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How to Control Emotions: 10 Techniques that Work

Thoughts come when they want, and not when we wish. In the same way, your emotions do not appear or disappear when you decide. But is it possible to have some control over emotions or should you resign yourself to dominating your actions? Have you ever wondered why someone is able to speak in public without looking nervous […]

Thoughts come when they want, and not when we wish.

In the same way, your emotions do not appear or disappear when you decide. But is it possible to have some control over emotions or should you resign yourself to dominating your actions?

Have you ever wondered why someone is able to speak in public without looking nervous while another person is coming down? Why are there people who in an argument succumb to anger while others remain calm?

While it makes sense that you feel sad when they give you bad news, that does not mean that your only option is to stay crying in a corner (that attitude will probably keep you afflicted for longer). Recognizing that you are sad while you force yourself to do something productive will help you feel better before.

In this article I will try to demystify several false beliefs about the management of emotions and give you the techniques that have proven really useful to achieve it. Stay tuned because some will probably surprise you.

  • Do you decide how to control emotions?
  • What happens when your emotions get out of control
  • The truth about negative emotions
  • What does not work to control your emotions
  • What does work

Do you decide how to control emotions?

There are many theories about it. Some psychologists believe that we have total control over our emotions and others believe that there is no possibility of controlling them.

However, there are investigations that conclude that the way you interpret your emotions can change the way you live them . The way in which reactions to a particular emotion will condition how it acts on you.

  • The speaker who suffers from the idea of ​​speaking in public does so because he interprets his nerves as something negative, like a signal that his body is sending him to run from there.
  • On the other hand, someone who interprets those same nerves as excitement and desire to do well probably will be more successful in his lecture.

The moral is that your body gives you the energy to do something, but how to use that energy is up to you . There are people who pay money and queue hours to get on a roller coaster, while others would not climb even in dreams. Both feel the same nerves, but interpret them differently: fun versus terror.

What happens when your emotions get out of control

You can not help feeling emotions. Emotions are there because they have an evolutionary function , a biological sense of survival. If our ancestors had not felt fear in front of a herd of tigers, probably the human being would not have arrived until today.

The amygdala is the part of your brain responsible for triggering emotions, as if it were an automatic response in the form of aggression or escape in the face of a threat. That is why it is so difficult to control by force of will the origin of your emotions: it would mean to cancel this response for which you are genetically programmed.

This type of emotional response is therefore necessary. However, in some people it is not properly regulated and it can happen that:

  • It is triggered in situations where there is no real threat (causing anxiety )
  • Be unable to deactivate over time (as in depression ). For some reason, the brain goes into survival mode and stays anchored there.

When you are in the fight-flight phase and the amygdala has taken over your actions, it is usually too late. That’s why you must learn to act before. You have to get used to detecting those signals that indicate you are on the way to not being able to control your emotions.

This is the only way you will be able to stop the process (or delay it) before it is too late. Once emotions dominate you, you are little more than a cornered beast.

The truth about negative emotions

The most recent theory is that there are 4 types of basic emotions that have evolved towards the rest of more complex feelings. These emotions are anger , fear , joy and sadness .

There are some situations that you will never be able to get used to. If everything goes wrong, you can hardly leave behind the feeling of fear or anxiety. However, positive emotions often disappear over time. No matter how much money you play in the lottery or how much you are in love: positive emotions such as pleasure always end up decreasing.

In fact, in one study it was determined that the emotion that lasts longer is sadness . In particular, it lasts up to 4 times longer than joy .

Based on this scenario it seems really necessary to be able to manage the intensity of your emotions so as not to suffer so much. Below you will find a list of techniques that have not shown any effectiveness and those that do.

Based on this scenario it seems really necessary to be able to manage the intensity of your emotions so as not to suffer so much. Below you will find a list of techniques that have not shown any effectiveness and those that do.

What does not work to control your emotions

These techniques have been popularized through word of mouth and by authors who have not bothered to check their real scientific basis. The usefulness of each of them to manage your emotions is, at least, doubtful.

1. Try not to think about what worries you

In the same way that trying not to think about a white polar bear will cause you to end up thinking about it because of a rebound effect, in studies like this it has been shown that it is very difficult to separate the emotions from our head .

In the case of depressed people, who are constantly assaulted by negative thoughts, it has proven to be totally counterproductive to try to suppress these ideas because they end up coming back even stronger.

2. Relax and take a deep breath …

It is common to recommend us to relax and take a deep breath when we are angry or very anxious. It comes from an almost ancestral tradition, like breathing in a plastic bag in a panic attack.

But there is a drawback. Breathing deeply and trying to modulate the diaphragm does not usually work because the physiological component of emotions is usually unimportant .

Think about it. In most of the occasions when you have become very angry, for example, you were calm before becoming irascible. You probably had a good day until somebody cheated on you, am I wrong?

If a previous state of relaxation could not prevent you from getting angry, why do people think you can get it once you’re angry?

Have you ever recommended someone to relax when he was angry? You may have noticed that it does not work too well. It is as if instead of listening to someone who believes he has suffered an injustice, you recommended that he shut up and take a tranquilizer .

By this I do not mean to say that habitually employing relaxation techniques is bad. In fact, meditating is quite useful (you’ll see it below ). But trying to relax once you have invaded emotions is going to treat the symptom and not the cause.

3. Release tension by other means

There was a time when activities became fashionable to release emotions. Workshops where people met to mourn or events where aggressive managers would break plates.

Well, it turns out that the most recent psychological studies suggest that this kind of catharsis does not work . It can even be negative: succumbing to the temptation to destroy everything can increase your aggressiveness in the short term. The same goes for physical exercise: although it is good for your heart, it is not able to calm your emotions .

Emotions are not contained within our body and need to come out as if we were pressure cookers. What they need is to be understood to avoid being harmed.

4. Press to have positive thoughts

There is a bit of controversy regarding the effect of optimistic thoughts to regulate emotions. While I would not say that they are capable of moving you from a negative state to a positive one, they can reduce the intensity of a negative emotion.

Emotions are processed almost entirely unconsciously and then move to the conscious ground, where you perceive them. For this reason, when you are aware of them, it is often too late .

However, looking for the positive part of each situation can prevent you from continuing to sabotage yourself. If instead of thinking “I will not be able to do this” you start to believe “It’s complicated, but I can handle it” will prevent your negative emotions from getting worse.

What does work

True emotional intelligence requires that you identify and understand your own moods. It implies recognizing when and why you are angry, nervous or sad, and acting on the causes and not just the symptoms.

However, on those occasions when you see that you are inevitably heading towards a negative emotional state , the following techniques can be effective in stopping or slowing down that chain reaction.

1. Try to remember your virtues and successes

The reaffirmation in your strengths and strengths is one of the best strategies to manage your feelings. It consists of thinking about what has caused that emotion but reducing its negative meaning .

Example: instead of being angry because you have been late for work, you may think that, since you always arrive on time, it is not so serious.

People with greater emotional control use self-affirmation when the intensity of their emotions is still low and they have time to look for another point of view of the situation. Interestingly, it has been shown that this strategy works especially well for women.

The next time you feel that you lose control over your emotions, remind yourself of those things that you are proud of in your life.

2. Distract your attention to a specific issue

The people who best manage their emotions have also learned to use distraction to block their emotional states before it is too late. And it seems to be very effective when they foresee that they will experience intense emotions and do not have enough time to use other strategies .

As you know, a very effective way to calm a small child who does not stop crying is to divert his attention. “Have you seen the doll?” Or “What do I have in my hand?” Tend to lower their level of excitement if we keep their attention for long enough.

The technique of distraction consists of disconnecting yourself from negative emotion by focusing your attention on neutral thoughts. In this way you will prevent the emotion from taking too much intensity.

For example, if your boss questions your professionalism, instead of thinking that you might end up saying goodbye, you might think about your birthday celebration on Saturday. It is simple but effective, as has been shown in several scientific studies .

Although long-term is probably not the best strategy , distraction works, especially if you focus your attention on something concrete instead of letting your mind wander.

3. Think of your most immediate future

Very intense emotions can cause you to forget that there is a future and that your actions will have consequences. Even if at that moment you are only able to live in the present and your frustration, anger or nerves seem so important to you, will you still feel that within a week?

Thinking about the immediate future is very effective in maintaining self-control , as demonstrated in the experiment popularized through the book Emotional Intelligence . In it, children who resisted the temptation to eat a treat in exchange for receiving another obtained better results in school tests and better jobs in the years to come.

4. Meditate habitually

Meditation has proven scientifically its effectiveness in preventing repetitive negative thoughts and not only while you meditate, but also in the long term: it is able to reduce the level of activation of the amygdala lastingly .

Meditation also has studies in the reduction of anxiety . In one of them , four 20-minute meditation classes were enough to reduce anxiety by 39%.

Trying to relax only when your emotions assault you is not very effective. However, meditating regularly and breathing correctly can reduce the intensity of negative emotions when they appear.

5. Give yourself permission to worry later

Before I explained that trying to suppress an emotion or thought causes it to return again with more force. However, postponing it for later can work!

In one study participants were asked with anxious thoughts to postpone their concern for 30 minutes. Despite being an alternative way of avoiding thinking about something, what has been shown is that after that period of pause the emotions return with a much lower intensity .

So, give yourself permission to worry after a timeout. You will worry less.

6. Think of the worst that can happen to you

Do you remember Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven movie?

In it, the character of William Munny, despite being old and finished, is the best gunman in the West. And it is not because of its speed or its aim. As he says, it is because when the bullets start to fly, he controls his emotions and remains calm .

But how to stay calm? The samurai and the Stoics kept calm even in the most dramatic situations, how did they get it?

Well, thinking about death. And a lot.

I do not want you to become dramatic or become a Goth, but thinking about the worst that can happen to you will help you relativize your problems and maintain control.

7. Write a diary of your emotions

The expressive writing is to write about your thoughts and deepest feelings and has proven effective level both psychological and physical (it is able to accelerate the healing of wounds!)

Maintaining a kind of emotional diary about what you have felt in some situations will help you reduce the recurrence of negative thoughts.

8. Take a break (and a soda) to regain self-control

Your self-control is not infinite. In fact, several investigations indicate that as you expose yourself to situations and emotions, it is consumed.

Think of it like doing a sprint. After the race you are exhausted and you need time to recover before running again. In the same way, if you can master your emotions, avoid exposing yourself to a tense situation again or you will be more likely to succumb.

The most surprising thing is that it has been shown that maintaining control consumes glucose , as if you were literally exercising. Therefore, to recover your self-control you have two strategies:

  1. Take a drink rich in sugars (no kidding).
  2. Use positive reaffirmation to be able to manage your emotions again ( source ).

The key is to identify when your self-control levels are low and avoid more emotional situations as you recover.

9. When everything fails, look for a mirror

Sorry? Look in a mirror? Yes, as surprising as this strategy may seem, it can be useful to placate you when you are furious .

Several studies have shown that when you see yourself reflected you are able to observe yourself from a more objective perspective and therefore separate yourself for a few moments from your emotionality .

The more aware you are of what you are doing, the more ability to control your emotions you will have. And watching yourself in a mirror will increase your levels of self-awareness and help you behave in a more sociable way.

10. Most important: find the reason for your emotions

In the long term, the key is not to fight against your emotions, but to recognize them and know why they happen to you . For example:

“Okay, I do not like feeling this way but right now I’m very envious (you recognize the emotion) because Andrés was congratulated for his work and I did not (you recognize why) .”

The important thing is to be honest with yourself about why . Do not do like most and try to cheat. We often lie by making us believe that we are angry at someone for their behavior and not because they have given us the promotion we aspired to and that has affected our self-esteem.

Knowing the real truth of your feelings will help you to treat the cause.

The conclusion?

If you want to really learn how to control your emotions you should know that there is no single solution. Although it has also been shown that your own body language is able to influence your emotions, finding the most appropriate strategy to regulate negative feelings and understand their origin to treat the cause is the only way to prevent them from taking control of our mind.

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