Keeping a tab on emotions is not easy. They can run wild at a moment’s notice. Anger, frustration, and worry are perhaps the worst to tackle, and it’s often in hindsight that you’ll wallow in regret.
Take anger, for instance. Whether it’s bad customer service, an ill-mannered work colleague, or a slowed internet connection, emotions could escalate from displeasure to outrage within seconds.
Here are some stats to put things in perspective.
Heightened emotions can cloud your mind. It can affect your ability to think straight, separate right from wrong and fact from fiction, and make objective decisions. This is when you’re most likely to make mistakes.
And mistakes are sometimes irreversible and costly. Often, the cost is a severed relationship, a lost opportunity, or even impaired mental and physical health. So the importance of keeping your emotions in check doesn’t need much explanation.
But going into a Zen state is not something everyone can do on the spot. It takes years of practice to master. So, until then, you need a few practical techniques to get hold of your emotions during those intense moments when all rationality evades you.
1. Conscious deep breathing
Create an instant shift in your mental and physical states.
You’ve likely read this advice already somewhere. But there are two key reasons why deep breathing demands such emphasis.
- It’s a simple technique that you can practice anywhere, even when you’re in the middle of a crowd.
- It can provide instant results with noticeable shifts in your mental and physical states.
So, how does conscious deep breathing work? Take a deep, slow, and steady breath while counting to five. Hold it for five counts and exhale slowly for seven more counts.
Repeat this a few times. You will often see results after just 3–4 rounds of deep breathing. This is mainly due to two important mental and physiological shifts.
1. Your mind gets momentarily distracted from the situation at hand.
As you start counting while watching your breath, your mind shifts its focus away from the situation at hand. And your emotional and physical responses will instantly change to suit the new object of your focus.
It’s almost like going into a state of meditation for a brief moment.
The reason for this is that the human mind can only focus on one object at any given time. This is exactly why scientists dismiss the idea of multitasking, which assumes that the mind can be in several places at once so you can perform multiple activities.
So when your mind is intensely focused on a negative event and clouded by emotions, changing your focus to another object is the easiest way to change your emotional reactions.
And this is what mindful breathing helps you to achieve.
2. Slow, deep breathing changes your physiology.
Elevated emotions can trigger distinct physical reactions such as rapid breathing, heightened blood pressure, and a rise in body temperature.
And according to research, slow deep breathing leads to a different set of physical responses. It can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and decrease the body’s stress hormone cortisol. It can help lower your blood pressure levels and heart rate and relieve muscle tension. Scientists have also found that deep breathing can increase the low-frequency alpha brainwaves, which are found in REM sleep and deeply relaxed states.
This is why it’s taught as a relaxation technique for individuals experiencing anxiety and depression. Breathing exercises are also an important part of yoga and meditation for these very reasons.
2. Just wait
Disengage to gain clarity.
One day during a sermon, a Buddhist monk spoke about the perils of an uncontrolled mind when emotions erupt.
And his advice?
“Just wait,” he said with a calm smile across his face.
“Just wait???,” reacted the crowd, who sat in anticipation of some perplexing and mystical ancient sage advice. But this is exactly the beauty of Buddhist wisdom. It’s simple, logical, and practical.
Just to be clear, this technique is not about giving in. It’s instead about taking time out and disengaging from the source of your emotional reactions. This will help you to clear your head before responding and avoid instantaneous reactions that you’ll later regret.
And similar to negative emotions, positive ones could also make you lose sight of reality. For example, research suggests that being overly cheerful could lead you to underestimate the possibility of a negative consequence. And this could result in taking unnecessary risks and making wrong decisions. Evidently, whether you’re feeling happy, sad, or angry, unguarded emotional reactions could have equally negative consequences.
So, the next time you face a highly emotional situation that doesn’t require an immediate action, just wait!
This two-word wisdom can save you from costly mistakes and regret.
3. Choose your battles
Assess whether it’s worth your time.
Have you ever come across someone who’s vile with anger and single-mindedly pursuing revenge? They often fail to see anything else around them as their entire life gets consumed by rage.
Getting emotionally invested in everything that crosses your path could sap your energy and leave you drained. It could take your time and attention away from things that truly matter. And some battles are just not worth the fight.
So, be selective about what you pursue. Choose when to engage and disengage.
Adopt Pareto’s 80:20 rule
When faced with emotionally intense situations, put your time and energy into fighting the 20% of the battles that truly matter. They are the ones that will make a positive difference in your life 80% of the time. And just let go of the rest because they are not worth the effort.
This is also a great technique if you often find your ego taking over. Ego is a common trigger of impulsive emotional reactions, and we often take many quick decisions to pacify it. And taming it is not always easy. But when you tell yourself that something’s not worth your time, it’s easier to retreat without upsetting your ego.
Intense human emotions can serve to protect you and ensure your survival with fight-or-flight responses. However, repeated emotional reactions could have a long-term effect on physical and mental wellbeing. It can weaken the immune system, cause sleep deprivation, and lead to depression and anxiety.
And these 3 techniques will guide you in those difficult moments where your emotions threaten to go wild. They can save you from a lot of anguish, emotional strain, and regret later on.