“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” — Oscar Wilde
As adults, we are expected to manage the emotions that we experience and to not let them be the driving force behind our behavior and decisions. That being said, everyone experiences moments when they feel overwhelmed with feeling. Unfortunately, not being able to control feelings, such as anger or anxiety, often lead to us making rash decisions and saying things that we don’t mean. Not being able to regulate emotions can have a profoundly negative impact on our lives. Emotional regulation is an important skill that takes a lot of practice, but it is worth it. Not only can we expect stronger relationships, being able to control our emotions also helps us feel better about ourselves. Here are steps you can take to improve your ability to manage your intense feelings when they come up.
Get in Touch with Your Feelings
If you’re going to regulate your emotions, first you need to know what they are. It sounds simple, but if you’ve spent a lifetime trying to not feel what you really feel, you may have no idea what is going on inside you. We have a habit of disconnecting with our emotions in order to make it through the day—just think about all the times you have answered the question “how are you?” with “fine” when you were anything but. The ability to identify what you are feeling is the most important skill in emotional mastery. Check in with yourself throughout the day to ask how you feel, and then write it down. Make a point to nonjudgmentally notice how you’re feeling.
Tune Into Your Body
Many times, we feel things physically before we process them intellectually. It’s time to tune into what your body is telling you about how you feel. Are there butterflies in your stomach when you get nervous? Do you feel a heaviness in your chest when you’re sad? When you experience a strong emotion, get curious about how it physically feels in your body. This way, when you start to feel this particular sensation, you can more quickly identify your emotions.
Turn Back Time
Once you have identified an emotion, rewind recent history and track where it began. Look at what has happened recently that could have triggered this feeling in you. Maybe your friend made an off-handed comment that inadvertently insulted you. Perhaps your partner asked you for a favor at the end of a long day when you didn’t have anything left to give. Reflect for a moment about what caused you to feel this way, and this information can guide you to understand how to control your emotions.
Reframe Your Thoughts
Often times, people struggle with emotional regulation due to their negative thinking. This stands to reason: if, every time you make a mistake, you call yourself a failure, making a small misstep will be much more distressing to you than someone with a healthier perspective. Something that is mildly irritating to one person will become absolutely infuriating to someone who is consumed with dark thoughts, and once you start to feed into negative thought patterns, it becomes a vicious cycle. Fortunately, positive thoughts function in the same way, so when you find yourself thinking badly, replace that thought with a more realistic, positive thought. Focus on the things you are grateful for and let go of what you cannot control.
Take a Beat
If you feel like you are about to be consumed by your emotions, it’s time to press “pause” and take a timeout. If you are in an argument, it may help to ask to step away and take time to yourself to think. If you are in a situation where you can’t walk away, try this simple tip: take a mindful minute. Close your eyes, and breathe in through your nose slowly, counting to five. Hold your breath for five, then exhale for five with your mouth open. This mindfulness technique can help ground you during emotionally difficult moments.
Emotional regulation isn’t easy, and if you weren’t taught this skill by your caregivers, it may be particularly difficult for you to adopt this new way of living. If this is the case, working with a psychologist in Chicago may be able to help you. Contact Symmetry Counseling for therapy today.