You start to feel an emotion bubbling up inside of you.
An unpleasant and unwelcome one at that.
Not long now and it will completely take over.
What should you do?
How can you control your emotions rather than let them control you?
There is no single solution that will work for everyone and in every situation.
But the following tips can help to reduce the impact an emotion has on you and allow you to continue with your life.
10 Immediate Ways To Control Your Emotions
This section deals with the things you can do right at the very moment you experience an unpleasant emotion, or when you feel one coming.
1. Pause – for as long as you can.
If it’s safe and practical to stop doing whatever you are doing, do so.
Just pause, close your eyes, and focus all of your attention on your breathing.
Try to take deep in breaths and slow, long out breaths.
This can help to address the physical symptoms of the emotion you are feeling.
And when you get the physical side under control, you are better placed to tackle the psychological side of things.
Don’t set a time limit on your pause. Do it for as long as is necessary for your emotion to subside.
2. Remove yourself from the situation.
Sure, this won’t always be feasible, but if your emotional response is to a particular stimulus, put physical distance between you and that thing.
If you feel angry because of something your partner has done, it might be best for you to step out of the room for a while to allow that feeling to subside.
If you are feeling anxious about being in a crowded space, find a way to leave that crowd and go somewhere that’s quieter and more open.
3. Distract yourself.
Sometimes an emotion can take over when your mind is turned toward the thing that is causing it.
Instead, focus your attention on something else entirely. Distract yourself by forcing your mind to think about an entirely different subject.
Or do something that fills your conscious mind so that it cannot dwell on the thing that has caused the emotion.
Read a book.
Make a grocery list.
Plan your weekend.
Play a video game.
4. Relax your muscles.
Many of the negative emotions we experience are accompanied by a physical response.
And this response is mostly unconscious.
One of the most common physical symptoms of a troubling emotion is muscle tension.
It happens when we’re sad, angry, anxious, and scared.
Try doing a simple body scan. Start with your face and try to relax each muscle in it.
Then work down to your neck, shoulders, chest, arms, and the rest of your body.
Isolate each part of your body one by one and consciously relax all the surrounding muscles.
It’s surprising how much calmer your mind feels when your body is in a relaxed state.
5. Create and go to an inner calm space.
Visualization techniques can be used instead of the simple breathing exercise in the first tip.
Think about a place where you would feel extremely calm and at peace.
Perhaps this is a secluded beach with a gentle warm breeze and the sound of waves lapping at the shore.
Or maybe it’s a place high up in the mountains where you can look out across an amazing natural landscape.
When you feel an emotion taking over, close your eyes and allow your mind to visit this calm space.
Really try to imagine yourself there by thinking about all the things your senses would be picking up: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, physical sensations.
Stay there for as long as you need to for your emotions to subside.
6. Be a third party observer to the situation.
Our emotions can take over when we focus our energies on the very personal aspect of a situation.
Our egos can inflate the importance of things when they relate to ourselves and how we are perceived by others.
So try to see yourself from the perspective of a third party.
Put yourself in the shoes of an onlooker who is watching the thing that is happening to you.
As a third party, you will be better placed to see things objectively and with a more neutral standpoint.
7. Identify your emotions.
So far we have looked at ways to control your emotions by addressing the physical and psychological turmoil they create.
But some emotions will require more time and effort to work through.
A key part of this is to identify the precise emotions that you are experiencing in a given situation.
We too quickly jump to conclusions such as “I’m angry” or “I’m sad” when there is a more specific emotion underneath these broad generalizations.
Anger, for example, might actually be disappointment or resentment.
Sadness could be shame or loneliness.
Try to hone in on the exact emotions that are currently taking over your mind.
You may also like (article continues below):
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- 12 Reasons You’re Feeling So Emotional Lately (That You Shouldn’t Ignore)
8. Identify the causes of your emotions.
Once you know what your emotions are, you need to understand where they are coming from.
What has made you feel this way?
Is it the actual situation itself?
For example, are you scared because you are walking home late at night and feel vulnerable?
Is it the consequences of the situation?
For example, are you feeling anxious because you’ve not left much time to catch a train to an all important meeting and it might mean lost business?
Is it the way people might think of you because of the situation?
For example, are you feeling ashamed because your child has pushed another child over at the park and you worry the other parents are judging you for it?
You might sometimes realize that your emotions are being caused by something other than what you initially thought.
Perhaps you are angry because a friend has bailed last minute on the dinner you arranged months ago.
But when you think about it, some of that anger is directed at yourself because your friend does this every time and you keep letting them off the hook rather than confronting them about their behavior.
9. Find ways to resolve those causes.
Now that you know what is causing you to lose control of your emotions, ask what you might do to address the cause and regain control.
This is not always easy or even possible, but it is worth asking what steps you might be able to take, even if just to lessen the emotional impact.
Let’s imagine that you are feeling anxious about an upcoming exam. Whilst you can’t do anything to avoid the exam, you can do everything in your power to prepare as best you can for it.
Or if you are getting angry at the slow speeds you’re receiving from your internet service provider, you can look at alternative companies to get the performance you desire.
If the cause of your emotional distress is another person, you might want to consider talking to them about what they are doing and how they might be able to make changes to lessen the impact on you.
But you can’t always rely on a person to change their behavior, and if you’ve tried talking to no avail, you can always try to reduce the amount of time you spend with this person.
10. Change the way you look at the situation.
Sometimes it is our thoughts about a situation that cause our emotions to grow.
When this happens, it might be possible to regain control of your emotions by changing the way you think about the situation.
Psychologists have a fancy name for this – cognitive reappraisal – but in essence it means finding a more positive viewpoint than the one you currently hold.
Let’s say you get rejected for a job that you really wanted. Initially you feel very disappointed.
But then you look for the positives, such as landing a similar job with a much shorter commute or a role with better advancement prospects.
These thoughts reduce the disappointment you feel and begin to energize you for your continued job hunt.
You can also find new ways to look at people or their actions.
Say, for example, that a person pushes past you on the street, causing you to drop your phone to the floor.
Your first instinct is to get rage at this person and label them an arrogant and ignorant fool.
But then you stop and think about why they might have been in such a rush and the feelings they may have been experiencing at the time.
If you can see them as someone who was distressed and who didn’t wish to intentionally cause upset, you may find yourself feeling more forgiving and less angry.
7 Long Term Ways To Control Your Emotions
Aside from tackling unwelcome emotions at the moment they arise, what can you do to reduce the likelihood of experiencing those emotions in the first place?
1. Identify and avoid emotional triggers.
Are there certain things that really get your emotions going? Particular situations or people that fill you with fear, anger, or sadness?
If you know that these things will allow your emotions to take control, it may be best to avoid them wherever possible.
For example, if you know that driving in rush hour always leaves you frustrated and angry at the time you’re wasting, try to plan your journeys for periods of the day where the roads are quieter.
Or if you get very upset when watching news stories of heartbreaking events, switch channels or turn off as soon as one starts.
Of course, you can’t always avoid the things that cause your emotions to rise, and nor should you always wish to.
Some situations that trigger an emotional response are important and can be beneficial for you in the long term.
Dating is a prime example. For many people, going on dates is a nerve-wracking experience.
You could avoid ever going on a date and thus control your nerves that way, but it would harm your chances of finding love.
You have to face the situation and use the tactics discussed in the previous section to quell your anxiety as best you can.
2. Meditate regularly.
A lot has been said about the benefits of meditation and other mindfulness techniques.
We can now add emotional regulation to that list.
A recent meta analysis suggests a link between mindfulness practice and healthy emotional regulation, although it did state that further research is required to show a more robust link.
Mindfulness can be done in many ways, but meditation is perhaps the one that is easiest to understand and do.
Try to sit quietly in meditation for 5 minutes every day – longer if possible.
Over time you should notice that you react with less intensity to situations that would normally elicit a significant emotional response.
3. Exercise regularly.
As with meditation, there is no shortage of people exclaiming the benefits of exercise.
It turns out that greater physical activity in general can help you to better control your emotions.
A Psychology Today article explores two studies that give a glimpse into the role exercise can play in a person’s ability to regulate their emotions.
So if you are not getting your heart pumping on a regular basis, you might wish to find ways to do so.
Try various forms of exercise until you find one that works for you and that you think you can stick with.
4. Get more sleep.
You know what it’s like when you face the day on less sleep than you need.
Sleep deprivation or poor quality sleep may impair a person’s ability to cope with negative emotions.
It follows that getting more sleep, and better quality sleep will help you to deal with the emotional impact of the situations you face.
5. Work on your self-esteem.
The way you feel about yourself can play a role in how you respond to situations that elicit strong emotions.
If you have high self-esteem, you may feel more able to approach challenging situations positively.
Feeling secure in yourself and liking the person you are may allow you to think differently about the things you are faced with.
You feel more confident in your abilities to cope with whatever life throws at you.
So by building your self-esteem gradually over time, you should be able to deal more effectively with the emotions you experience.
6. Talk to a counselor.
If your emotions regularly get the better of you and you can’t seem to wrestle back control of them, it might be worth speaking to a trained mental health professional.
They can help you to figure out why you struggle to regulate your emotions and come up with specific strategies you can use when faced with emotionally charged moments.
All of the tips provided here can help you approach your emotions differently, but they are most effective when they are practiced.
Whenever you feel something rising within you, try to apply one or more of the strategies from the first section of this article.
And in between times of emotional arousal, try to work on the points from this second section.
The more you do these things, the more natural they will feel and the more automatic they will become.
Don’t expect miracles overnight, but persevere on the path and you will get better at controlling your emotions.