Managing emotions, particularly in emotionally charged situations can be challenging. Many people struggle with learning to experience emotions without feeling the need to act on them. Whether it is coping with deeply sad feelings following a relationship break up, or trying to handle angry feelings that ensue in a disagreement with a partner, managing emotions can be challenging at best.
Emotion regulation is accomplished by controlling one’s own response to an adverse condition. It can be much easier to respond in haste, but being patient and taking the high road can, in the end, be much more rewarding, even though getting there can take some courage. Facing any challenging experience and responding to it in a way that you may later view as inspiring, effective and positive can seem daunting if that is not something you are used to. Understanding what and how to take the first steps are good ways to muster the confidence needed to make lasting changes. Here are some tips to help the process along:
- Consider responding with calm body language and confident silence as an alternative. This is a healthy method for making choices that will reduce anxiety and personal discord. For many men in particular, the motivation to appear strong and in control is a masculine objective. Managing emotions by trying this alternative to aggression is an important first step in positive communication.
- Take a deep breath. By slowing down and stepping away from the situation, there is time to think before responding. Too often people look back at situations with regret for their own actions, words and responses. When highly upset, the portion of the brain that is engaged is not the frontal lobe where rational thinking takes place. Managing emotions is much easier when we begin with breathing, stepping away and slowing down. In doing so, we allow our frontal lobe to re-engage and rational responses will be much more likely.
- Watch and learn. Identify someone you know who handles conflict gracefully. Watch how they respond to a challenge. Notice the extent that their body language is relaxed and calm. Notice their facial expressions and tone of voice. Finally, notice their choice of words. This is a great first step in identifying the changes you need to make in your own emotional responses.
- Self-monitor. Check in with yourself to see how you feel when choosing to regulate your response in a calm and controlled manner. Do you feel better? Is the outcome better? If the answer is yes, then keep enhancing and refining the process. Remember, managing emotions is a noble goal that starts with choosing a healthy and courageous way to respond to adverse situations.
As always, taking the first step is the hardest part, but experiencing even the smallest bit of success is self-motivating. As new, healthier responses result in more positive outcomes, the sense of pride and confidence will grow. In our society, aggression and overconfidence are often confused with courage, when in reality, courage include kindness, generosity, compassion, empathy, and accountability, interwoven with healthy measures of assertiveness. Courage is responding to a situation with confidence, knowing that being angry or hostile generates an unsatisfying feeling after the fact. Courage is not choosing the path of least resistance. Courage is the road less traveled.
Holding back, thinking, and processing one’s response can bring the sense of satisfaction that the response was measured, mature and dignified. Witnessing and experiencing ourselves managing emotions will generate feelings of confidence and satisfaction that we were not drawn into a position of losing our self-control. The old adage is true; “when you argue with a fool, two fools argue”.
Learning emotion regulation is a healthy choice. The practice of it is too often a missing ingredient in our culture. Imagine yourself managing emotions in a challenging interpersonal situation. Imagine others witnessing your response and gaining insight that this may be the best approach to conflict. Imagine yourself as the model to others who in turn model it to even more people. This is how we change our environment, and ourselves. Courage is the first step.