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Are You Controlled by Your Emotions?



Do you believe that you’re in control of your emotions?

Or are your emotions controlling you?

These are complicated questions. Almost all of us experience emotions – and typically a wide range of emotions every day. We get frustrated or angry at being stuck in traffic.

We feel elation when sitting down for a delicious lunch. We become sad upon reading bad news. And realistically, we don’t have immediate control over what we feel and when we feel it.

For most people, emotional experience is reactive and unconscious. We don’t think about what we’re feeling; we just feel it. And in this capacity, we have very little emotional control.

However, with greater focus and deliberate effort, almost anyone can gain more control over their emotions – and live a healthier life because of it.

The Truth About Our Emotions

There are a few essential things to recognize about our relationship with our emotions.

First, our emotions don’t necessarily dictate our actions. Just because you feel angry doesn’t mean you’re going to yell at someone or punch a hole in the wall. You have control over how you act after feeling an emotion.

Second, emotions vary in nature. A sudden, reactive feeling like fear is different than a pensive, more calculated feeling like jealousy. More complex emotions typically arise as a byproduct of our internal dialogue rather than as a byproduct of our environments.

Third, better habits can “retrain” your brain and help you mitigate your strongest, most dominating emotions. With practice, you can become less reactive and more in control of your thoughts and feelings.

The Power of Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation strategies can help you take control of your emotions – to an extent – and guide you to healthier reactions to the emotions you’ll naturally experience.

These are some of the best ones to use:

  •       Mindfulness. To start, there’s mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness may sound complex and esoteric, but it’s very simple – though it will take some practice. The idea is to focus on only the present moment, allowing your other thoughts to drift away like clouds in the sky. Too often, our emotions intensify because of racing thoughts and rumination. Mindfulness helps you center yourself and find peace in the present. Practice mindfulness in still and calm moments so you have this skill available to you in your most emotional moments.
  •       Attention shifting. Attention shifting is all about changing the locus of your attention. For example, if you’re frustrated by loud passengers on public transportation, you could put in some earbuds and focus on your favorite podcast instead. If you’re caught up in thoughts about how your in-laws are rude and upsetting, try to focus on what you’re going to have for dinner instead.
  •       Prediction and avoidance. Prediction and avoidance are forward-looking strategies designed to help you avoid some of the most emotional situations you’d otherwise have to confront. We don’t always have the luxury of avoiding emotionally intense circumstances, but it’s important to exercise this power when you can. Sometimes, simply changing your schedule or finding an alternate route can help you avoid your biggest emotional triggers.
  •       Positive self-talk. Self-talk plays a big role in how we think and feel. If your self-talk is negative, your negative emotions are going to become more powerful. If your self-talk is positive, you’ll probably end up calming down – and you might benefit from an increase in your self-esteem as well. For example, instead of saying, “I can’t believe I had to stay late at work again. This sucks.” Say something like, “I’m so glad I have a job at a company that appreciates my effort” or “at least I have a three-day weekend coming up.” This technique is known as reframing. Start by monitoring your negative self-talk. You’ll soon be able to recognize when your inner critic shows up and be able to counteract its effects. 
  •       Imagining your best self. In an emotional situation, try to imagine what your “best self” would do. This is an idealized version of yourself. What would this near-perfect specimen do in this situation? Would they react aggressively or calmly? Would they launch into a negative rant about everything that’s wrong with the current situation or would they start looking for a solution that can make a difference?

At the moment, these strategies may be hard to remember and even harder to implement. But the more practice you get, the more confident you’re going to be wielding them and the more control you’ll have over your emotions.

The Path Toward a Healthier Life

Greater emotional control is linked to a number of positive benefits. You’ll feel better, moment to moment. Your relationships are going to be stronger and more resilient.

You’ll be able to deal with stressful and difficult situations with greater ease and fluidity. And you will experience less stress, meaning you’ll be better protected against a variety of negative health outcomes.

We don’t always have direct control over the emotions we experience. But with effort, practice, and patience, we can change our emotional reactions and make sure our actions and decisions are dominated by what we’re feeling in the moment.