Our emotions can sometimes feel like a rollercoaster ride that we can’t get off. Anger, sadness, fear, and anxiety are normal human experiences, but left unchecked they can negatively impact our health, relationships, and success. Learning to take control of our emotions, rather than letting them control us, is an invaluable skill for leading a happier and more fulfilling life. In this guide, we’ll explore practical strategies for managing difficult emotions and maintaining an even keel through life’s ups and downs.
The first step is self-awareness. Notice what triggers strong emotional reactions for you, whether it’s traffic jams, conflicts at work, or worrying about the future. Simply observing and accepting these triggers helps diffuse their power over you. Keeping a journal can help increase awareness of your emotional patterns.
When you find yourself becoming emotionally overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, switching off the body’s fight-or-flight stress response. Try breathing in through your nose for a count of 4, holding for 4, and exhaling slowly through pursed lips for a count of 6. Repeat until you feel your heart rate and mind calming.
Physical activity is another quick way to relieve emotional intensity. If you feel anger or anxiety building, take a brisk 10-minute walk. Exercise releases endorphins that alleviate stress hormones and improve mood. Distraction can also be helpful – go for a bike ride, do some gardening or listen to music. Any activity that takes your mind off your emotions for a while can put things in perspective.
Talking to a friend or family member may also relieve emotional pressure. Verbalizing thoughts and feelings can help you process them in a healthier way. Choose someone who will listen attentively without judging. Talking through troubling feelings out loud can help defuse their power over us. However, choose your confidant wisely – relationships marked by gossip or drama are unlikely to be supportive.
For emotions that persist over days or weeks, such as depression or anger, seek professional counseling. A trained therapist can identify unhelpful thought and behavior patterns contributing to difficult emotions, and teach strategies to overcome them. Therapy has been clinically proven to relieve depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Consider it an investment in a calmer, more confident future self.
Apart from adding temporary coping mechanisms as needed, creating an overall lifestyle that supports emotional stability is key. Make sure your basic needs for quality sleep, nutrition and social connection are met. Numerous studies confirm that chronic sleep deprivation, malnutrition and social isolation all negatively impact mood and cognitive function. Set a regular sleep schedule, eat a diet of primarily whole foods, and make an effort to socialize – even if by phone or video chat.
Exercise is also strongly correlated with emotional stability. Aerobic exercise stimulates neurotransmitters like serotonin that elevate mood. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 3 times per week. Yoga combines physical activity with breathwork and mindfulness, and research indicates it’s helpful for reducing anxiety.
Meditation and mindfulness practices are another way to “rewire” your brain over time for greater calm and balance. Sitting quietly focusing on your breath tunes out mental “chatter” and quiets your body’s stress responses. Try starting with just 5-10 minutes daily to experience the emotional benefits. Mental health apps like Calm offer guided meditations if you’re new to the practice.
Finally, actively challenge negative thought patterns that fuel difficult emotions. When you catch yourself thinking in exaggeratedly negative terms, stop and intentionally reframe the thought. For example, replace thoughts like “I’m such a failure” with more objective ones like “That didn’t turn out how I hoped, but I learned something.” Cognitive behavioral therapy is built around this practice of countering emotional thinking with rational thinking.
Though they’re a normal part of life, difficult emotions don’t have to rule your inner world. By adding go-to coping mechanisms for rough moments along with healthy daily lifestyle habits, you can cultivate more equanimity, compassion and peace of mind. With practice, the highs and lows of life can smooth out to a steadier, calmer emotional sea. Just remember that it’s a gradual, lifelong process – be patient with yourself! The rewards of mastering your emotions – less stress, deeper relationships, and greater life satisfaction – are well worth the journey.