12 Ways to Process Emotions (So You Can Avoid Overthinking)

12 Ways to Process Emotions (So You Can Avoid Overthinking)

Processing your emotions is all about working to identify, understand, and deal with emotions in a way that’s healthy and productive (rather than destructive).

It’s easy to feel disconnected from our feelings and emotions sometimes, especially when there are so many distractions, from family and work obligations to the ever-present pull of technology. But sitting down with a journal or taking a beat to just “be” can make a world of difference when it comes to processing your emotions. Here are 13 ways to do it.

Some emotions you might need to process include …

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Sadness
  • Happiness
  • Joy
  • Disgust 
  • Surprise
  • Shame
  • Fear
  • Confusion
  • Grief

Use this "feelings wheel" as your guide. 

Luckily, there are a lot of ways to start processing your emotions so you can begin to cope with them better. Here are 13 of them.

How to process emotions

1. Journal

Regular journaling is one of the absolute best ways to process your emotions. By taking pen to paper, you can write through any complicated feelings you’re having so you can better understand what you’re feeling without getting too stuck in your head. Research shows that journaling can help you control your emotions by helping you to prioritize fears and problems, and track day-to-day symptoms so you can get better at controlling them. So, for example, if you’re feeling the emotion of anger quite a bit, journaling can help you identify your triggers around it. 

2. Talk it out

Getting stuck in your head is one thing. Talking through your emotions with someone you trust is another, like a close friend, family member, or therapist. They can help you see whatever you’re feeling in a different light, or simply serve as someone to vent to.

But remember: Sometimes giving emotions too much airtime, or getting too many opinions from different people, can backfire and leave you more confused about what you’re feeling. So make sure to talk an emotion through with someone you really trust, and leave it at that.

3. Engage in heart-pounding exercise

While walking or a light bike ride can be great for your body and mind, sometimes when you’re working to process your emotions, especially an emotion like heartbreak or anger, a heart-pounding exercise like running or a HIIT workout is a better option. One study found that HIIT workouts significantly reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, and increased resilience. 

4. Sleep

Ever heard the phrase “everything looks better in the morning”? That’s because it typically does—late at night when we’re exhausted, we often find ourselves ruminating and struggling to understand our emotions, but after a good night’s sleep, we can see everything more clearly. Sleep is a great way to recharge and process our emotions. 

5. Meditate

While meditation is all about clearing the mind, it can also help us better process our emotions because it helps us take a beat and get some perspective from whatever emotion we’re processing, negative or positive. If you use a guided meditation app like Headspace, there comes a point in every meditation where you’re prompted to let go of not thinking and just start thinking. This is a great time to process emotions. 

6. Play music

Feeling sad and need a good cry? Blast some sad music. Feeling lethargic and need more energy? Try an upbeat playlist that will get you going. Music is an excellent way to process emotions, from sadness and anger to happiness, joy, frustration, and more. 

7. Have a good cry

Music can inspire a good cry, as mentioned above, and crying is amazing for you in general—it releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical in your brain, and can help you process emotions in ways you didn’t see coming. Once you let it all out, you’ll feel so much better.

8. Scream

Screaming can feel so good and cathartic when you’re working to process feelings. Scream into a pillow, scream into the void, scream until you get out whatever emotions you need to get out. As long as you’re not disrupting anyone in a real way, you’ll be fine.

9. Punch something 

Please don’t punch someone, but you should feel free to punch something. Punch a pillow (it can be the same pillow you screamed into), or punch the air. Sure, pillow-punching is probably best for getting angry emotions out, but it can help with sadness or feeling stuck, too. 

10. Make a gratitude list

A gratitude list is an excellent way to process your emotions because it can help you get some perspective. This is especially helpful when you’re working to process negative emotions, like feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness. While those feelings are certainly valid, gratitude can help you get a little perspective. 

11. Focus on physical sensations

Spending some time focusing on physical sensations—like doing a body scan—is a great way to process your emotions, because you can take the focus off of whatever you’re feeling mentally and emotionally and dive headfirst into what’s going on in your body. 

12. Let yourself be distracted sometimes 

Distraction isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, to process your emotions you actually need to numb out a little, whether that means watching your favorite Netflix show, reading a book, or something else. By the time you come back to whatever emotion you’re working to process, you may find you’ve worked through it.


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