Certain emotional experiences may cause you to react in very distinct manners.
It’s highly probable that you noticed this correlation the last time you encountered strong feelings such as anxiousness, anger, disgust, or surprise.
Reactions to emotions are normal, as that’s the purpose of emotions – to elicit a response. Often, these responses are designed to trigger self-defense / self-preservation mechanisms.
Being aware of how you’re feeling will make it easier to know how to manage your emotions.
How to Manage Your Emotions
Listed below are three approaches for how to manage your emotions. You’ll find benefit in any of these, or any combination of the three.
This approach requires self-awareness.
In the moments of an intense emotional experience, bring your attention to the present.
Feel the sensations of the physiological response you may be undergoing. Is your breathing shorter and more rapid? Has your heart rate increased?
Focus on an counter-effect to the physiological response your body is having to emotional experience. Focus on deeper, steadier breathing. Remind yourself that it’s a temporary emotional response. Give yourself several seconds before you react with an action toward others to mitigate any potential negative impact. Breathe. Focus. Repeat.
Ask yourself: what can I reasonably do right now to feel better that will have the least adverse effect on my health and well-being?
Instead of screaming or yelling, consider a 5 to 10 minute timeout to find your baseline again. Instead of reaching for substances like alcohol or tobacco, consider meditating to reduce your cortisol levels, or engaging in 5 minutes of a quick, high intensity workout to release some endorphins.
Mentally take note of what emotion(s) you are experiencing. Naming the emotion(s) is half of the challenge. It forces you to be present within your body, requires your mind to assess the situation, and can help break you out of automatic, and often unconscious, behavioral patterns.
This approach requires self-discipline.
There are two primary ways through which you can proactively manage your emotions.
Coping plans are the proactive measure to coping mechanisms.
Coping mechanisms with an emotional focus are designed to alleviate distress through minimization, reduction, or prevention of the emotional components of a stressor. (1)
Examples of emotional coping mechanism can are often coined as ‘bad habits’, such as emotional over-eating, unproductive distractions (ie. binge watching tv shows, excessive and unnecessary spending, social media endless scrolling), binge drinking, smoking cigarettes, etc..
However, there are ways you can intentionally design a coping mechanism to work towards your goals – especially if you wish to break the ‘bad habits’ you may currently engage in. This involves planning an intentional action the next time you feel a triggering emotion. Examples of positive coping plan can include: seeking social support (such as this community!), accepting personal responsibility for your contribution to the experience, exercising self-control, and self-directives.
You can create your coping plans in structure similar to this: When I feel [ insert emotion(s) ], I will [ insert a constructive behavior ].
Examples of coping plans might be:
- When I feel angry, I will take a short break to be alone and focus on finding my center/baseline (if I’m at work).
- When I feel angry, I will exercise for 20 minutes (if I’m at home).
- When I feel anxious, I will take a hot mineral salt + jojoba oil bath (if I’m at home).
It’s up to you to determine what will work best for you given the situation of where you might be at the time you’re feeling a particular emotion. Try not to make your coping plans dependent on other people, when possible.
This technique is especially helpful for those who ruminate on unpleasant intense emotional experiences and seem to get stuck in a loop of negative thoughts or worry.
Those who experience frequent anxiousness or self-doubt will find this tool beneficial, and it can also help in the reduction of anger or depressive triggers.
Positive affirmations are feel-good phrases that are rooted in reality that reframe a situation into something meaningful to focus upon.
You can create your positive affirmations in structure similar to this: I am [ insert a positive mindset / attribute to counter a common negative thought pattern or behavior ].
Alternatively, you can substitute ‘have’ for ‘am’ to read: I have [ insert a positive mindset / attribute to counter a common negative thought pattern or behavior ].
Examples of positive affirmations might be:
- I am calm and rational.
- I am capable and confident.
- I am assured and secure.
- I have the capacity to handle whatever comes my way today.
- I have the endurance to perform my best today.
Positive affirmations can be specific to a day or short-term, recent experience, or it can be a general statement designed to create new neural pathways.
It’s helpful to write out your positive affirmations and place them in strategic locations where you will see them regularly. When you see them, you can either say it out loud or internally (in the instance you are in a public place, such as work). One place you can place these is on your bathroom mirror, so that you see this first thing when you start your day, and then again, when you’re winding down your day.
This approach requires self-assessment.
Root Cause Analysis
This method is also often referred to as ‘5 Whys.’
Start with the problem – in this case, it’s an emotional trigger response you’re struggling with and would like to solve.
A great place to start may be:
- Why do I react with [ some specific ] behavior?
- Why do I feel triggered when [ insert the situation ] ?
From there, ask yourself why and really think about the most succinct answer.
Then, repeat the former step of asking yourself why again and determining an answer.
Ask yourself why a total of 5 times.
The answer to your fifth inquiry will be your root cause of the problem.
Once you have this answer, you will have greater insight into the situation, how to manage your emotions, and the clarity needed to devise an effective solution to offset and cushion emotional triggers.
Now that you are aware of methods for how to manage your emotions, you’re closer to both improving your ability to emotionally regulate and emotional empowerment.
- Carver, C.S. (2011), ”Coping”. In R.J. Contrada & A. Baum (Eds.), The Handbook of Stress Science: Biology, Psychology, and Health. (220–229). New York: Springer Publishing Company.