Everyone experiences negative emotions once in a while. In fact, it is natural to experience these feelings occasionally. The trick is learning to experience the appropriate ones at the proper time and in the correct amount. Living in a state of negativity not only is harmful on our bodies, but it keeps us from experiencing the beauty of life.
Emotions are there to benefit us if we recognize that they aren’t who we are, but rather a form of internal communication that helps us to understand ourselves and the world around us.
Before spoken language, the outward expression of emotion was man’s primary form of communication. If one of our tribe members was pulling their hair, we knew they were feeling frustration. If they came running out of the woods with pale skin, wide eyes, dilated pupils, and their lips pursed in an o shape, we could, without hesitation understand they had seen something scary. And if they were sitting with slumped shoulders, and bottom lip turned towards the ground we could share compassion with them because we would automatically know they are sad.
The real problem we have when it comes to our emotions isn’t that we feel sad, frustrated, or angry on occasions, the real problem occurs when we stay there. If you tripped and stumbled into a mud puddle you wouldn’t sit there and wallow in it, would you? Of course not, you would pick yourself up and go about your day. The real question is how long you would mope and complain about how the mud puddle inconvenienced you? Would you allow it to affect the rest of your day? Or would you stand up, clean yourself off, laugh it off and go about the remainder of the day?
Don’t get me wrong, I would probably be frustrated in the immediate moment, but I would refuse for that one incident to affect the rest of the day. I have experienced depression and sadness, and when I was younger, I even lived there for a while. But I now refuse to stay there for very long anymore. Life is too short to waste precious moments feeling any less than I want to feel. As William James, the father of American Psychology said, “This life is worth living since it is what we make of it.”
6 Steps to Regulating Your Emotions
Emotions are a form of communication.
In order to conquer your feelings, you must first recognize that they are nothing more than a kind of communication. They are an attempt at telling yourself and others how you are interpreting your experiences.
The next time you find yourself experiencing a strong emotion, whether it is negative or positive, try to uncover the message behind the emotion. Ask yourself, why am I feeling this emotion right now? What is it trying to communicate with me?
Remember that behind every emotion is a thought. If you are sad for instance, you are probably thinking about how you are losing something you deem important. If you are angry, you may be imagining that you are losing control over something. On the positive side, if you are feeling joy, what are you saying to yourself that is causing you to spin your emotions in such a positive way?
By taking a moment to analyze what you are telling yourself, you are taking a large step towards being in control of how you feel.
Separate your emotions from your identity.
It’s funny to me how people (myself included) tend to associate their whole identity with their feelings. Instead of saying ‘I feel sad,’ most of us tend to claim ‘I am sad,’ or ‘I am depressed.’ How can one ‘be depressed?’ The truth is sad and depressed are adjectives that describe how you feel, but they are not who you are.
The next time you catch yourself saying, “I am…” stop and change your words to “I feel…” This small but powerful way of communicating is more accurate and allows you to distance yourself from your feelings. You are not an angry or depressed person, you are endless possibilities. At every moment, you have the potential to feel and be the way you decide to. As Soren Kierkegaard said, “When you label me you negate me.” Don’t negate yourself.
Analyze your thoughts.
Once you have separated your emotions from who you are, it is time to examine the thoughts behind your feelings. To begin, you must first recognize how you are feeling and label it. Next, determine what you are telling yourself that is causing you to feel this particular way. Begin by stating, “I feel (your emotion) because…” Turning your feelings into thoughts makes them easier to deal with because you are dealing with something more tangible.
For example, if during a conversation someone says something that causes you to feel hurt, take a step back and ask yourself, “What about what they said to me, causes me to feel hurt?” You might discover that your feelings are not really a reaction to what they have said, but rather a response to your own belief about the meaning of their words.
Armed with your new self-awareness, you can now speak more precisely instead of lashing back at the other person. You might discover that what they said made you feel hurt because you interpreted it to mean they no longer love or respect you. You can now respond with, “I felt hurt when you said_________because I took it to mean that you don’t________. Is this what you meant?”
If you’re not in the habit of thinking before you respond and are led easily by your emotions, then learning to do this can take time. Know, with practice, you can learn to control your knee jerk reactions and become more adept at managing your reactions.
Look for multiple meanings.
Now that you are beginning to understand why you are feeling a certain way, you can start to quickly change how you are feeling by changing the meaning you’re attributing to the circumstances in your life.
In any situation, there are many interpretations or meanings we can have about it. For example, if you are feeling sad because you have recently gone through a breakup with your boy/girlfriend, you are probably telling yourself how terrible this is because you will miss being with them and you may never find anyone like them again. This picture of loss and hopelessness is creating your misery.
However, if you were to look at your situation from multiple angles, then you might begin to reinterpret the breakup as a blessing. In my own life, before meeting my now best friend and wife, I experienced a couple of breakups that at the time were painful, but I now know were a blessing. Without those losses, I may never have met who I consider my soul mate, Shelley.
When we are wrapped up in the current moment, we often fail to see the potential it is providing us. As the axiom says, “When God closes one door, he opens another.” Ask yourself, “If I wanted to find something good about what’s happening, what would that be?” Next, be still and listen to your answers. Be careful not judge your responses. But rather look at them as possibilities. Often what seems like a ridiculous idea is really a brilliant one.
Get up and move.
Movement is one of the most effective ways to change your emotional state. Why? The reason is simple, emotions in their purest form are nothing more than the energy flowing through our bodies that we label as a feeling. When we experience something in life, we interpret it, give it meaning, and then our bodies release hormones that circulate through our body. How they flow through us leads to the ways we feel.
When we get up and move, we increase our circulation, open our capillaries, tense and relax muscles all while sending more oxygen to our brains. This leads to changes in our physiology and how the energy of the emotion spins through our bodies.
For example, when we are sad, our physiology is lethargic. Our shoulders are slumped, our facial muscles are limp, and our breathing is shallow. Just by standing up, rolling our shoulders back, sticking out our chest and breathing deeply, we can begin to create a more positive experience. Add a big goofy smile to the mix, and now you are sending messages to your brain that you are feeling better. For more on the power of a smile read my article, The Life Changing Power of Smiling.
Be a more accurate thinker.
One of the ways we blow our emotions out of proportion is by inaccurately accessing our situations. We use a word like always, never, and everybody. For example, I remember a time when I was throwing away something in our kitchen trash can. As I lifted the lid, it fell off onto the floor. I exclaimed, “This ALWAYS happens to me!” My level of frustration was over the top and completely irrational.
Noticing that I was behaving ridiculously, I recalled my words and asked myself if that was true, “Were trashcan lids ALWAYS falling off in my presence? Was I really a complete trashcan lid loser?” I immediately chuckled at my irrational thought, and my frustration turned to enlightenment.
“Of course, I’m not a complete trashcan loser,” I thought to myself. At this point, I picked up the lid and calmly replaced it onto the trashcan.
When we use words like always and never, we delete the times when this isn’t the case and lead ourselves to believe our own irrational statement. The next time you blow up, stop and analyze your thoughts. If you notice you are overgeneralizing your current situation, question yourself. Ask yourself if this is true and when was the last time this happened?
Mindfulness has been called a superpower and one of the single most important things you can do for your health. Research has shown that practicing mindful meditation can significantly shift a person from being a negative thinker to being a positive one. One study even showed that after an eight-week period, participants who meditated daily felt more energized and less anxious than before they began the experiment.
To put mindfulness into practice, all you need to do is take a few minutes here and there to just observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them. There is no need to empty your mind entirely of all your thoughts. Just notice what you are thinking and allow it float through your mind. Resist the temptation to get caught up in them, and simply become an observer. If you find yourself getting lost in a particular thought, as soon as you become aware of this, just let go of it and begin observing again.
To put this into perspective, imagine you are standing on the side of road and cars are driving past you in all directions. In this case, the cars are your thoughts, and you are only watching them go by. Just like you wouldn’t jump into the random cars that are in front of you, you don’t have to jump onto the random thoughts that are streaming through your mind. Attach yourself to the ones that empower you and allow the rest to go on down the road.
Mastering your emotions can be difficult, and doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, I don’t know of anyone who has perfect control over them. However, with practice, you can begin to eliminate some of your negative feelings and experience more positive ones. And if Anthony Robbins is correct, “The quality of your life equals the quality of your emotions,” then the time spent working on it will be time well spent.
Question: What strategies do you employ when you are feeling negative? You can leave a comment by clicking here.