Emotions are important. It’s good to understand what you are feeling and why. Here are some things to do so that you don’t feel like your emotions are controlling you when they get too much to handle.
Emotionsplay a huge role in how we think, behave, and interact with others. However, as anyone who has ever experienced intense joy or intense sadness will know, emotions can sometimes be extreme and even overwhelming.
Knowing how to take control of your emotions is a vital skill that will help you in work and your personal life. This doesn’t mean shutting down your emotions or not feeling them – as we’ll see, that can do more harm than good. It means making sure you’re not being ruled by emotion to the detriment of your, or others’, wellbeing.
Any emotion is okay, it’s how you act on it that matters
Many people were raised or schooled in environments where certain emotions – such as anger – were not considered okay. What we want you to understand is this: there is no such thing as a bad emotion!
Whatever you feel, whether it’s happiness, anger, sadness, jealousy, frustration, or any of the other myriad of possible emotions, it’s all fine. What matters is how you act on those emotions. Saying that anger is okay doesn’t mean that hitting someone is acceptable. Saying that jealousy is okay doesn’t mean it’s okay to take something belonging to someone else. And so on.
So first, stop worrying that you are feeling the “wrong” emotions. There’s no such thing! With that said, let’s look at a few ways you can stop your feelings from getting the better of you.
Take some deep breaths and count to 10
This is a trick my partner taught me, and it’s incredibly simple but so useful. When you feel a strong emotion welling up, take a few deep breaths and count to 10 before you say or do anything. This will give the initial wave of emotion to pass and allow you to give a more measured and considered response to the situation.
Learn how to name what you’re feeling
Sometimes, people exhibit destructive or harmful behaviour because they don’t know how to express their emotions any other way. Learning how to name your feelings and express them in words is hugely powerful. Sometimes, just telling another person what you’re feeling (or writing it down, for example in a journal) can take a lot of the immediate power out of it.
Tea and Empathy is an amazing resource which offers 120 cards, each with one primary feeling and three related emotions printed on it. If you sometimes struggle to name your emotions precisely, consider getting a set of cards or making something similar at home to help you.
Know when to get some space
If you’re feeling very emotional because of an event or an interaction with someone, sometimes the best thing you can do is give yourself a bit of space. In the context of an argument with your partner, this might mean going to the next room for half an hour to calm down. At work, you might want to wait before sending a reply to that email, excuse yourself briefly from a meeting, or ask your manager if you can have a little time to digest what they’ve said before continuing a difficult conversation.
Space gives you perspective as well as allowing you time to get any intense feelings under control.
Talk to someone
“A problem shared is a problem halved”, as the saying goes. So one of the best ways to take control of your emotions is to talk to someone about them. This might be a friend or family member, your partner, a sympathetic colleague, or even a professional like a counsellor.
Not sure how to get the words out? You can get started by just saying “I’m feeling really [fill in the blank] today”.
We all need a bit of help sometimes, and talking about your feelings is a powerful way to sort them out and decide how to move forward in the most constructive way.
Take your mind off it
Sometimes, the best way to deal with an unpleasant emotion is just to take your mind off it until it has time to dissipate. Whether you do this by blasting loud music (through headphones if you’re in the office, please!), going for a walk or run, practicing yoga, reading a book, watching a comedy series, or something completely different is up to you.
Just make sure you choose something that will occupy your mind and allow you to focus on something else for a while. When the emotion does resurface, you might find that it’s lessened in intensity and you’re more able to decide what to do about it, if anything.
Be kind to yourself
Repressing your emotions is pointless – no-one can conquer difficult emotions by simply deciding not to feel them! It’s also not healthy to beat yourself up for how you’re feeling. This will make you feel worse, not better.
So practice self-kindness. How would you respond if a friend came to you feeling the way you’re feeling now? Presumably you’d be compassionate and understanding. Extend the same generosity to yourself.
Now try this…
Keep a mood journal for 30 days. Each day, just write down one to three words that describe your primary emotional state. This should only take you a minute or so. For example, you might use words like “happy”, “contented”, “anxious”, “worried”, “sad”, or “tired”. There’s no right and wrong way to do this, so just choose the words that feel most authentic to you at the time.
After 30 days, look back and see if you can identify any interesting patterns that can give you a greater insight into yourself and your overall emotional state.