How to Gain Control Over Your Emotions
Have you ever hurt someone’s feelings, blow your diet, or just somehow lose control because your emotions “got the best of you”?
I know I have! There are times I still feel regret over the things I’ve said or done out of letting my emotions control me. But, take heart. You can gain control over your emotions and learn to respond to a situation and not just react.
Emotions Play an Important Part in Mental Health and Wellbeing.
Emotions can be divided into two categories: positive or negative. Positive emotions accompany events that are perceived as adding to wellbeing, whereas negative emotions go hand-in-hand with events that are perceived as detracting from or threatening wellbeing.
Both positive and negative emotions are important, and at their root, are neither good nor bad.
However, people can make emotions good or bad based on how they manage (or don’t manage) them.
Another, more scientific way of looking at emotions is that they are, at their root, a response to a stimulus. Everyone has different emotional responses to the same stimulus; so specific stimuli do not always evoke the same emotion in all individuals.
Think of a test. In and of itself, a piece of paper is not threatening. But depending on your perspective and emotions related to the test, you may see it that way.
When it comes to emotions, here’s what happens. There is some environmental stimuli – say a school bell ringing. If you experienced past trauma in a school setting, whether as an overwhelmed teacher or a bullied student, you may automatically experience a flood of stress hormones and an activation of your flight-or-flight response. You experience feelings of helplessness, loss of control, anger, and frustration.
These initial emotions last for only 90 seconds. However, the stories we tell ourselves about our emotions and the stimuli that trigger them can lead to longer lasting emotions.
The 90 Second Rule
This 90-second finding came from a scientist named Jill Bolte Taylor. Jill called this the 90 Second Rule and here’s what she had to say about it,
When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.
Something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. For those chemicals to totally flush out of the body it takes less than 90 seconds.
This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away.
After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger, and so on, you need to look at the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological response over and over again.
Only 90 Seconds?!
Yes! Emotions only last for 90 seconds. It’s the stories and the thoughts we continue to have that makes it last longer.
What You Can Do
During the initial wave of emotions, you might have a gut response, an example might be wanting to punch a wall or scream and yell. But the goal is to let logic intervene in the white space between feeling the emotions and taking action.
Logically identify the emotion and its cause and calmly decide on an appropriate reaction. Ultimately, you must work to maximize and take full advantage of the white space between emotions and action.
There is a stimulus which produces and emotion and then you have what I call a “white space of opportunity” to logically make a choice before you take action.
Now, this sounds simple, but it doesn’t always mean it’s easy. But the more you practice this, the longer that white space of opportunity lasts allowing you more and more time to make a logical decision and take an appropriate action.
Acting purely based on emotion – without logic – can result in less-than-optimal behavior, such as emotional eating, excessive drinking, arguments and fighting with loved ones, and a host of other negative reactions that could have devastating effects on you and your loved ones.
How to Respond Not React
Here’s a some ways I help my clients to respond to a situation instead of react to it.
In the “white space of opportunity” you can do any or all of the following:
- Pause and take a breath
- Identify what you’re feeling and why
- Close your eyes and briefly visualize how you want this moment to go.
- Ask yourself, “What it is that I really want?” Meaning if you’re in an argument with someone, is it that you want to be right? Or that you really just want to share your feelings and thoughts to someone. What is the real outcome you want out of the situation?
- Then determine the best action that will get you what you really want.
- If all else fails, walk away until you can calm down and access the situation – utilizing any or all of the tools above.
What If I Blow It?
Make sincere amends where you can and determine what course of action you can take next time when faced with the same situation. Also, forgive yourself. This takes time and the more you practice, the easier it becomes.