How to Control Your Emotions and Be Less Reactive
Have you ever said something in the spur of the moment out of anger?
And then, after you've had some time to cool down, wished you could take it back?
I sure have!
It’s a pretty normal thing that we humans do.
And it’s one of the consequences of emotional reactivity.
Sometimes it’s appropriate and even wonderful to react emotionally without pausing to think, like when we are acting out of kindness, unconditional love and compassion …
But the other side of that coin is that such emotionality can also be detrimental, both to us and those around us.
Like when we let negative emotions take over, leading us to conduct ourselves in a manner that is not in alignment with our true feelings or intentions.
That’s why it’s important to be able to control our emotions and be less reactive – and it is absolutely within our power to do so.
In today’s post, I’ll be giving you some tips on how to tame your anger, avoid overreacting, and not let your emotions get the best of you.
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Control Your Emotions or They Will Control You
As sentient beings, we are blessed with a gamut of emotions.
Joy, hope, interest, grief, fear, anger, hurt, disappointment – these are some of the emotions that allow us to experience life to the fullest.
They warn us, protect us, encourage us, reassure us.
Emotions impart meaning to our lives.
So, it’s not healthy to suppress them or try to eliminate certain emotions altogether.
Rather, we must learn to regulate our emotions. That way, they don’t rule (and ruin) our lives.
What is Emotional Reactivity?
Emotional reactivity is the measure of two things:
1) the frequency and
2) the intensity with which one experiences emotional arousal.
In other words, how often do you find yourself having an intense emotional reaction to things?
And, how easily are you triggered?
If you often find yourself overreacting, it may be time to consider shifting from emotional reactivity to emotional regulation.
According to this study, “emotional reactivity and regulation have been shown to influence a wide range of developmentally important outcomes such as communication”.
The study’s authors report that those with less emotional reactivity and higher regulatory abilities generally have more socially competent responses … and therefore are more liked by their peers.
Our ability to regulate our emotions and reactions impacts our ability to maintain healthy relationships.
When we immediately react to something from an emotional place rather than a logical one, we may blow things out of proportion or misunderstand the situation.
We allow our internal filters to make assumptions …
And then before we can see if those assumptions are correct, we’ve already responded inappropriately to a perceived threat.
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Master Your Mind: Be Less Reactive & More Responsive
Ultimately, when we react out of anger, embarrassment, insecurity, envy, or any other potentially hurtful emotion, we often regret it because we end up hurting those we care about.
Just because you feel a strong emotion does not mean you need to act on it immediately.
When we learn to master our emotions, we are able to think first – before we do anything or say anything that we might regret. We don’t react, we respond.
Perhaps you were overly defensive or suspicious. Maybe something triggered you because of your own sensitivity regarding a specific issue.
Regulating emotional reactivity involves taking some time to see if we perhaps misjudged a situation due to our own internal filters.
We can avoid unleashing our wrath and hurting people we care about, including ourselves.
And that’s not all – there are a whole host of other benefits to being in control of our emotions.
The Benefits of Learning to Control Your Emotions
Emotional self-control is an important part of personal development.
To be in control of one’s emotions means being aware of your emotions yet remaining calm long enough to adequately assess the situation.
It requires an incredible amount of strength to keep our emotional outbursts in check and not let our emotions overpower us.
Especially when we are experiencing feelings of emotional intensity like anger or overwhelm.
So, why would we want to bother doing something so difficult?
Consider these benefits of learning to control your emotions.
By being less reactive and more responsive, we can:
10 Tips to Help You Control Your Emotions
As an HSP and empath, I struggle with controlling my emotions.
I can easily be overcome by emotions, both negative and positive. And when I allow myself to be ruled by my emotions, I often find myself overreacting and losing perspective.
It’s something I am constantly working on!
Here are some tips on how to control your emotions and be less reactive. These are the strategies I personally use and recommend:
1. Wait two minutes
The best thing you can do when you’re angry is nothing.
If you wait two minutes before responding, the anger is more likely to dissipate.
In those two minutes, do whatever will help you to calm down.
Some suggest visualizing a safe place. Or focus on something else – maybe something that makes you laugh.
My go-to is listening to classical music with headphones – it’s way more difficult to be angry when the civilized sounds of Vivaldi and Albinoni are playing in your ears lol!
2. Identify your emotion
To minimize anxiety (or frustration, anger, etc.), identify which emotion it is that you are feeling.
And name it.
(Here is an epic list of 300+ emotions.)
Naming your emotion helps you to distance yourself from it. It’s kind of like the distance associated with the concept of “your thoughts are not facts”.
You are not that emotion. The emotion is temporary. And you have control over it.
Interestingly, studies show that expressing anger physically or out loud actually makes it worse.
So, once you’ve identified your emotion, don’t punch a wall, smash a TV, scream, or even vent to someone … instead, try writing it down.
Journaling is a healthy way to diffuse and work through difficult emotions.
3. Get to the root of the emotion
Sometimes, emotions are not what they appear to be on the surface.
Anger can be a defense mechanism, a cover, for the true emotion that we are unable to face in the moment – like insecurity or shame.
Anxiety can be stemming from a trauma you sustained earlier in life which you haven’t properly healed from yet.
Dig deep and get to the root of the emotion – is it really an expression of low self-esteem, a limiting belief, guilt, embarrassment, etc.?
If so, addressing those underlying issues may be the key to controlling your emotions.
4. Improve your lifestyle
Our lifestyle has a lot to do with our emotions. The specific lifestyle factors I am referring to include:
- Sleep- Are you getting enough sleep? Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night in order for their bodies to function optimally. Sleep deprivation makes you more emotionally reactive so if you’re not catching enough Z’s that could by why you are feeling irritable, depressed, or anxious.
- Caffeine- Caffeinated beverages like coffee can influence our emotions by increasing arousal and making us more prone to anxiety, anger, and tension. Try cutting out caffeine and replacing it with herbal tea if you want to stay calm.
- Exercise: Exercising allows us to burn off cortisol, the stress hormone. If you are not getting regular exercise, there may be a physical build-up of stress that’s causing you to be on edge and not in control of your emotions.
- Diet: The connection between food and mood is well-established. Processed foods, fast food, and sugar make anxiety worse. Stick to an anti-anxiety diet if you want to more easily control your emotions.
- Smoking/Drinking/Drugs: These things alter your state of mind and make it more difficult for you to gain control of your emotions. Steer clear of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs if you want to improve your emotional reactivity.
- Relationships: Are the people you surround yourself with contributing to your stress, low self-esteem, anger, etc.? If so, you may want to cut them out of your life or at least minimize contact so you can get a better grip on your mental health.
5. Practice your response
If you notice that certain things perpetually cause you to feel angry or anxious, try practicing different reactions.
It helps to think about this in advance, not just in the heat of the moment.
Imagine that you are in that difficult situation. What can you do differently than you normally would?
How would you like to respond? Imagine yourself responding that way.
The next time you are in that situation, remember how you imagined yourself responding and try to reenact it.
If it doesn’t go as you’d hoped, notice where you had difficulty and then apply that insight during future attempts to control your emotions.
6. Set boundaries
Let those close to you know what you need.
Maybe you need some space. Maybe you need some time to process.
Set those boundaries.
Take the time you need to calm down. Don’t respond when you’re over-stressed, exhausted, or hungry.
Also, I know many of us high-achievers have difficulty saying no.
Remember that time is the most valuable commodity we have – it’s finite and nonrenewable.
It shouldn’t all be spent on fulfilling other people’s desires or trying to live up to society’s expectations.
Seeking external validation only leads to a perpetual cycle of desire and attainment without fulfillment.
And this bottled up resentment can cause us to have a hard time controlling our emotions, especially in high stress situations.
7. Practice mindfulness
There are plenty of ways to incorporate mindfulness into our everyday lives.
If you want to control your emotions and be less reactive, start by being mindful.
Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to:
Another excellent way to practice mindfulness is by meditating. Start by meditating for just a few minutes each day.
One of the most amazing things about meditation is that we reap the benefits even when we aren’t meditating.
So, during the stressful times you’ll be better able to control your emotions just because you meditated during the calm ones.
8. Relax your body
When you relax the body, the mind is sure to follow.
You may find it easier to control your body than to control your emotions. So, start with that!
Three things that are extremely effective for calming the body (and therefore the mind) down are:
This relaxation technique is one of the best natural remedies for anxiety. Controlled, deep breathing helps to lower blood pressure and calm the nervous system.
And if you do it for just 5 minutes, you will notice a huge difference in your ability to control your emotions.
I really like the 4-4-4 breathing technique in which you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds.
It’s a technique used by the US Navy Seals called “tactical combat breathing ” –
try breathing along with this metronome to get the hang of it.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
This technique involves relaxing your body, muscle by muscle.
Progressively tense and relax each part of your body until all the tension has subsided.
(Laying down tempers anger so lay down to do this if you can).
Here is a progressive muscle relaxation script from Berkeley Law if you’d like to give it a try.
This is perhaps the single best thing you can do to control your emotions and be less reactive.
Yoga combines deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and mindfulness into one amazing practice.
I just started doing yoga earlier this year and I’ve noticed a remarkable difference in my mood, emotional stability, and overall well-being.
9. Use a self-care box
This particular tool helps so much when you’re learning how to control your emotions and be less reactive because it’s actually several tools in one!
Good news for all you DIY-ers out there – you can make your own!
Here’s a list of what to include in your self-care box, especially if you struggle with anxiety like me.
Sometimes, you’re out and unable to access your self-care box.
But for the times that you’re at home, a self-care box/kit can be just what you need to gain control of your emotions.
Remember, you’ve got to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. You cannot pour from an empty cup.
10. Be compassionate
“Resentment is like taking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.” – Nelson Mandela
When we are wronged in some way, our tendency is often to strike back. To exact revenge for the perceived slight.
But this kind of mentality serves no good purpose.
In the end, it only hurts you and keeps you trapped in emotional pain.
So, instead of being a slave to the negative event try freeing yourself through forgiveness.
Forgiveness is an act of self-compassion – it allows you to move past the event and transform your negative feelings into positive ones. To turn the poison into the antidote.
Compassion is a powerful tool that can help you to control your emotions and be less reactive (along with a whole bunch of other health benefits).
Be compassionate, even towards those you don’t like. Even towards those who don’t deserve it.
Emotions like resentment and contempt are contagious. But so are kindness and compassion.
You have the power to choose what kind of person you want to be.
At the end of the day it all comes down to this: Compassion. Kindness. Gratitude. Empathy. Love without expectation. Understanding without judgment.
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Over to you – which of these tips resonated with you the most? Let me know in the comments!