How Can I Control Emotions?
June 27, 2022
Want to know the best way to control your emotions?  That’s simple.  Stop trying.

People who believe controlling their emotions is a good long-term strategy are misinformed.  These misinformed individuals work tirelessly trying to exercise control over something that’s actually working as designed.

Imagine the Snake River.  Would you ever try to control the direction of the water flow?  Of course not.  But day-in and day-out misinformed individuals waste a lot of energy trying to prevent themselves from feeling difficult emotions like Anger, Fear, Guilt, and Anxiety.  It’s exhausting because it’s the wrong approach.

Unbeknownst to many, Emotions are a form of intelligence.  Just like your liver, lungs, and spleen, each of your emotions serve a purpose.

Instead of seeking ways to control your emotions, consider a different approach which is to gain a better understanding of how your emotions are designed to work.

Armed with an accurate understanding, informed individuals become empowered to work with their emotions rather than working against them.

Consider a blazing fire.  Someone who doesn’t understand fire is going to have a very difficult time controlling it.  However, the person who does understand fire (e.g. why it ignites, what impacts it’s intensity, and how it can’t survive without oxygen), well that’s the individual who will know how to manage the flames without getting burned.

Informed individuals know working tirelessly to control their emotions is simply the wrong approach.  It may feel counter intuitive at first but let’s look at how it can work.

Introducing Anxiety
Anxiety and Fear are similar emotions.  They are both designed to inform you of a threat (or a perceived threat) to your physical or emotional safety and well-being.  The main difference, however, is Anxiety activates in response to something that is future-based whereas Fear activates when the threat is real-time and in the moment.

If you’re planning a trip into the backcountry and you’re thinking about the possibility of encountering a grizzly bear… Anxiety is likely to activate.  If, however, you’re already hiking on the trail and you come face-to-face with the grizzly… Fear will activate.

The benefit of Anxiety is this emotion affords you the opportunity to formulate a plan and complete things that will help to get yourself better prepared.  In the case of the upcoming, backcountry adventure, in response to your active Anxiety, you might make it a point to purchase pepper spray before heading out.

Here’s another example.  Let’s say you are hosting a larger than usual Thanksgiving gathering.  It’s Wednesday.  You still haven’t done the shopping.  You’re having an issue with your plumbing, and you feel a sore throat coming on.

There’s a good chance Anxiety will activate.  It’s doing so to inform you of a threat (or a perceived threat) to your emotional well-being.  Based on your understanding of this powerful emotion, you can discipline yourself to get better prepared.  Make your grocery list, prioritize a call to the plumber, and maybe take a Z-pack.

These are straightforward examples.  Here's another possibility.

Irrational Thoughts
Let’s say it’s still Wednesday.  Your shopping is done.  Your issue with the plumbing was resolved last week and you are feeling well.  Heck, the house is even clean, and the table is set!  But you keep thinking “Thanksgiving is going to be a disaster!”

If you read last week’s Blog, “What is Emotional Intelligence?” you will remember we established how emotions fit into a bigger picture…
There is a thought behind every emotion that activates and there is an emotion behind every action you take.

Your thought - “Thanksgiving is going to be a disaster!”  - is what’s causing Anxiety to activate.  The emotion is working correctly and doing its job.  But the thought, based on how prepared you are, really isn’t rational.

Instead of trying to control your Anxiety, there’s a better approach.  Based on your understanding of Anxiety and how your emotions fit into the bigger picture, the better approach is to focus your attention on your irrational thinking.

If you’re focused on trying to control your Anxiety without an understanding of this emotion’s purpose, you’re using the wrong approach.  In this case, the right approach is to challenge your irrational thinking.

Leveraging Your Understanding
Next time you are feeling anxious, instead of trying to control your Anxiety, try applying your new understanding.

First, remember emotions are a form of intelligence.  They activate for a reason and are designed to bring valuable information into your awareness.  When your Anxiety is active, it’s active for a reason.

Start by exercising self-awareness around your current thinking.  If you are thinking rationally and are genuinely unprepared for something that could jeopardize your physical safety or emotional well-being, then stop procrastinating!  Focus on taking action that will help you get better prepared!

If you determine you are thinking irrationally, focus your attention on challenging your thinking and managing your thoughts.

The difference between using the right approach, based on a good understanding of your emotions, is a much better long-term strategy than tirelessly trying to control your emotions that are simply working as designed!