promptly regretted when I announced that we were conquering our fears and going to ride Alpengeist.


Off we went. I put on a brave face, dragging her behind me. Assuring her (I mean me) that it would be totally fine. TOTALLY FINE! My bravery crumbled as soon as they locked the seat. Alpengeist began to climb in what felt like slow motion higher and higher WHILE MY FEET DANGLED all the way to the top. I was sure I was headed for certain death. And, there was no escape. I immediately began to panic and seek forgiveness from my friend.

"I'm SOOO SORRY," I screamed over an over again.

She repeatedly assured me she hated me.

I squeezed my eyes shut, convinced doing so would definitely save me. And then we reached the top and I was propelled forward and .... IT WAS AWESOME! Through joyous screams I convinced my friend to open her eyes and we both giggled uncontrollably through the ride until it was over. And then we went again!

The reality is most people like a good roller coaster unless its an emotional one. At times our emotions feel out of control, taking us for a ride against our will at top speed, with our feet dangling over concrete. This is usually because 2 things happen: 1.) Our thoughts begin to spiral and 2.) Our body reactions take over. As a result, we become dysregulated and the roller coaster picks up speed.

3 Techniques for Calming

Here are 3 techniques to help you calm down and get back in the driver's seat. Each are powerful because they work to put you back in control of your body reactions. Doing so directly impacts your feelings, thoughts, and ultimately what you do, your actions. Because these 4 components are intimately connected, when one changes the others change.

All of these activities reorient you to the present moment. This is important. When our emotions begin to take control it's usually because we are thinking of things in the past that are painful or we are future tripping, brainstorming all of the things that could go wrong in the future.

1.) Grounding

A.) Body scan. What do you notice is going on in your body? Pay attention to your:

  • Breathing

  • Heart Rate

  • Tears

  • Tension

  • Restlessness

  • Pain/Discomfort

  • Stomach/Nausea/Butterflies

  • Head

B.) Focus attention outward. Describe the room around you. Be objective and detailed.

  • Ex. The room has 4 walls and 2 windows. The room is blue. There is a desk that is grey and white. On the desk there is a grey computer, a purple clipboard with white paper, and a globe. The globe has 4 main colors: black, green, yellow, and cream. There are 2 black bookcases with 5 shelves each...

  • You can also count tiles or colors in a picture.

C.) Body scan. What do you notice has changed in your body?

  • Are you still crying?

  • Has your heart rate and breathing slowed?

  • Is your head still racing?

  • Have the butterflies disappeared?

D.) Emotional level: Has it decreased, increased, or stayed the same?

  • You will likely notice you are calmer.

2. ) 5 Senses Exercise


- 5 things you can see

- 4 things you can touch

- 3 things you can hear

- 2 things you can smell

- 1 thing you can taste

3. ) The Spiral Technique

A.) Identify your emotion (I'm feeling anxious)

B.) Where is that feeling located in your body? (I feel it in my chest.)

C.) Ask yourself what direction the energy is moving -- clockwise or counter-clockwise?

(The anxiety in my chest is moving in the direction of a clock.)

D.) Now, with imagine making that energy go in the opposite direction.

- Visualization aides: A clock; trace a spiral in your hand; rock body in "right" direction

What tools and techniques do you use to successfully calm? Please share them with us!

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