Emotions are powerful. So powerful that they control almost every action you take every day.
Like every other aspect of life, emotions are best handled with moderation and logic. In their extreme form, they can have negative consequences, including sleep issues, high stress levels, harm to self, and others. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to apply logic while experiencing extreme, intense emotions.
Fortunately, anyone can learn how to regulate their emotions. Just like any skill, emotional management requires practice and dedication.
Not to be confused with suppressing one’s emotions, emotional management allows you to feel things without getting overwhelmed. It’s not ignoring a bad feeling or pretending that you’re fine when you’re not—it’s having the right tools to keep emotions from controlling your actions.
If you’re keen on learning how to control your emotions, here are 10 tips to get you started.
1. Cultivate Emotional Awareness
Emotional awareness is the ability to recognize and make sense of your emotions and those of others. High levels of emotional awareness mean you can predict your emotions, control them, and avoid triggers or make better choices.
You develop emotional awareness by learning how to get in touch with difficult emotions and manage uncomfortable feelings so you’re not overwhelmed.
To increase your emotional awareness, you should analyze each emotional experience after it happens. Dissect the situation using this five-step method:
- What made me feel this emotion?
- What did I feel in my body?
- Which body language did I use to express the emotion?
- Which actions did I take in response to the emotion?
- How intense was the emotion?
To improve and make use of your emotional awareness, make analyzing emotions a part of your daily routine. Practice thinking of emotional experiences logically and planning alternative reactions for the future to gain control.
2. Select the Situation
Avoid situations that trigger negative emotions. If you know that you experience road rage when you’re in a hurry, don’t leave the house late. Get out 20 minutes before you need to, and you’re less likely to have an outburst at a red light. Similarly, if there’s someone you find annoying, find a way to avoid them.
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to avoid one’s triggers. And upsetting situations are not always predictable and can be out of control. So, it helps to know how to deal with such situations when they arise to control them.
3. Embrace Your Emotions—Even the Negative Ones
Downplaying your feelings to yourself might work, but not for long. It might seem helpful to tell yourself, “It’s not a big deal; stop overreacting.” However, suppression invalidates your experience and makes you resentful.
Allow yourself to experience uncomfortable emotions. Don’t worry; letting them in doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck with them forever. Feel them without judging yourself for it, then let them go.
4. Interrupt Your Thoughts
In the heat of an emotional experience, your mind might be filled with many thoughts you find hard to control. Interrupting a negative train of thought takes some effort but has positive results.
Before you act, interrupt yourself by asking:
- What am I feeling right now? (Label your emotion—nervous, disappointed, sad, etc.)
- What happened to make me feel this way? (Someone else’s actions might have triggered your emotions.)
- Is there a different explanation for the situation that might make sense? (maybe the person who offended you might be stressed or frustrated)
- What do I want to do about my feelings? (You might be feeling a strong urge to yell, cry, or hit something.)
- Is there a better way of expressing my anger? (Think of alternate, managing actions that you won’t regret later)
It takes time and lots of practice for this way of thinking to come naturally. Going through these steps every time you experience an extreme emotion has a calming effect. It raises your emotional awareness over time and managing skills.
5. Use Calming Techniques
There are some tell-tale signs of stress—fast heartbeat, shallow breathing, tautness in your shoulders, and so on. When you’re triggered and feel these signs, it helps to practice these calming relaxation techniques to gain control all over again.
The body scan technique blends breath focus with progressive muscle relaxation to calm you down and get rid of tension.
- Take long, slow deep breaths.
- As you breathe, disengage your mind from thoughts.
- Focus on one part of your body at a time, mentally releasing any physical tension you feel there.
The guided imagery technique helps to redirect your thoughts from an unpleasant experience and enjoy the calmness brought about by conjuring your favorite memories.
- Close your eyes.
- Take a deep breath.
- Think of soothing scenes, places, or experiences that have personal significance.
- Explore the positive emotions triggered by the imagery and relish them for a while.
Mindfulness meditation helps you increase emotional awareness by accepting emotions and releasing them.
- Sit comfortably.
- Focus on your breathing.
- Bring your attention to the present moment.
- Engage your five senses and take note of your feelings without attempting to change them or make them go away.
- Release the emotion.
6. Find a Healthy Outlet for Your Emotions
When you’ve learned to spot the mental and physical cues of extreme emotions, you can find healthy ways of expressing them.
Talk to Someone
Talking to a supportive and non-judgmental person is one of the best methods of releasing your negative emotions. Usually, a close relation or friend can help. Sometimes, a counselor is the best option.
Be careful when expressing them to others. Avoid the blame game and use “I feel” statements to take ownership of your feelings. If talking is making you more upset, take a break and try later when you’re calm.
Keep a Mood Journal
Keeping a mood journal is an equally effective way of expressing negative emotions and controlling them. It keeps a record of all your experiences and allows you to review the patterns later. It can also improve your problem-solving skills by helping you think logically.
Crying, screaming, or punching a pillow can help you vent. It is not a good idea to shout at loved ones or break things. But you can find some privacy and release your tension without harming yourself or others.
Find a secluded spot outdoors to scream or lock yourself in your room and punch your pillow. Better yet—hit the gym and sweat off the anger, frustration, or sadness.
7. Get Counseling
If you experience extreme emotions and aren’t able to work through or control them, therapy can help.
Persistent emotional experiences can lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Being unable to regulate your emotions might indicate trauma or other underlying concerns. Therefore, seeking professional support is necessary.
A therapist can help you:
- Explore reasons why you’re unable to manage your emotions
- Learn how to calm down while experiencing extreme emotions
- Regulate mood swings
- Challenge and reframe negative thought patterns
The Bottom Line
Allow yourself to feel positive and negative emotions. However, don’t act under their influence. Learning how to manage and regulate emotions improves your quality of life and that of those around you.
With practice and dedication, you’re able to control how you react to extreme emotional experiences.