Don’t let your emotions wrestle control away from you.
Emotions are those biological reactions that are always with us, from the moment we enter into this world to the moment we leave it. They can make you feel amazing or awful, show you an unbelievable life or a terrible one, and, for all the good they do, they also have the power to make us act in counterproductive ways.
In my experience, the biggest key to keeping emotions in check has been creating a series of habits and thought patterns ahead of time. Emotional reactions are usually prevented through habits created long before. Here are some steps to prevent your emotions from taking over at inopportune times:
1. Take Time to Meditate or Allow for Silence
Some form of silence or meditation is incredible for our mental well-being. When we give ourselves time to feel a sense of peace, that peace gradually starts to make its way into the rest of our day. As our brain experiences this lack of stimulus, it starts to rewire itself to be more peaceful. This neural rewiring can be seen in the brain scans of experienced meditators, such as Buddhist monks. As our brains rewire, we also gain more control over our emotions. Our self-control expands and we become more capable of noticing our thoughts and emotions in the moment, instead of being overwhelmed and doing something against our conscious goals.
Setting aside time for peace and quiet also allows us to shift our mental frame toward our values. We should all have goals we hope to work toward and characteristics we hope to exemplify. The more time we take to think about these goals, the more likely we are to act in accordance with them, even when they aren’t consciously on our mind.
We can also use this time to think about how we’re going to handle certain situations before they ever occur. Being prepared before a problem occurs allows you to follow the blueprint you’ve created with minimal effort when you need it most. Focusing on your goals and the obstacles in the way of those goals for a few minutes each day will make you more prepared to handle challenges in a positive manner.
A few times each month, I’ll find myself starting to enter an emotional rut. I feel frustrated or tired or unable to see a better future. During these moments, meditation has been crucial. Just sitting for a few minutes with myself allows me to feel a little better. Taking a break lets me find one or two small things that I’m happy about. Once I’ve regained that small bit of happiness or purpose, I’m able to gradually build upon it throughout the day. I remember how important my goals are, and why I believe I can achieve them. In just 5 minutes of meditation, I’m able to lay the first brick in the process of turning my day around.
2. Challenge Your Beliefs
We often get carried away by our emotions when we become too deeply invested in an issue. We like to shift to the negative side of a situation whenever we’re given the chance to do so. At one point, this was a very important self-protection mechanism. In today’s world, however, it often causes more problems than it solves. When our beliefs are challenged or our status is questioned, our first reaction is usually to guard ourselves. We fire back at the other person, ending any chance of having a beneficial interaction. If there is one thing we can do to minimize these occurrences, it’s learning to not take ourselves too seriously. We are a complex and changing human, just like they are, differences are bound to appear. That doesn’t mean those differences are a threat to our livelihood.
When someone says something you don’t immediately agree with, do your best to refrain from declaring yourself right and the other person wrong. Humans have made tremendous achievements on this planet, yet we continue to know less than 1% of the questions we ask ourselves. We don’t know how big the universe is. We don’t know when we’ll die. We don’t know what the world will be like in a hundred years. Even the things we think we know often aren’t as true as we believe them to be. I say this to relay the importance of giving other people’s ideas a chance. Even if an idea goes against everything you’ve been taught since you were born, give yourself a few hours to consider it before you make a final decision. Chances are the other person believes just as much that they’re right as you believe they’re wrong. As you learn to be more accepting of ideas, most ideas won’t appear as frustrating or scary as they do now. A little consideration could go a long way to responding in a thoughtful, self-controlled way.
Emotions often gain the most control over us when we can’t see the possibilities of another person’s view. We only have our experiences to go off of, and we don’t know how to bridge the gap to others. I consider myself someone that barely watches or gets involved with politics, but once every few weeks I’ll find myself in front of the TV as the news plays. It can be frustrating and upsetting sometimes. I think like many people, I find myself wondering how someone could think a certain response is the right way to fix a certain issue. When this happens, I have to remind myself to be open to the possibilities. What if they are right? What if that idea that sounds ridiculous to me, is the best solution to the problem? It can be scary to open up to these possibilities, but this is the only way we get past our emotional barriers and find the best solution. Through seeing the various possibilities, we often realize that following the other person’s plan is far from the end of the world. Seeing various possibilities will allow you to avoid getting overly attached to your favorite choice.
3. Focus on Cooperation
If you’re going into an important conversation or business meeting, focus on cooperating with the other person instead of trying to win the interaction. Our emotions often get involved when we think we have to go above and beyond our usual selves. When we think we have to be funny, memorable, or supremely confident, we create an expectation for ourselves. If we fail to meet this expectation, we become frustrated with ourselves and make the situation worse than it needs to be. We may escalate the situation by lashing out at others or trying to show them up. Instead of trying “win” an interaction in this way, we can focus on creating a sense of cooperation. After all, the goal is usually to create something where you both benefit. Instead of feeling a need to act above your capabilities, you can be as sincere as possible. Look for ways to meet their needs and clearly communicating your own priorities. Try to focus your attention more on them and less on yourself.
Every time I go into a situation with the goal of working with someone, I’m able to be much more relaxed and the interaction ends up being much more positive. I already place a lot of expectations on myself, adding another expectation to the list often makes the interaction feel overwhelming. I overthink everything to the point that I’m more focused on myself and my internal dialogue than I am with the person in front of me. Approaching with a goal of cooperation allows me to relax and realize it’s okay if something doesn’t go as planned. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll be able to find another opportunity.
4. Look Toward the Future
Most of the things that happen to us, even those that feel unbearable in the moment, can be overcome with time and determination. This moment isn’t worth getting emotionally attached to. There is so much more to come in the next few days, months, and years. You have an opportunity you never imagined would come to you and it might fall through. That’s okay. Just receiving such an opportunity means you’ve put yourself in a position to have amazing opportunities. There will be more to come if you stick with it. In some cases, it might require years of work, but you will get an opportunity just as good and you will be prepared to run with it.
Looking toward the future reminds us of how minimal each day is. Even the most impactful people in history spent 90% of their time doing many of the same things we do each day. Most days are uneventful. They will be forgotten within a week. Our lives are far from determined by the thing happening at this very moment. This moment is simply a tiny clump of sand that goes into the sandcastle we create with our lives. You don’t have to stress over this clump of sand. Allow yourself to relax and know that things will come to fruition in the future.
The future has always been where I turn when I have my biggest fears and doubts. I remind myself that I have no way of predicting what my future will look like, therefore the things I feel are important now may be the least important things a decade from now. The future is full of opportunities. If things don’t work out now, that only means there will be slightly different opportunities available down the road. These opportunities may be better or worse, so it’s not worth my effort to get attached to this event when I don’t know what its final results will be.
5. Place Yourself Away from Emotional Situations
Perhaps the simplest and most effective method to avoiding intense emotional reactions is avoiding the environments that create them whenever possible. Sometimes, you must encounter a difficult environment because of another obligation, but there are also times you can work to avoid these environments. We can all take steps to avoid certain people, go to places when there is less traffic, and get a head start on our work. While we can’t guarantee that things won’t be hectic, we can decrease the chance of it happening. Taking just a few precautions can tremendously increase our happiness over the long run.
Over my first two years of college, I’ve seen that college gyms can get packed. They’re usually at their busiest in the middle of the day. During this time, it’s often hard to move around and do the things I was hoping to do that day. I found this frustrating, so I’ve started going as soon as the gym opens. I get up early enough that it isn’t a burden, and the sense of peace and productivity I get from not being surrounded by people is amazing. I don’t have to go through the worry and frustration of not being able to do the workout I was hoping to do. This small change to avoid the busy times of day has improved my whole day.
6. Create a Routine You Can Come Back to When You Need It
Avoiding an overly emotional reaction requires a lot of work beforehand. Ultimately, our goal should be to avoid the situation completely. Unfortunately, that isn’t always possible. For these situations, it can be helpful to have a predetermined plan to follow. This plan should be something that returns you to a more peaceful state within a few moments.
The most common routine I’ve encountered, and the one I use, involves focusing on taking a few deep breaths. By taking a few deep breaths, we can gradually slow our heartbeat and gain better control over our thoughts. Deep breaths allow us to quiet our anxious mind and experience our surroundings in a more calm state of mind. Within 15 to 30 seconds, we can gain control of any emotions that may be arising and move toward a more positive state.
I encourage you to experiment with a few different routines to determine which ones seem to be the most helpful. Other than focusing on breathing, some people find snapping a rubber band or their fingers is a better way of entering a positive state of mind. Maybe having a small reminder within your pocket that you can pull out when you get stressed will be most effective for you. Whatever routine you settle upon, it will be very handy when you feel yourself quickly becoming overwhelmed by your emotions.
7. Work to Resolve Reoccurring Issues
This will likely be the most difficult step in your journey to overcome your emotions. Most of us have one or two problems that seem to appear again and again. Unlike our other problems, these issues won’t go away using our typical methods. They are buried much deeper within our mind. Minimizing or solving these problems will not be a quick endeavor, but it is possible.
When looking for solutions to these problems, therapy is often a good place to turn to. Sometimes, talking through the situation enough times will gradual weaken its hold on you. In some cases, a medical professional may recommend medication as the best way to gain control over your emotions. Another method is making it the center of your meditation. Simply let yourself consider the thoughts and feelings your experiencing. Doing this in a more calm and attentive state can allow for new breakthroughs. You get a chance to see the issue in new ways and find a perspective that works best for you.
I struggled for years with feeling a sense of loneliness. A few months ago, I started to uncover a revelation that had been right in front of me the whole time, but I had previously failed to notice it. Whenever I started to feel lonely, I often acted in ways that would only increase my loneliness. I’d start to create more space between friends and family members, I’d avoid eye contact, and act uninterested in conversations. Instead of trying to remove the barrier I felt, I reinforced it. I still do all of this more than I’d like to, but I now know what the pattern is and occasionally I succeed in breaking it. These situations where I force myself to interact with others almost always end up being more enjoyable. It’s a reoccurring issue I continue to face today, but I know I have a better handle on it than before and I see so much room for improvement ahead of me. Facing this challenge and being more aware of it has given me the power to have more control over its effect on my life.
Emotions are a tremendously powerful tool. They can give us a sense of purpose, a reason to move forward, and help guide us as we move through life. They do an incredible amount of good for us every day, and we would be missing the point if we tried to avoid them altogether. They can, however, come with a cost. Sometimes we become too emotionally involved with ourselves and the world around us. When we have control over our emotions they can be our best friends. When our emotions take control of us, they become our greatest obstacle.
Through the steps listed above, you can gain and maintain control over your emotions. Implementing just two or three steps could be enough to make a 180 in your current path. This will allow you to experience the amazing highs that emotions can create while being able to effectively handle the low points that are bound to appear. Gaining greater control over your emotions and a huge step toward creating an amazing life.