How to stop your emotions controlling you

Our emotions can be volatile. They fluctuate throughout the day and sometimes, they can overwhelm us. This is especially true for negative emotions like fear, sadness, and anger — and while they’re a basic part of life, sometimes we struggle to deal with them effectively. 

Although it can be tempting to act on how we feel straight away, the situation isn’t fixed by acting on impulse. Indulging in the heat of the moment and offering more kindle to the flame will naturally magnify the issue, and even lead to more problems. 

Unfortunately, as humans we will never have complete control over what we feel, but we can regulate how we respond to our emotions in the moment. Emotional regulation is a skill that can be learnt over time by applying strategies to help us live a more emotionally balanced life. 

Why is emotional regulation so important?

With strong emotional regulation skills, you can influence which emotions you have as well as how you express them. Emotional self-regulation will also enhance your long-term wellbeing, improve performance at work, enrich personal relationships, and even lead to better overall health. 

What’s more, regulating emotions through problem solving, asserting yourself, and reconsidering a situation makes those emotions much less likely to escalate and lead to potentially regrettable situations. 

Ahough moods aren’t the same as emotions, emotions do affect moods. This means emotional regulation can lead to mood improvement, increase mindfulness and promote a healthy lifestyle. 

Nevertheless, for anyone looking to better their regulation skills it’s important to not feel guilty or embarrassed of unwanted emotions. Everyone has them — it’s what people do with them that counts.

How you can improve your emotional self-regulation

Emotions are energy in motion, and these emotions — whether they are good or bad — will eventually pass. However, the more we can accept them, the sooner they’ll go away. There are a number of skills that can help you self-regulate and stop your emotions from building up to the point where you feel like they are about to ‘explode’. 

The key to this is to respond — not react. According to renowned mindfulness teacher Tara Brach, here’s a mindful practice that can help you when you’re dealing with difficult emotions through what she calls the RAIN method: 

RECOGNISE what’s happening and what you’re feeling. Is it anger? Sadness? Stress?

ACCEPT the experience just as it is. Accept the emotion you’re feeling, even if it’s unwelcome.

INVESTIGATE with interest: why are you feeling this emotion? Was it a threat to your happiness? 

NURTURE the more desirable qualities that you want to embody when you’re triggered.

Self-regulation requires self-compassion

Because emotion regulation involves brainpower, it depends on fundamentals like diet, exercise, and sleep. A more well-rested, exercised, nourished and emotionally connected person will have a greater sense of resilience and will be less likely to be driven to impulse. With that in mind, here’s how you can improve your emotional regulation skills by practising self-compassion. 

Positive self-talk. How often do you speak kindly to yourself? Self-compassion is the practice of treating yourself as you would a best friend — and when you are kinder to yourself, you’re kinder to others.

Exercising and eating nutritiously. Take care of your body and your mind will follow — when we eat poorly, our minds don’t function properly. Too much sugar causes our blood glucose to spike and then crash, affecting cognitive functioning and self-control. 

Talking with friends. Friends are support systems. A good talk can relieve stress, make you feel understood and give you a good opportunity to express how you feel. Friends can make great sounding boards, and even help you plan how to solve problems. 

Journaling. This gives you the opportunity to release pent-up emotions, to check in with yourself, keeps you in a more positive frame of mind, and helps you to build a buffer between your negative thoughts and sense of wellbeing. 

Mindfulness meditation. Along with focusing your attention on the present moment, this allows you to accept and let go of negative emotions. It gives you more emotional stability, making you less easily swept up in those fluctuations which can lead you to act impulsively. 

Sleep. Research shows healthy sleep repairs adaptive processing and functional brain activity, improving the capacity to regulate emotions as well as your wellbeing. Be sure to give yourself adequate sleep — the National Sleep Foundation recommends between 7 and 9 hours each night. 

Your emotional toolbox

Here are some simple but effective strategies you can use to reduce the severity of difficult feelings you experience: 

  • When you’re feeling stressed: Take slow deep breaths, focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t. 
  • When you’re feeling down: Acknowledge your feelings, make time for yourself and do more of what you enjoy.
  • When you’re feeling “not good enough”: Remind yourself of your strength and don’t compare yourself to others. Focus on the process rather than the outcome.
  • When you’re feeling lonely: Be sure to stay connected. Call or meet someone you love and care about. 
  • When you’re feeling anxious: Concentrate on the present moment and take deep breaths to regulate your nervous system. 
  • When you’re feeling overwhelmed: Focus on one thing at a time, take a full 10 seconds to deeply breathe in and out to alleviate the emotion. 
  • When you’re feeling sad: Allow yourself to feel it — have a good cry, and write about everything you’re going through.
  • When you’re feeling angry: Walk away, pause and breathe. 

You are not your emotions

Negative emotions are powerful, and are part of our daily lives: your mood determines how you interact with people, how you deal with challenges, and how you spend your time. 

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that you are not your emotions — you have the ability to decide if they control you or if you control them. As you build awareness and learn to recognise your triggers, you’ll become more mindful about when your emotions are serving you well and when you may need to take charge of them. 

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