How to Cope with Emotions (Outside of Food)

How to Cope with Emotions (Outside of Food)

If you’ve ever used food to soothe emotion, you’re in good company. Food does work (temporarily) at easing an emotional hurt or pain. Dopamine (a feel-good chemical) gets released in the brain when eating certain foods, providing you with a very real emotional relief. Unfortunately, if you are eating when your body is not hungry (or restricting when your body is indeed hungry), that good feeling may be very short lived (ex. guilt, shame, physical discomfort).

Feeling feelings (and knowing what to do with them) can be foreign and uncomfortable, especially if you’re in a habit of numbing them. Coping skills need to be customized to each individual and counseling can help tailor skills for your particular needs. The list of coping skills below can be a starting point, helping you begin to brainstorm some viable alternatives for transforming your relationship with your emotions.


1.       Meditate

2.       Breathe deeply

3.       Write in a worry journal

4.       Say “no” to something

5.       Write a pros/cons list for decision-making

6.       Create artwork

7.       Sit in silence or darkness

8.       Schedule a massage

9.       Talk back to unhelpful “catastrophic” thoughts

10.    Practice being in the moment

11.    Go for a drive

12.    Prioritize important tasks

13.    Confront a fear

14.    Take a nap

15.    Visualize a calm place



1.       Cry

2.       Draw, paint, or sculpt your feelings

3.       Listen to music

4.       Keep a gratitude journal

5.       Play with a pet

6.       Spend times with friends or family

7.       Sit out in nature

8.       Meditate

9.       Pray

10.    Read something inspirational


1.       Take a timeout

2.       Feel your breath

3.       Go for a walk

4.       Express yourself with “I”-Statements

5.       Find humor in your situation

6.       Practice relaxation skills (see Stress/Anxiety section above)

7.       Ask yourself what emotion might be underneath your anger


1.       Call, text, write, or email someone

2.       Ask for support

3.       Attend an organized event

4.       Go someplace social (coffee shop, shopping center, etc.)

5.       Volunteer


1.       Name what you actually did “wrong.”

2.       Come clean

3.       Ask for forgiveness

4.       Practice self-forgiveness

5.       Write a letter (sent or unsent)


1.       Accept love, grace, and compliments from others

2.       Avoid the urge to hide, conceal, or keep secret (if possible)

3.       Practice vulnerability with someone you trust

4.       Speak to yourself with kindness

5.       Boldly go public

6.       Challenge inaccurate thoughts (ex. “What’s the evidence for this thought?”)

This list is a starting point, an introductory menu of options. A therapist can help you create custom-made ideas for your specific situation and triggers.

From The Author: Thanks to Christine Yoshida for letting me make a special guest appearance on her blog. Christine also wrote an amazing article on intuitive eating my website at Star Meadow Counseling:   Intuitive eating is definitely her specialty! If you'd like to read more about how to cope with strong emotions, you'll find several other articles at Star Meadow Counseling that go into depth about coping with anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and more.