Home » Blogs » Bounce Back: Develop Your Resiliency » How to Survive Emotional Quicksand

How to Survive Emotional Quicksand

You’ve probably watched the typical hero-in-quicksand scene in an action movie. The hero (or maybe an expendable extra!) runs through the jungle and suddenly is knee-deep in soft, shifting sand and sinking quickly.quicksand

The harder he struggles, the faster he sinks.

What to do? The solution is much easier than our hero thinks.

Emotional quicksand

Have you ever felt like you were trapped in emotional quicksand? You’re moving along confidently in the world and then – wham! – your next step lands you in a quagmire of depression, anxiety, anger, discontent, loneliness, or grief. Or maybe all of the above.

Being of the human persuasion, we have a lot of things happen to us in life, some of which are good and some of which aren’t so good. These latter events are the ones that often make us feel stuck and as though we’re sinking fast.

So, what do you do if you’re stuck in emotional quicksand?

Like the hero in the movie, most of us struggle mightily to get out of the trap.

It’s scary, this sinking sensation. We feel like we’re being sucked down, down, down and there’s nothing we can do to get out. So we flail around frantically, trying to save ourselves, only to find that we’re getting pulled down even faster and the quicksand’s grip is even tighter.

The solution

In real life, here’s how you get out of quicksand: you float.

Quicksand is nothing more than sand that has been oversaturated so you can actually float in it as you would in water. The best thing to do is to stop struggling, spread out as much as possible, and lie flat on your back. This will keep you buoyed as you make very slow, deliberate movements to get to firmer ground.

As in real-life quicksand, we can survive our emotional quicksand by doing the same thing. We need to stop struggling.

Guess what? This is a hard thing to do because, just as our first reaction to finding our bodies sinking is to panic and thrash around to save ourselves, so our reaction is to sinking emotionally. It’s counter-intuitive and not very natural to relax and stop struggling when everything inside is yelling, “Do something!”

Truth be told, though, we are doing something when we stop struggling against our emotions. We are allowing. We are creating space for our emotions to just be rather than trying to suppress them or make them go away. We are floating with the quicksand and making the slow, steady progress we need to get to firmer ground.

For those of you who like lists, here you go.

How to get out of emotional quicksand

1. Stop struggling.

2. Allow yourself to float peacefully.

3. Make slow, steady motions to get to firmer ground.

4. If you have a setback and start to struggle again, repeat steps 1-3.


There. You’ve survived emotional quicksand. Next time you feel yourself being pulled down, remember that, rather like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, you’ve always had the ability within you to get home again. You just need to stop your struggle and believe.


Need more help with life’s tough situations? Download my FREE ebookBounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.

Photo credit: electricnerve


How to Survive Emotional Quicksand

Bobbi Emel, MFT

Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel specializes in helping people face life’s significant challenges and regain their resiliency. In addition to seeing clients in her private practice, Bobbi is a well-regarded speaker and writer. Check out her other writing at The Bounce Blog.

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Emel, B. (2013). How to Survive Emotional Quicksand. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Jul 2013
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.