Learning how to control your emotions and not let them control you is a skill that takes time, but it is doable. Just watch the impact it can have on your life.
Humans are unique in many ways. We can reason, make fire, walk upright, and do all kinds of things that other living beings can’t do. But along with these gifts come some challenges that no one else experiences.
We are emotional creatures. When we love or fear or anger, we can act both obsessively and irrationally. These intense emotions drive us to cross boundaries, make grandiose gestures, and have emotional outbursts that we may not be able to fully control.
No one wants to live with regret, and when you lose control of your emotions, it can have a long-lasting negative impact.
It doesn’t have to be that way. While strong emotions are a true gift, it is important to develop your emotional intelligence and not allow them to rule you. There are healthy ways to express yourself and simple steps that you can take to live with a more neutral baseline. Sometimes it just requires a different perspective.
1. Learn Your Triggers
There are millions of reasons to be angry, sad, or overwhelmed. We all deal with the same emotions, and we are all put in stressful situations. It is normal to feel feelings, so you need to make peace with that. Difficult emotions are part of the deal.
This said, different situations set us off in different ways. And while you might want to know why you have an emotional reaction to things that others might not (which is where therapy comes in extremely handy), there is work that you can do to help yourself.
Look at your emotional situation as if you were a stranger. Think through the last few times that you feel like you lost emotional control. It doesn’t matter whether anyone knows about it or not – you know.
Most likely, all of these moments have something in common when you whittle down to the root of them. Did you feel a loss of control? Was someone bossing you around and you felt small? Did you feel unheard?
Knowing the root of your main triggers is hugely helpful in allowing you to understand what it is that is bothering you. Knowing is the first step towards diffusing tense situations for yourself.
2. Listen to Your Body
When you begin to have an intense emotional response, what happens to your body? Do you begin to feel flushed? Do you feel your jaw lock in place? Does your breathing become more rapid or does your heart rate go up?
Your physical response is a natural reaction for you, but it also provides cues that you can use in positive ways.
When you know what your body does when you become overwhelmed, you can be more in control of your mood. Watch for your cues. Think through your past experiences and try to figure out what set you off.
If you can learn your emotional triggers and be aware of your body, you can make small changes to help yourself. Did the groceries not get put away and you’re starting to feel your neck get hot? Go for a walk. Get yourself away from the situation and get ahold of your emotions.
3. Calm Yourself Down
When you are upset, more than likely it irritates you when someone tells you to calm down. And who can blame you? These people don’t understand what you’re dealing with and they aren’t respecting your need to be overwhelmed by the given situation, right?
While no one loves being told to calm down, if it’s something that you can practice yourself – long before anyone offers that annoying advice – you can learn to control your own emotions.
When you are dealing with difficult situations, you have to find the best way to not react in the heat of the moment. Things that work for you may not work for others, so try to find the right things for you. Here are a few suggestions to try right off the bat:
- Take a few deep breaths or do deep breathing exercises
- Count backward from twenty
- Walk away/take a walk
- Do some exercise
- Lay down in a quiet room
- Go somewhere to be alone
- Practice a hobby that calms you (painting, guitar, cooking)
It is your job to develop an effective strategy for your strong feelings, so it is time to start building your emotional awareness. Keeping yourself calm will help you see things more clearly and maintain a healthy relationship with those around you.
4. Redirect Your Internal Messages
Our negative emotions have a strange way of translating into negative thoughts that repeat over and over in our minds. It is a natural response to unpleasant emotions, but the good news is that you can work to cut off those messages.
Particularly when people are dealing with mental health conditions like generalized anxiety or have a history of trauma, it can be difficult to calm those destructive inner thoughts. It is nothing to be ashamed of and very normal.
It is time to separate the unpleasant emotions from the unpleasant thoughts because they are different.
We all forget items at the grocery store or find ourselves late for work on occasion. But while some people will be able to forget about it quickly, you may find yourself back in the pattern of calling yourself a loser or not worthy of the life that you have.
The next time you realize that you are being hard on yourself in a situation that you can acknowledge is unreasonable, start talking back.
When your mind tells you you’re not worth it, remind yourself that you are. Say it out loud or say it loudly in your mind. It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not – say it and keep saying it.
The more we can provide possible alternatives to our emotional responses, the more we get used to hearing them. Over time, this is one of the best ways to develop a better relationship with yourself.
5. Don’t Bottle Yourself Up
Imagine filling up a balloon. The more air you allow inside, the closer it is to popping. It is no different with humans. We are creatures who battle with positive emotions and negative feelings each and every day, and we’re well-practiced.
If a little bit of water splashes outside of the sink while you’re brushing your teeth, you wipe it up. It doesn’t ruin your day because you are used to managing small things.
You may not even realize that they impact you because you’ve trained yourself to understand that they are such minute details in your day and so heavily fixable, that it is not worth having any specific emotions related to them. No biggie, not necessary to hold on to it.
That being the case, there are other times of stress when our angry thoughts and emotional state lend themselves to making the balloon pop.
If you are keeping all of your emotions inside where they are allowed to fester and build off of each other, that water on the counter could ruin your day. Even worse, your reaction to it could ruin someone else’s.
You have to get your emotions out of your body. Talk to a trusted friend or write in a journal. Vent to a family member who is familiar with the situation or join a support group.
Whatever you choose, understand that your internal thoughts and feelings will continue to control you unless you let them out. It is your choice to take this next step and one that should be encouraged.
Do you want to spend time with someone who keeps popping their balloon and upsetting you? Neither do your loved ones.
6. Notice Your Effect on Others
Sometimes we get so bogged down with internal monologue that we forget to look outside ourselves. How do you think others perceive you? How do they react to your body language and tone of voice in daily life and social settings?
How do your children act when you are overly anxious? Has your best friend said anything when you’ve had negative reactions? Has your partner expressed concerns that you weren’t ready to hear?
You never want to make changes for someone else, but if you can step back and try to think of how you affect others, it might have a profound effect on your desire to work on your current situation.
7. Create Some Routines
Human beings thrive on having a routine. We are creatures of habit. No matter how much you may enjoy flying by the seat of your pants or going on vacation with no plan in sight, everyday life routines can have huge benefits.
Studies have shown that setting a daily routine is good for your emotional health, sleep patterns, and cognitive abilities. You may also experience less stress, less anxiety, and less depression.
This is not to say that you need to do everything the exact same way at the exact same time each and every day. That would be a hugely boring life.
But it does mean that it is a good idea to put some structure into your life. When we go for long periods without structure, we can feel extremely lost and have a hard time climbing back into a healthy way of being.
Consider doing some physical activity three times per week. If you want to do it at the same time each day, great, but hold yourself to the schedule of three times per week.
Maybe your work life is extremely hectic, so try to commit to having dinner with your family, a friend, or on a phone call a few times per week. You choose the number of times, but make it happen.
There are very simple ways to add routines to your life if you allow it and having them is a great way to maintain some emotional balance, even when you are having a hard time.
8. Find a Professional
Seeking out professional help is an excellent tool to get a handle on your feelings.
If you struggle with emotional regulation, a feeling of sadness that you can’t find a productive way of managing, intense anxiety, or even just a bad mood that you can’t quite put away, talking to someone could be the key to helping you control your emotions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy could give you some insights that you wouldn’t otherwise find. It is always helpful to have someone hear your side of things and help you wade through the concerns and frustrations that you feel.
There is no shame in asking for help. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, so knowing that you have a mental health condition like anxiety is no different from having a thyroid problem or diabetes. It is something that needs to be managed so that you can live a happy, productive life.
The emotions that we feel are a gift. Just think of how empty your life would be without the highs and the lows. But emotions can control you.
When we spin for days or weeks with anxiety, depression, or anger, our state of mind can truly impact the lives we live and the lives of those around us. It is time to get a better handle on regulating those emotions so that you can remind yourself of who is really in charge.