All of us have struggled to control our emotions from time to time. It would seem odd to not feel emotional over events like a marriage or birth of a baby. Or, the opposite end of the spectrum, over situations like a death in the family or a serious traumatic event.
Emotions are normal; However, they can get control of you, if you let them. Depending on the emotion, that can cause anything from a minor embarrassment to a situation where you cannot function normally because your emotions are out of control.
Being able to manage your emotions at will is key to success. Whether it is in your business, in a relationship, or in response to a sales tactic designed to bring out specific emotions, being in control of your emotions is pivotal. It isn’t as difficult as you might think though. While this guide is certainly not the only word on managing your emotions, it is a great place to start in learning to control them so they aren’t controlling you.
Let’s start with talking about the difference between feelings and emotions.
We tend to use the two words interchangeably when they are not the same thing. An emotion is an innate, intuitive reaction to a trigger. You don’t choose it; It decides when it is going to happen and what will trigger it.
Feelings you experience are by choice. It is your chosen response to the emotion. Our feelings are influenced by memories, our experiences, and our beliefs. We have the power to choose our feelings. We might not be able to control our body’s knee jerk reactions to some triggers, but we do get to pick how to respond. We can choose our feelings and learn to manage any emotion that comes our way. That is powerful; let’s learn how!
Managing your emotions is simply a matter of refusing to go with certain negative reactions and replacing them with positive responses. Then, you walk it out, and find it gets a little bit easier the more you apply these steps.
Refuse to React, Stress, or Rush.
When you find yourself overwhelmed with a negative emotion, the very first step is to remember you are not responsible for that emotion popping up. It is an instinctive reaction. You are responsible for how you choose to react to it. Many people who feel out of control of their emotions have simply never grasped that fact. Their emotions turn them every which way but loose. They could control it, they have the power, but they do not know it.
Armed with the knowledge that YOU are in control over your response to that nasty emotion, slam on its brakes in whatever way works best for you. In some cases, mentally acknowledging that you are in control, taking deep breaths, and focusing on feeling peace is enough to rein it in. But there could be situations where what is needed is a literal splash in the face with cold water to break its hold on you long enough to get a grip. Do what works for you and your situation.
The point is to assert your control.
Remind that emotion that you are the boss. Tell it that you will choose your response, to just chill, and be patient. Emotions may demand to be felt, and they do need to be dealt with, but in a controlled setting, as you will it.
Once calmer, you can work to rein in the instincts to stress and rush. It is a matter of declaring that you decide when and how to respond, in your own time. Immediate reactions to the emotion are where your mind typically goes berserk with what seems a bazillion thoughts all at once. It’s scrambling for answers.
The goal here is to calm and quiet your mind enough that you can sort through the circus in your brain. If it is a challenge to control the emotional reaction, don’t quit. Keep breathing, taking slow deep breaths. Just as you can control your breathing and slow it, you can control your thoughts and control them. Focus on that fact and slow it all down a little more with each breath.
Refuse to be pushed by that emotion. Stand your ground against urges to panic, rush, or react instinctively. Remind yourself that you are a human and have a will to use. Then use it until you are calmer.
Something that helps me a lot when I am overly emotional is to force myself to move calmly. I will slow down my pacing, hand wringing, whatever….and make myself move slowly, gliding as I move, like a swan gliding in a still pond…..ahhhh, that generally does it. Slowing the body helps slow the mind and emotions. Now that the urgency of the situation is past, you can focus on responding positively instead.
Instead, Reflect and Respond.
Now you are in control over those negative emotions. You have reined in your instinctive reactions. Your body and mind are calm. Now you can rationally choose a response to whatever triggered the emotion.
Start by reflecting on truth. Sometimes, our instinctive reaction is way out of proportion to the trigger. This is a common thing with PTSD. A smell, a sound, a passing image can all trigger reactions that are far more than the stimulus called for. In a situation like this, you diffuse the emotion by reflecting on the reality, not the emotion.
Imagine you are late for an appointment when somebody, who has been dashing in and out of traffic, passes you on the right, then cuts you off to turn left. There is no turning lane so you are now stuck behind this jerk. Your blood begins to boil. Every second that you have to sit and wait for this bozo to take his all-so-important turn, makes you even later… and your anger worse. It doesn’t matter that he is 6’5” and a strapping 300 pounds, you feel the urge to rip him to shreds. Your trembling hands are white knuckled, gripping the steering wheel, blood pressure is skyrocketing…
Apply step one and rein it in.
Rationally reflect on the truth of the situation.
First, realize that in the big picture scheme of things, it is only making you three minutes later and the world will not fall off its axis because you are late. Put it in perspective.
Secondly, in this example, you would be wise to remember that a man that size would pulverize you if you went off on him. Reflect. Think it through. Then choose a healthy response.
In this case, a good choice would be to enjoy the song on the radio or the beautiful day, until mister not-so-considerate goes on his way. Karma evens things out. His inconsideration will be dealt with fairly. You wish him well and carry on peacefully.
Just as you chose a response to the rude driver, you can choose how to respond to any emotional situation. Simply rein it in, reflect on the reality of the situation, then choose a healthier response. It really is a matter of will and not as difficult as you might think, once you realize you have the control and will to respond in better ways. The problem with most people who struggle in this area is just that they have not realized their own power to choose a response.
But that is only two steps and I said there were three. That’s right. The third step is to keep practicing.
Walking it Out.
As with most disciplines, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Eventually, you can effortlessly respond in ways that are good for you instead of ways that tear you down. It just takes consistent effort. You are developing the habit of responding with intention instead of reacting emotionally. All habits take time to establish, but the work is well worth freedom from being tossed to and fro by emotions.
It really all begins with being more aware. Too often we go through life oblivious to the dynamics at work in our life. I was tormented by emotions for years before I realized I had a choice and learned to use it. Strive to simply be more aware. Are you reacting emotionally…. or are you responding with intention? Ask yourself that question each time you find yourself with emotions running rampant. Then apply the steps:
- Rein it in. Refuse to panic and react.
- Reflect on the truth and choose a healthy response.
- Repeat this process each time you are overwhelmed with emotion.
One last word on managing your emotions.
Be kind to yourself. Just because you now know these steps, and are motivated to get control over your emotions, does not necessarily mean it will all fall into place and you’ll manage your emotions effortlessly from here on out. You won’t.
If you are like most of us, you’ve been reacting without thinking about it for a very long time. These habits take time to establish, so cut yourself some slack when you don’t control your emotions perfectly. It’s a process that will become easier over time. The only way it won’t is if you give up and you won’t do that because you are a fighter or you’d not be reading this to begin with!
So, how about you try being proud of yourself for taking the first step towards managing your emotions? I am proud of you…so you should be as well!
I hope you’ve found this helpful. Please feel free to share it with others you know who struggle in this area. Less emotions running wild means more peace…and that’s always all good. Share the good news… you CAN manage your emotions instead of them managing you. Enjoy!
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