5 Ways to Take Control of Emotions: A Guide to Mindful Awareness
Article At A Glance
Emotions are an integral part of our lives. They provide us with a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction. We feel joy when we experience something positive, and sadness when something negative occurs. But understanding how our emotions work can be challenging. Knowing how to take control of emotions is a key step in becoming more mindful and aware of the world around you. Understanding and managing your emotions can help you become the best version of yourself. Here are 5 ways to work with your emotions.
Emotions are an integral part of our lives. They provide us with a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction. We feel joy when we experience something positive and sadness when something negative occurs—but understanding how our emotions work can be challenging. Knowing how to take control of emotions is a critical step in becoming more mindful and aware of the world around you. Understanding and managing your emotions can help you become the best version of yourself.
What Are Emotions?
Emotions are messengers from your body to your brain. They start as biochemical and neurophysiological signals before you give them meaning.
They are part of a feedback loop. Your body-mind perceives changes in your physiology triggered by a stimulus. This could be something you saw, thought, or felt. The response may include a variety of symptoms like a racing heart, sweaty palms, or a change in the rate or depth of your breathing.
As you register these physiological changes and put things into context, your brain labels this emotion, making it a feeling: “I feel angry, excited, or scared.”
How long these feelings stick around and how you express them will vary. Sometimes, your feelings make their presence known, and move on. Other times, they press to the surface and stay there, demanding to be noticed. We all have the potential to magnify our problems and imagine the worst possible outcome, creating a flood of associated stress-related chemicals in our bodies.
Your brain is excellent at searching for threats. If they aren’t there, your brain will search for things to worry about.
“I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which happened.” — Mark Twain.
Take Control of Your Emotions by Creating Space
It’s natural to get caught up in your emotions, especially regarding relationships. However, being mindful is a way of creating more space between you and your feelings so that they can be acknowledged without running the show. Instead of jumping to conclusions and making stories based on old experiences when you’re upset with your partner, try to observe. Just notice that feeling as a sensation in your body. Acknowledge it, take a few breaths, and allow those thoughts or feelings to pass so they don’t dominate how you interact with others, especially those you love.
Don’t React, Respond
Our reactions to everyday situations can tell us a lot about our own life experiences and values. Imagine the scenario of a clerk at the checkout line who accidentally breaks your eggs, making you wait for someone to clean up the mess. Two people could experience this event differently depending on their perspectives. Was he being careless, or could there be something more going on? Why not give him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he’s been through some difficult news recently and is just doing his best? Even if he was careless, reacting in the moment won’t help the situation.
As you move forward, recognize how you feel when confronted with these moments and take control of your emotions rather than act impulsively. With practice, you’ll make room to decide what kind of person you want to show up as today.
Think Before You Act
This is a misnomer. It should be “decide before you act.” Decide how much meaning to give your thoughts. Your thoughts become your feelings, and your emotions influence your behavior.
To uncover the thought patterns, beliefs, and subconscious coping mechanisms you’ve adopted, it helps to practice being more conscious of your everyday thoughts and actions.
Your thoughts can make or break your happiness. If you find you aren’t happy, or bad things always happen to you, consider observing the way you view the world and, more importantly, how you act.
Take Control of Your Emotions in Stillness
To gain perspective over why you act the way you do or why you may feel stuck in your life, find time each day to be still enough to notice your stream of thoughts.
Mindfulness practices and meditation have enormous mental and physical health benefits. When you take time to be still, you begin to notice patterns in the way you think and feel. With practice, you get better at catching yourself in the act of unconscious and reactive behavior. Even if you take just 10 minutes a day, you will, in time, become more mindful of your day-to-day thinking patterns.
The Yoga of Taking Control of Emotions
The Yoga Sutras address negative emotions in this way (as translated by Alistair Shearer):
2.33: When negative feelings restrict us, the opposite should be cultivated.
2.34: Negative feelings, such as violence, damage life, whether we act upon them or cause or condone them in others. They are born of greed, anger, or delusion and may be mild, moderate, or intense. Their fruit is endless ignorance and suffering. To remember this is to cultivate the opposite.
When we spend time observing our minds in stillness, we experience directly the pain of negative emotions and the happiness of positive ones. Mindful awareness can help us take control of our feelings by shining a light on our moment-to-moment emotional state. This allows us to choose which emotions to cultivate and which to let go.
Your emotions can be mighty messengers. Understanding how they influence physiology, feelings, and behavior may be helpful at times to switch gears and alter your trajectory. With practice, you’ll get better at riding the emotional waves instead of reacting to them.
With mindful awareness, you can take control of your emotions.