Emotions are an integral part of our lives. They provide us with a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction. We feel joy when we experience something positive, and sadness when something negative occurs. But understanding how our emotions work can be challenging. Knowing how to take control of your emotions is a key step in becoming more mindful and aware of the world around you. Understanding and managing your emotions can help you become the best version of yourself.
What is an emotion?
Emotions are messengers from your body to your brain. They start as biochemical and neurophysiological signals before you give them meaning.
They are part of a feedback loop. Your body-mind perceives changes in your physiology triggered by a stimulus. This could be something you saw, thought, or felt. The response may include a variety of symptoms like a racing heart, sweaty palms or a change in the rate or depth of your breathing.
As you register these physiological changes and put things into context, your brain labels this emotion, making it a feeling: “I feel angry, excited or scared”.
How long these feelings stick around and how you choose to express them will vary. Sometimes your feelings make their presence known and move on. Other times, they press to the surface and stay there, demanding to be noticed. We all have the potential to magnify our problems and imagine the worst possible outcome, creating a flood of associated stress-related chemicals in our bodies.
Your brain is great at searching for threats. If they aren’t there, your brain will search for things to worry about.
“I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Mark Twain
Create space between you and your feelings
It’s natural to get caught up in your emotions, especially when it comes to relationships. But being mindful is a way of creating more space between you and your feelings so that they can be acknowledged without running the show. Instead of jumping to conclusions and creating stories based on old experiences when you’re upset with your partner, try to observe – just notice that feeling as a sensation in your body. Acknowledge it, take a few breaths and allow those thoughts or feelings to pass so they don’t dominate how you interact with others – especially those you love.
Respond don’t react
Our reactions to everyday situations can tell us a lot about our own life experiences and values. Take the same scenario of a careless clerk at the checkout line who breaks your eggs, for example. Two people could experience this event in vastly different ways depending on their perspectives – was he carelessly disrupting their day or could there be something more going on? Why not give him the benefit of doubt that perhaps he’s been through some difficult news recently and is just doing his best?
As you move forward, recognize how you feel when confronted with these moments and gain control over them- rather than act impulsively. With practice, you’ll make room to decide what kind of person you want to show up as today.
Think before you Act
This is a misnomer. It should be “decide before you act”. Decide how much meaning to give your thoughts. Your thoughts become your feelings and your feelings influence your behavior.
In order to uncover the thought patterns, beliefs, and subconscious coping mechanisms you’ve adopted, it helps to practice being more conscious of your everyday thoughts and actions.
Your thoughts can make or break your happiness. If you find you aren’t happy, or bad things always happen to you, consider observing the way you view the world, and more importantly, how you act.
Take time to be still
In order to gain perspective over why you act the way you do, or why you may feel stuck in your life, find time each day to be still enough to notice your stream of thoughts.
Mindfulness practices and meditation have enormous mental and physical health benefits. When you take time to be still, you begin to notice patterns in the way you think and feel. With practice, you get better at catching yourself in the act of unconscious and reactive behavior. Even if you take just 10 minutes a day, you will, in time, become more mindful of your day-to-day thinking patterns.
There are lots of apps now to help you get started, such as Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer to name a few. These apps have options for quick exercises and practices to get out of your head..
Your emotions can be powerful messengers. Understanding how they influence physiology, feelings, and behavior may be helpful at times to switch gears and alter your trajectory. With practice, you’ll get better at riding the emotional waves instead of reacting to them.
With mindful awareness, you can take control of your emotions.
- Frontiers in Psychology Amygdala Response to Emotional Stimuli without Awareness: Facts and Interpretations by Matteo Diano, Alessia Celeghin, Arianna Bagnis, and Marco Tamietto.
- Annual Review of Psychology Emotion Theory and Research: Highlights, Unanswered Questions and Emerging Issues by Carool E. Izard
- Frontiers in Human Neuroscience The Neurobiology of Emotion — Cognition interactions: fundamental questions and strategies for future research by Hadas Okon-Singer, Talma Hendler, Luiz Pessoa and Alexander J. Shackman
- Integrative Medicine The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health by Jeremy Appleton
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