Emotions allow us to be happy, excited, proud, grateful, and so much more. They’re what make us aware that our lives are fun and enjoyable. But they’re also what makes us aware of all the bad in our lives.
There’s a tendency to categorize emotions into “good” or “bad” emotions. It’s an understandable categorization because that’s how they make us feel. Whether seen as good or bad, every emotion we feel is essential.
Emotions are like our evolutionary guiding light. They instantly alert our bodies to danger and threats and activate our bodies to be ready to protect us. They allow us to think and respond faster, and they allow us to understand and respond better in social situations. Emotions indicate to us when we’re safe, in danger, how to respond, and when to leave.
They can, however, be a lot. They can be overwhelming, and sometimes it feels like they’re in control of our lives. Especially when it comes to powerful emotions like anger. Learning how to control your emotions is essential to general well-being, satisfying relationships, and many other aspects of our lives. Learning to control your emotions is what we’ll explore in this article, and it may be an easier task than you think.
Step 1: Don’t Repress Your Emotions
Folding our emotions into a neat little box to be stored deep in the depths of our subconscious – never to be opened again – may seem like an easy way out. Feeling some of our emotions can be painful, but repressing them can lead to worse long-term effects.
Our brains tend to turn repressing some emotions into an automatic one-size-fits-all response. It may allow us to avoid feeling the negative emotions, but we end up simply suppressing all emotions. The result is that you’re left without truly feeling any emotion – whether they feel good or bad.
Repressed emotions can also end up presenting physically. Headaches, muscle tension, stomach aches are all common effects.
Step 2: Pause and Recognize
Our emotions can run away with us. All of a sudden, we’ve shouted at our partner, burst into tears in front of our boss, or we’re frustrated with our children. Our emotions free up cognitive space for us to make decisions quickly, which was great when we were fighting lions thousands of years ago. It’s not such a big advantage when we’re fighting with our partner.
For this reason, it’s important to learn how to control your emotions in the moment. Take some time to understand the emotion you’re feeling and how accurate your assessment of the trigger and reaction is. Some useful questions to ask yourself:
- How is this making me feel? (Name the emotion)
- Where in my body am I feeling this?
- What made me feel this way?
- Why did it make me feel this way?
Step 3: Acknowledge Your Emotions
Categorizing emotions as good or bad, as too much or too little, or as right or wrong is not useful. You feel what you feel, and you should let yourself feel it. Learning how to control your emotions is not about controlling what you feel but rather how you express and manage them.
Think back to emotions as a guiding light. When you feel them, acknowledge what they’re shedding light on and then intentionally choose how to express and manage them.
Step 4: Find What Helps You Deal With It
There are a variety of different ways to deal with emotions and to learn to control them. When we notice our emotions having negative impacts on our lives, we’re often using unhealthy mechanisms, or we’re not controlling them at all.
Research has shown us that how you control your emotions as a woman and how you control your emotions as a man may differ. Women tend to employ a wider variety of emotion-regulating strategies than men. Yet these are often not learned behavior but rather ones that we have organically collected throughout our lives. One explanation of this difference is that men may not be as aware that they’re using strategies as much.
Being aware of how you’re currently dealing with your emotions can be a big help for you to employ them more intentionally. Here are a few key strategies to help you learn how to control your emotions:
In addition to the questions above, once you’re calmer, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there another explanation for what just happened?
- How did I feel before this happened?
- Why could that person be acting in this way?
- Did they mean to intentionally hurt me?
- What can I do right now to feel better?
- What can I do to make this situation better?
- What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?
The point of all of these questions is for you to understand the situation better and that the initial emotional response is not necessarily the most accurate interpretation.
Your partner’s bad sleep last night may be why they’re a bit more snappy today, for example. But you immediately thought that they were angry at you and became anxious about what you may have done wrong. By learning how to control your emotions in a relationship and asking yourself some of the above questions, that anxiety could’ve been completely avoided.
Meditation is often thought of as a way to clear all your thoughts and emotions, but more accurately, meditation is about acknowledging and accepting all your thoughts and emotions. Learning this acknowledgment and acceptance has an overall advantage to the way you control your emotions.
Mindfulness activities allow us to be more present in the moment. Research has shown us that mindfulness activities help us learn to control our emotions by making us more aware of our emotions. Similar to meditation, it teaches us to acknowledge the emotions and thoughts that come up but to not engage with or judge them. Mindfulness activities include breathing exercises, mindful walks, gratitude practices, and many others.
Learning how to control your emotions does not mean you shouldn’t express them. Instead, it means finding healthy ways of expressing them and expressing them at appropriate times. Shouting into a pillow, crying, dancing, laughing, venting, and talking are all helpful to let your emotions out. But using the above steps allows you to express your emotions in a healthy way and at a healthy time.
Step 5: Keep a Mood Journal
Mood journals focus on recording your emotions, what caused them, and how you reacted. They’re a great tool to increase your awareness of what triggers certain emotions and your patterns of behavior and responses. Once you’ve increased this awareness, it becomes easier to identify and deal with problematic behaviors and emotional responses and expressions.
If you find that you’ve had long-term struggles with controlling your emotions or that your emotions have a strong negative effect on your relationships and emotional well-being, trying therapy may be your best option.
Continued struggles with controlling emotions can also be linked to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Left untreated, these can become increasingly serious and dangerous.
Specific emotions, like anger or grief, can be particularly difficult to learn to control – especially when they’re exacerbated by stressful situations. When you feel an intense emotion, like when you are angry, the resulting behavior can be more dangerous and potentially damaging. Therapy that’s specifically focused on grief counseling or anger management is ideal when you have one specific emotion you’re struggling with.
Online therapy is particularly well suited to help you learn how to control your emotions because of the increased access to your therapist. Traditional, face-to-face therapy is limited to a few sessions a week at most.
Emotions can surface at any time, and having immediate access to your therapist can enhance learning to manage them. Online therapy allows access to a therapist every day and offers the option of texting them at any time.
The Bottom Line
Emotions can be overwhelming, but they’re also what allows us to feel the good things in life. Emotions should be felt and acknowledged, but we also need to learn how to control and deal with our emotions.
Though there are a variety of ways to learn how to control your emotions, online therapy may be your best option if you’ve experienced prolonged struggles with your emotions or if they’re causing serious challenges in your relationships and emotional well-being. If you’re ready to give online therapy a try, DoMental is here to help.