How to Control Emotional Reactions
Current lifestyle trends gaining serious momentum at the moment include deconstructed coffee, shared workspaces, the kumquat taste journey and mental harmony. Buzzword or not, mental harmony is one of the more substantial elements that influences your overall enjoyment of life. Being emotionally intelligent puts us into a league of mental sophistication that combines skill and empathy, and pivotal to this is learning to understand and control your emotions.
Personally, I’m still in the process of learning the art of controlling my emotions. I have more of an adhoc-hurricane-style approach to anything emotional; when I’m hit with a crisis I simply brace for damage, endure shellshock, evaluate and then move on. It’s not an advisable approach. Being affected by emotion and unable to control it is similar to being drunk, you think your reactions are valid, solid and rational. Back down in reality/sobriety you quickly realise that you’re more Lindsay Lohan than Dalai Lama.
Understandably there’s lots of confusion around thoughts vs feelings and what should dominate our mental scope. Simplistically speaking feelings come from the deeper corners of our subconscious and are stimulated by a myriad of different experiences, both historical and present. Thoughts are what we actively create from our feelings and conscious actions within the world. This is why controlling our feelings feels like an abstract task, or, like waving a ruler around and pretending it’s a light saber. We’re apprehensive and confused about it, and rightly so! However, when you understand that controlling your emotions is the key to shifting your whole perspective then you’ll realise how important it is to start….
Here’s some tips:
Stop, collaborate and…watch – It’s easy to get caught up in the moment but forming a reaction based strictly on emotion can be a foolish move. If you are aware that you are reacting emotionally then the best action is to take none. Do nothing. For as long as possible. I think we’re all aware that averting an emotional crisis once it hits is like trying to reverse a tsunami with a shovel, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. The more time you inject into the issue, the better. While you’re counting the minutes try and observe the waves of your emotion, because once you become aware of how they roll you’ll be more able to get on top of them and change their direction, or ride them out til they dissipate. Things to watch for include: How quickly do you reach breaking point? Are you likely to respond with tears or anger? Are you feeling jealous, anxious, left out, incensed or misunderstood? What is your default coping mechanism? Tea, tequila or talking? How do you feel about yourself after letting your emotions unravel? All of these questions provide important insight into your emotional profile which will inform your future emotional intelligence.
Back to the future – By injecting time into a crisis situation you allow yourself something very important; perspective. With that blissful slice of perspective pie on your side you can begin to move past being reactive. Consider how much the issue will still be affecting you tomorrow, or better yet in a week or a month. Is it something to write home about? Time and silence are 2 of the most underused, yet decidedly effective tools we can summon to counter emotion.
Read the label before consumption– Generally we frown upon labelling, but labelling emotions can be helpful in pushing through their associated discomfort. When we lack self awareness we’re more likely to displace emotions and encourage a misaligned reaction. This occurs because we can’t comprehend the origin of a feeling, or we fail to be honest with ourselves for fear of it being the ‘wrong’ thing. An example; your best friend gets a fantastic new job and you’re happy for her but can’t shake the niggly feeling that you’re actually strangely angry. It makes zero logical sense, puts you into a sulk and you feel like a horrible person when you finally realise you’re jealous. When this happens most humans will commonly respond by being passive aggressive, because that’s safer than directly confronting feelings. All of this feels uncomfortable because you become vulnerable; stripped of all of the armour that you use to hide true feelings. Fortunately, the only person you need to admit these feelings to is yourself, and, once you identify why you’re feeling them you’re half way to a resolution.
Lets galvanise! – Doing something active is the short cut to flipping your mood. Rather than ‘waiting it out’ and hoping that your emotional storm will pass before you get into a bar fight, run over your boss or launch a glass of red wine in your exes face, it’s far safer to alleviate the guesswork and change your interaction with the emotion by physically changing what you are doing. Removing yourself from a negative scenario and going for a run or a walk coaxes you out of the mental space causing you angst and gives you no choice but to shift your perspective. If you can’t move physically then jolting your brain by forcing it into the polar opposite mental activity can have the same effect. Read a factual biography instead of giving in to anxiety, inspirational quotes to counter to frustration and travel articles when problem solving.
No frills – Sometimes it really is as simple as ticking off a list to make sure your basic needs are being met. Chances are, if you’re tired, hungry, cold, lost or lonely your emotional disposition will be off kilter. If you’ve ever encountered a hungry male you’ll understand just how important these seemingly simple, but perpetually necessary essentials are.
#inspiration – Humans commonly emulate one another as a twisted state of compliment. So, if we’ll happily use visuals as inspiration for interior decorating or a haircut then why can’t we extend that methodology to emotional intelligence? If you have a friend that handles complex emotional scenarios with an air of sophistication, while you resemble a hurricane or a small explosion it’s not a bad idea to observe their good habits and implement them into your own strategy. If you have the opportunity, ask people that you are close to how they deal with tender emotional situations. Just because emotional intelligence is built largely upon a subconscious landscape it doesn’t mean that you can’t remap it yourself.
Think of emotion like a producer of the Bachelor – Emotions want us to follow them blindly and stupidly, because that’s their role, to encourage us to feel until we are enticed into action. Life would be boring without emotion; we would never fall deeply in love, get giddy with pride, feel euphorically happy or outrageously jealous. Several large genres of music, literature and films would cease to exist. Building a realistic knowledge of the role of emotions in life helps you to pop them into perspective; we need them but we can’t allow them to dominate or dictate our behaviour.