Powerful emotions can feel like you’re riding a runaway horse. Emotional self-regulation helps you take control again.
Emotions are a natural and wonderful part of life. They color our world, help us guide us through life and give us insight into our inner thought processes.
But what happens when our emotions feel like they’re controlling us instead of the other way around?
Overwhelming emotions can lead to emotional outbursts, damaged relationships and poor life decisions. Although it takes some practice, anyone can learn to better control their emotions and use them in a more productive way.
Emotional regulation requires you to build your emotional intelligence, also known as the emotional quotient (EQ). This is the ability to identify, understand, and use your emotions effectively to reduce stress, solve problems, and interact with others.
There are several ways you can increase your EQ.
Label the emotion
One of the most important aspects of emotional intelligence is being able to identify the emotions you are feeling. Try to be as specific as possible.
For example, try to go deeper instead of just saying “I’m angry”. You might say, “I feel bitter and confused because he’s been holding me up again.” Or instead of saying “I’m sad,” say “I feel rejected and hopeless because my partner left me.”
When we understand exactly what we’re feeling, we can communicate better with others and let go of our difficult emotions more easily.
be okay with uncertainty
To the human brain, uncertainty feels like a danger. This often causes us to play out the worst-case scenarios in our minds and panic. For example, if you’ve had five job interviews and haven’t gotten an offer yet, you may feel like you’ll never get a job.
If you find yourself catastrophic, try the following exercise:
- Write down your worst-case scenario. (For example, I never get hired.) Allowing your brain to “go there” instead of letting it loom silently in the background makes the idea feel less scary. Your brain can better recognize how unlikely this scenario really is.
- Write down the best scenario. (For example, I will get a job that I love.) This scenario provides an opportunity to feel empowered and take steps to achieve a best-case scenario. During this exercise you can also remind yourself of all the ways you are working towards your goal. Even getting through five different interviews is a huge achievement and there is already a lot to feel good about.
Take Opposite Action
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a form of therapy that helps you deal with difficult emotions. One of the concepts in DBT is ‘taking opposing action’. This means that you are exhibiting behavior that resembles the opposite emotion of what you are feeling.
For example, if your landlord suddenly tells you to move in 4 weeks, you may feel intense panic and helplessness. You may be wondering how you will pack, move, and find another place to live during that time.
In this case, the opposite could mean smiling, rubbing your hands together, and saying, “Great, I can do this. I’m up for the challenge.”
This does not mean that you suppress the emotion. You still need to identify and let go of your fear, but taking the opposite response reminds you that your responses are not set in stone and that you really do have some control.
Get to the heart of anger
Do you remember the last time you got really mad?
You probably felt there was no other reasonable response at the time. But the next day, you may not have felt the same level of anger. You may have even regretted it.
When we get angry, it’s often because we feel offended, cheated, uncomfortable, or because something feels unfair. In other words, reality does not live up to expectations.
The next time you experience anger (or any other intense emotion), try to figure out why you’re having such a strong reaction. Is it based on the assumption that someone acted out of malice? Maybe you can give them the benefit of the doubt.
Is your anger worth a big response? If so, take action to address the problem instead of blowing up with anger.
In order for your brain to manage your emotions effectively, it needs to have plenty of fuel and rest.
Make sure you give your brain and body the following:
- Get a good night’s rest.
2018 surveyshows that sleep deprivation is linked to mood swings such as anger and aggression.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eat regularly and include more fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins and fats in your diet. Limit sugar, refined carbohydrates and fried foods as much as possible.
- Aerobic exercise. A
study 2019revealed an 8-week mind-body course (aerobic jogging and mindfulness-based yoga) improved participants’ emotional regulation skills.
You can develop better emotional regulation skills with little time and practice. These skills allow you to more effectively identify, understand and deal with your emotions in everyday life.
Being able to control your emotions improves your mental and physical health. This, in turn, can benefit your relationships, career, and overall quality of life.
If you’re not sure where to start, talking to a psychiatrist can be a good first step. In therapy, you have the opportunity to explore your emotions and triggers and develop strategies to better express and manage your emotions.