Let’s be honest, we have all done things we wish we had not after hearing something negative that pushes our buttons. It’s understandable – the feelings just become too much and we lose control of our rationality. But what if you are someone who loses control often, even at times that appear insignificant to others? Not only are you defeated by negative emotions, you also are left feeling invalidated by those around you.
There are likely many reasons why people struggle to control emotions; just to name a few: suppressing emotions for too long, never learning emotional regulation from parents/guardians, and experiencing a traumatic event. Some “lose it” only on rare occasion; for others, loss of control is unexpected and intrusive; yet others struggle with this as a lifelong battle. In any case, know there is a solution to this cycle and a way to take the control back of your life – and most importantly yourself.
Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, who holds dual PhD’s in English and Psychology, is the author of Evolution of the Self, from which this list of 20 tips was adapted, on how to defeat negative feelings when your emotional state seems overwhelming. I think the best part is that Dr. Seltzer’s tips are simple enough to remember even while in an out of control state:
1. Breathe—and relax yourself: Do your best to prevent yourself from reacting even for a moment. You can close your eyes and take three or more deep breathes to re-center your thoughts.
2. Identify and challenge the thoughts underlying your upset: This one might take a little work. You must place a word to the feeling you are experiencing. The term “upset” is an umbrella term. Dig deeper; what feelings were triggered that made you upset? What was the thought that gave birth to the feeling?
A few thoughts that intensify negative emotions:
a. Not seeing any person who upset you as a whole person but rather as an attacker.
b. Mind-reading: question your perceived beliefs about their motives. Are their motives really what you think or could your thoughts be worse than their intention?
c. Fortune telling and magnifying: here is where thoughts begin to snowball. When someone does something to upset you, you immediately make up your mind that they have Always done so and will Always continue doing that. Going to extremes only fuels intensity.
d. The “Rules and Morals” you believe in and abide by are not subscribed to or followed by everyone. However, that is their choice. Overreacting to someone because they are not doing as you believe takes away from their freedom to choose to do as they believe is right for them.
3. Look for positives. Try as best as you can to see what you could learn from this to better prepare for the future.
4. Suspend your point of view—and take on the perspective of others. Try looking at the situation from their perspective; can you validate why they acted in a way that upset you?
5. Become more mindful. Practice gaining awareness to be able to think with more clarity. With mindfulness you gain the ability to separate the feelings from the incident; and ultimately negating the feelings’ ability to engulf your mind.
6. Don’t judge yourself on the basis of your feelings. People don’t wake up every morning with a completely fresh start. Sure you can start on a fresh sheet of paper in your notebook, but in that notebook remain pages from the past days of your life. Those previous pages created the image you hold of yourself; if it is not a good image, “negative self-talk” may be your culprit.
7. Apply self-compassion as needed. You are not perfect; no one is. Not everything goes your way or exactly as planned. You are not a bad person if you make a mistake. Give yourself a break once in a while.
8. Take pains to heal what you feel. Doubt is very real and can cause you to forget the work and strength that it took to get to where you are now. Everyone has a different story; don’t forget everything that has happened in yours.
9. Take appropriate action. When you identify the emotion that causes you to feel upset, take the appropriate action to resolve the negative feelings. Example: if you feel lonely, reach out to someone in your support system.
10. Reach out to a friend or relative. Being able to work through an issue with someone who you trust might help you gain clarity.
11. Don’t get carried away by the feeling. When a feeling comes up, our mind often travels to a thought that brought out this feeling in the past. This creates an overreaction to the situation at hand. Think for a moment whether you are reacting to the present situation or to the past event. Once you make that separation you can better respond to what’s happening now instead of responding to what happened in the past.
12. Don’t get “locked into” the feeling. Remember that whatever feelings you are experiencing will pass. Negative thinking prolongs the length of time you will be feeling upset.
13. Take full “ownership” of the feeling. No one has power over your feelings. No one is responsible for the way that you feel as long as you reevaluate the meaning you gave to what made you upset in the first place.
14. Journal away the feeling. Writing can help you organize your thoughts and bring you some clarity. By simply getting those thoughts out, you can gain closure.
15. Avoid what routinely provokes you. Sometimes it’s just best to avoid places or people that push your buttons.
16. Show self-compassion—but be careful about feeling sorry for yourself. You are stronger than you realize; don’t give up on yourself.
17. Get out of yourself. Refocusing or redirect your attention for a bit to give yourself a break.
18. Bring humor to the rescue. Sometimes just focusing on aspects of the situation that seem absurd can bring a bit of humor, taking off some of the spotlight how it made you feel.
19. Lower your tension—and raise your feel-good chemicals— through exercise. If you are in a good emotional state, the chances are you may not be triggered as easily.
20. Nurture yourself. Sometimes self-care gets put on the back-burner for too long because there’s always something more “important” that needs to be done. Self-care needs to be a priority to keep us mentally and physically healthy. “Important” things won’t be able to get done if you are not able to function at your optimal level.
As you see, perspective is key. With ongoing practice you will be able to regain control and become victorious over the negative, and often debilitating, feelings. Some emotions might take more work than others; however, never give up on yourself or your ability to grow and prosper. With these skills you have the power to changes; the challenge is the will to make them!