Written by Crystal Raypole
The ability to experience and express emotions is more important than you might realize.
As the felt response to a given situation, emotions play a key part in your reactions. When you’re in tune with them, you have access to important knowledge that helps with:
While emotions can have a helpful role in your daily life, they can take a toll on your emotional health and interpersonal relationships when they start to feel out of control.
Vicki Botnick, a therapist in Tarzana, California, explains that any emotion — even elation, joy, or others you’d typically view as positive — can intensify to a point where it becomes difficult to control.
With a little practice, though, you can take back the reigns. Two studies from 2010Trusted Source suggest that having good emotional regulation skills is linked to well-being. Plus, the second one found a potential link between these skills and financial success, so putting in some work on that front may literally pay off.
Here are some pointers to get you started.
Intense emotions aren’t all bad.
“Emotions make our lives exciting, unique, and vibrant,” Botnick says. “Strong feelings can signify that we embrace life fully, that we’re not repressing our natural reactions.”
It’s perfectly normal to experience some emotional overwhelm on occasion— when something wonderful happens, when something terrible happens, when you feel like you’ve missed out.
So, how do you know when there’s a problem?
Emotions that regularly get out of hand might lead to:
- relationship or friendship conflict
- difficulty relating to others
- trouble at work or school
- an urge to use substances to help manage your emotions
- physical or emotional outbursts
Find some time to take stock of just how your uncontrolled emotions are affecting your day-to-day life. This will make it easier to identify problem areas (and track your success).
You can’t control your emotions with a dial (if only it were that easy!). But imagine, for a moment, that you could manage emotions this way.
You wouldn’t want to leave them running at maximum all the time. You also wouldn’t want to switch them off entirely, either.
When you suppress or repress emotions, you’re preventing yourself from experiencing and expressing feelings. This can happen consciously (suppression) or unconsciously (repression).
Either can contribute to mental and physical health symptoms, including:
When learning to exercise control over emotions, make sure you aren’t just sweeping them under the rug. Healthy emotional expression involves finding some balance between overwhelming emotions and no emotions at all.
Taking a moment to check in with yourself about your mood can help you begin gaining back control.
Say you’ve been seeing someone for a few months. You tried planning a date last week, but they said they didn’t have time. Yesterday, you texted again, saying, “I’d like to see you soon. Can you meet this week?”
They finally reply, more than a day later: “Can’t. Busy.”
You’re suddenly extremely upset. Without stopping to think, you hurl your phone across the room, knock over your wastebasket, and kick your desk, stubbing your toe.
Interrupt yourself by asking:
- What am I feeling right now? (disappointed, confused, furious)
- What happened to make me feel this way? (They brushed me off with no explanation.)
- Does the situation have a different explanation that might make sense? (Maybe they’re stressed, sick, or dealing with something else they don’t feel comfortable explaining. They might plan to explain more when they can.)
- What do I want to do about these feelings? (Scream, vent my frustration by throwing things, text back something rude.)
- Is there a better way of coping with them? (Ask if everything’s OK. Ask when they’re free next. Go for a walk or run.)
By considering possible alternatives, you’re reframing your thoughts, which can help you modify your first extreme reaction.
It can take some time before this response becomes a habit. With practice, going through these steps in your head will become easier (and more effective).
If you’re trying to get better at managing emotions, you might try downplaying your feelings to yourself.
When you hyperventilate after receiving good news or collapse on the floor screaming and sobbing when you can’t find your keys, it might seem helpful to tell yourself, “Just calm down,” or “It’s not that big of a deal, so don’t freak out.”
But this invalidates your experience. It is a big deal to you.
Accepting emotions as they come helps you get more comfortable with them. Increasing your comfort around intense emotions allows you to fully feel them without reacting in extreme, unhelpful ways.