The ability to control negative emotions affects our quality of life and the way we interact with other people.
Emotions are an important part of our daily life. Whether it’s a message that makes us smile or traffic stress, life’s ups and downs affect how we feel.
Research by psychologists makes progress in understanding emotional regulation, that is, controlling the feelings and expression of emotions.
Some emotional responses don’t need to be regulated. If the emotion is appropriate for the situation and makes us feel good, it may stay as it is. When something funny happens, laughing with everyone is an appropriate reaction. But looking at a message on our phone and laughing during a serious meeting doesn’t do the trick. Although it feels good to block a vehicle that annoys us in traffic—and getting out of the car and shouting—it is an inappropriate reaction to the situation and endangers our safety.
Trying to calm down when angry is easy to say—hard to do. If we are at a dangerous level of emotional regulation, close to the edge, where we throw up our hatred at anyone who can hear us, our emotions can cost friendships, work, even health.
We can learn to manage our emotions by applying certain methods to our lives and practicing them often. We can do most of the emotional regulation practice before a bad situation occurs. By preparing ourselves in advance, we can ensure that the problem is resolved without affecting our emotional life.
Here are five things we can do to manage unwanted emotions and take control of our life:
Be careful not to get into situations that would create an unwanted emotion. If we know that we get angry when in a rush, don’t leave things to the last minute. Get out of the house or office 10 minutes early, so we don’t get disturbed by pedestrians, cars, and slow elevators.
Change the situation.
If the feeling we want to reduce is frustration, we may be dreaming of unattainable perfection. It could be success in the perfect job or the food we prepared. We can resolve the situation according to our abilities. For example, we may not be able to make chocolate soufflé, but if we are making good rice pudding, offer rice pudding instead of soufflé to the guests that evening.
Let’s say we feel bad or inferior around people who are more athletic than us. In the gym, this feeling will gradually worsen as we watch how much weight people who regularly train can lift or at what speed they run. Turn attention away from them and focus on yourself. Focus on what you can do better than the previous week. Maybe you were able to run for five more minutes, maybe you increased the weights you lifted by one kilogram.
By measuring our progress against our own self, we will feel better about ourselves and our motivation will increase. Even better, we can focus on what we are doing, and eventually we will achieve the result we desire.
Change or challenge beliefs.
Our beliefs live at the heart of our deepest emotions. When we believe that we have lost something, we feel sad; if we believe that something good will happen, we will be happy and impatient. But, sometimes things that we love bring great difficulties behind them, and things that we feel sad about might open new doors. We may not be able to change the situation by changing our thoughts, but we can change how the situation affects us.
Change our reactions.
If nothing works, and we can’t avoid negative situations, shift, distract, and change the thoughts. Emotions are felt like they are pouring out of the glass, the final step in emotion regulation is to taking control of our reactions.
Maybe our heart is pounding like crazy, maybe our energy is dropping rapidly, maybe we have started to tremble—take deep breaths, be sure to focus on breathing before reacting, and let the breath calm us down.
With these five approaches, we can learn to deal with emotional situations that harm us. By noticing the things that trigger our emotions, we can prevent problems before they occur.
Changing or challenging our opinions and reactions will increase our confidence in dealing with problems. With a little practice, we can gradually cope better with negative emotions and live a more emotionally balanced life.