Jill and Sarah are best friends. They do everything together, but they are also very different. Jill is constantly strung out; the smallest mishap will send her into a state of frustration, stress and shouting. She is affected by everything around her: the traffic, long queues, the mean colleague. Her mood and happiness are directly influenced on a daily basis by what is happening around her. Sarah on the other hand, doesn’t let small things get to her. She decides how she wants to feel and she is much happier on a continuous basis than Jill. What is the difference?

Choice.

Managing your emotions is very much a question of choice. Do you want to, or not? So much has been written about emotions and how to deal with them effectively, yet many people can’t control this area of life. Why? Managing emotions effectively is actually like developing a skill or a habit. It is a way of doing something better, and as humans we struggle with change the most.

Changing the way you usually do something is not easy and it is even more difficult when it comes to emotions. When we are feeling ‘emotional,’ the last thing we want to do is calm down and try to deal with the situation pro-actively, we most often want to rant about what is upsetting us.

If we understand a little more about how our emotions work, we are in a much better position to use this information to our advantage. Learning to control your emotions can be one of the best skills you will ever develop in your life. Your emotions lead to the actions you take and therefore create the life you are experiencing now, every part of it.

Our emotional part of the brain, the limbic system, is one of the oldest parts when compared, for example, to our prefrontal cortex, which is our ‘thinking’ part. Because our emotional part is so old, and therefore an extremely strong part of the brain, it is understandable that it feels like our emotions run us and hijack our thinking at times. The average person’s emotional part of the brain is over six billion times more active than the prefrontal cortex.

The point is, your emotions will naturally hijack your thinking—this is a given—but there are still ways to deal with this.

To keep things simple, let’s look at what you can do to flip this situation around. Ignoring emotions, suppressing them or not dealing with them will come back to bite you! Stress and anxiety come from suppressed emotions, so if you think that dealing with your emotions by ignoring them is going to work, you are sorely wrong.

Here are four simple steps to start controlling your emotions effectively.

1. The first step is awareness.

If you are not aware of the times when you are overly emotional or overreacting, how can you try to manage it? It is impossible. Start to monitor your emotions and give names to them. Sometimes we find it difficult to identify what we are feeling. Giving it a name helps us gain clarity, which is essential in moving forward.

2. Discover the ‘why’ of your emotions.

Once you have identified how you are feeling, you want to discover why you are feeling it. What is causing this feeling inside you? Of course, there could be a million reasons, and to find out you have to ask yourself, like you would a friend, “What is wrong? What is causing me to feel this way?” Your mind will always look for an answer. Most of the time, simply the way you are thinking about the situation is causing you to feel the way you do. Another huge reason why we feel negative emotions is because our values are not present in that moment or being respected. Remember: discover the ‘why.’

3. Then ask yourself, “What is the solution?”

Once you have discovered why, what can you do to take back control? Sometimes you might need to change the way you are thinking about the situation. You see, your thoughts lead directly to your feelings, so if you are feeling bad, you most likely have a negative thought that is making you feel that way. If you start thinking of other possible ways of looking at the situation, you will begin to feel better immediately. What you focus on expands!

Sometimes by simply understanding why you feel a certain way at a certain time, your emotions will start to diminish because understanding always leads to calming.

4. Choose how you want to react.

This is the hardest part. The way that we react and manage our emotions is habit. Haven’t you noticed those people who get stressed out about nothing, literally freaking out at nothing. You almost feel sorry for them. They have created a habit of associating a situation they don’t like with ‘freaking out.’ Their emotions have hijacked them.

Learning to listen to your emotions, to identify, understand and then choose them, isn’t something that you decide to practice twice a week at lunchtime. No, it is with continuous effort and discipline that you can start to build this essential skill.

Do you control your emotions, or do they really control and direct you? It isn’t easy and that’s why so many people don’t make an effort and give up. But once you are able to control your emotions, life changes for you in more ways than you ever dreamed possible. Not only will you feel way more empowered and in control in life, but you will be happier and much healthier as you won’t be stressed or weighed down so often.

To your success! What do you choose? Let us know in the comments.

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Featured photo credit: Black people and emotions, portrait of depressed senior man with glasses looking at camera. Copy spacevia Shutterstock

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