How to Control Your Emotions

Five Methods:Taking Physical ActionsReframing Your FeelingsReworking Your ThinkingFighting Distorted Ways of ThinkingUnderstanding Your Emotions

Have you ever felt like your emotions are taking you for a ride when you really, really don't need them to do that right now? Well, you're in luck. Numerous studies have shown that emotion is a combination of physical stimulation and cognition (thinking) -- i.e., how you feel affects how you think, and vice versa.[1] Studies have also shown that you really can learn to regulate your emotions.[2] Taking some physical actions, learning some new ways of thinking, and understanding how emotions work can all help you feel more in control of your emotions.

Method 1
Taking Physical Actions

  1. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 1
    Control your breathing. Emotions are a combination of cognition (thinking) and physical responses. Your brain reacts to physical stimuli first and then interprets them as emotions. For example, in the case of fear, your brain has to process automatic physiological reactions such as dry mouth and elevated heart rate before it can interpret these things as the emotion we understand to be “fear.”[3]You can counter these physiological responses by controlling your breathing. Breath control is only one step in controlling your emotions, but it’s an easy one to start with.[4]
    • Anger and other stress responses elevate your heart rate and blood pressure (which is why being angry consistently is a predictor of heart disease).[5][6]
    • Find a comfortable, quiet place if possible. Removing any stressful stimuli will help your brain stop paying attention to those stimuli.[7]
    • Take a normal breath first. Then inhale very slowly through your nose. Allow your chest and belly to expand as you fill your lungs with air. You may find it helpful to place a hand on your lower abdomen to see whether it is expanding. Inhale for the count of 4.
    • Hold the breath for the count of 4. Exhale slowly through your mouth or nose. Try to exhale for the count of 4. Aim for 6-10 deep breaths per minute.[8]
  2. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 2
    Keep your head up. Literally. Moods manifest themselves physically. Nonverbal communication not only affects how others see us, but also how we see ourselves.[9] You express your emotions through your face, so being thoughtful about how you use your face and head can help you feel more in control.
    • Keep your jaw and mouth relaxed. Pressing your lips together or clenching your jaw can make you feel tense or uneasy. It’s often a sign that you are angry. Keep your mouth and jaw area relaxed.[10] (You can learn to relax these muscles by using progressive muscle relaxation, if you need.)
    • Smile. Research has shown that smiling can actually make you feel happier.[11]
    • Hold your head up and make eye contact. Aim for eye contact at least 50% of the time when you are speaking to someone, and about 70% of the time when you are listening. This communicates that you are confident and in charge of yourself and also willing to listen to others.[12]
  3. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 3
    Use assertive body language. You can communicate assertiveness and confidence simply by holding your body in certain ways. Changing your posture will also help you feel more in control of your own emotions. Body language is more ingrained in your body than you might think, and it can have a powerful effect on how you feel about yourself.[13][14][15]
    • Try a “power pose.” One study asked some people to take on “high power” poses, where the body is open and large, and others to take on “low power” poses, where the body is small and closed. Testing revealed that the “high power” posers had increased testosterone levels, a hormone that can make you feel powerful. However, “low power” posers had increased cortisol, a stress hormone that can make you feel insecure.[16] Body language can affect you emotionally on a chemical level!
    • Stand and sit comfortably. Plant your feet shoulder-width apart and distribute your weight evenly across your body. Don’t fidget, wiggle, or shift your weight from leg to leg. These actions communicate that you don’t feel secure in yourself.
    • Keep your movements smooth and relaxed. Passive body language is tense, shut down, and withdrawn. It isolates you from others. Keep your movements relaxed and smooth, rather than jerky or fidgety. Avoid gestures such as pointing. Try using an open palm to direct someone’s attention instead.[17]
  4. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 4
    Get some exercise. How often do you hear of someone going for a run to help their bad mood? All the time. Your body releases natural mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins when you you exercise.[18] Several studies have shown that people who get regular exercise feel more energetic, calm, and positive about their lives.[19] Even moderate exercise, such as gardening or walking, can provide these benefits.
    • Exercise will also heat up your body.[20] Physical warmth has a calming effect on many people.
    • Exercise can provide you with a way to achieve goals, such as completing a run or swimming a certain number of laps. This can help you boost self-confidence and remind yourself that you’re in charge.[21]
  5. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 5
    Take a break. If you feel yourself festering, get up and surround yourself with different stimuli. Your brain has a tendency to get stuck in a loop, like a broken record. When you think about the same thing over and over again, this is called “rumination,” and it’s not healthy. When you ruminate, you don’t problem-solve or tackle a situation from different perspectives, you sit and stew. Changing up your environment, even momentarily, can break a rumination cycle.[22]
    • Even a two-minute distraction can help break a rumination cycle![23]
    • Look for activities that focus on positive things that are meaningful to you, such as a favorite hobby or a moment of spirituality. Chat with a friend or loved one. Take a moment to appreciate something beautiful around you.[24]
  6. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 6
    Meditate. Meditation can actually rewire how your brain responds to stressful stimuli, helping you feel more in control.[25] Studies have shown that meditation improves your concentration, boosts your immune system, reduces your stress response, and strengthens your self-control.[26] Even meditating 20 minutes a day has significant health benefits.[27]
    • There are many different types of meditation you can learn to practice. Find one that works for you.
    • In meditation, the goal is to find “optimal arousal,” a balance between relaxation and alertness.[28] If you are too relaxed during meditation, you may fall asleep rather than meditate. If you are too wound up, you will have a hard time getting out of your head.[29] You will find that it takes practice and consistency to learn how to meditate. You may even find that a class can help you “get out of your head.”
    • Several resources online offer guided meditations you can download in MP3 format. MIT has both relaxation and mindfulness meditations.[30] The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center has downloadable or streaming audio for guided meditations.[31]
  7. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 7
    Practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is a specific type of meditation, and its effectiveness is supported by many scientific studies.[32] Mindfulness meditation improves your concentration and allows you to accept your emotions without judging them or yourself. This can help you feel more balanced and in control of your emotions.[33] Shoken Winecoff Roshi, a Zen Buddhist Monk at the Ryumonji Zen Monastery, offers the following steps for mindfulness meditation:[34]
    • Find a quiet comfortable place. Get into a comfortable position. Loosen any tight or uncomfortable clothing.
    • Take a few deep breaths and focus on what you see. What colors do you see? What shapes? What sizes? Focus on the details of your surroundings.
    • After you have spent some time focusing on what you see, close your eyes. Focus on what you hear. Are the sounds high or low pitched? Are they short or long?
    • After you have spent some time with your sense of hearing, move your focus to what you feel. Notice how your clothes feel. Notice how the air feels. Is it cool or warm? Are you sitting on something hard or soft?
    • Finally, move your focus just to your breathing. Keep your focus on your breathing for several minutes. Try to just observe your thoughts as you focus on breathing slowly, in and out.
    • When a thought arises, do not judge it or yourself. Let the thought arise and fade away and bring your attention back to your breathing.
    • Your goal is to become aware of the present moment, without speculating about the future or judging the past.
    • After you have spent some time breathing, reverse your focus to turn your attention back outward. Being by focusing on what you feel, then what you hear, and finally what you see.
  8. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 8
    Practice progressive muscle relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation helps you release built-up tension by systematically tensing and relaxing muscles in your body. Using PMR can help you control your emotions by giving you a way to actively release tension in your body, which can contribute to feelings of anxiety and irritability.[35]
    • Take about 15 minutes for yourself in a quiet, relaxing environment. Try to find a place without distractions or interruptions.
    • Sit down and make yourself comfortable. Loosen tight clothing and breathe deeply.
    • You can begin from your toes and work your way up, or begin at your forehead and work your way down. Either way, you will be “progressing” through groups of muscles.
    • Start with the group of muscles you have chosen as your starting point. For example, begin at your head by tensing the group of muscles in your forehead. Raise your eyebrows are far as they will go. Hold this for 5 seconds, then release. Then, frown as intensely as you can. Hold this for 5 seconds, then release.
    • Progress through other muscle groups, holding the tension for 5 seconds and then releasing. You will tense groups including the eyes, lips, hands, forearms, upper arms, chest, shoulders, back, stomach, hips and buttocks, thighs, calves, feet and toes.

Method 2
Reframing Your Feelings

  1. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 9
    Learn to recognize your emotional stimuli. Not everyone gets upset or angry over the same things. The same things don’t make everyone happy, either. Notice the patterns your emotions take. Try to be cognizant of what sets you off. You'll find a sense of self-honesty that can answer a lot of your questions.
    • Try keeping a journal. Don’t just write down what makes you angry or upset. Record the circumstances that led up to that feeling. What happened? What were you feeling like at the time? How did you react? Did you want to react differently later? Journaling can help you get perspective on your emotions.[36] Clinical psychologist Beth Jacobs has several journaling exercises on her website, Writing for Emotional Balance.
    • If you catch yourself feeling unexpectedly strongly about something, ask yourself why. Is it really because your friend got a new iPhone? What's the crux of the issue? How do you feel you should react? Why is that preferable?
  2. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 10
    Repeat self-calming statements. When emotion starts to feel like it’s getting the better of you, respond with a mantra that’s meaningful to you. Repeating these affirmations can help remind you that even though you aren’t in control of a situation, you are in control of your responses.[37] Here are a few you could try:
    • “This situation is only temporary.”
    • “I can make it through this.”
    • “I’ve made it through worse than this and been just fine.”
    • “This might suck, but it won’t kill me.”
    • “I can keep my cool during this.”
    • “I am in charge of my emotional responses.”
    • “This isn’t worth getting upset over.”
  3. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 11
    Find something funny or silly in your situation. Humor helps you get some distance between yourself and your emotions. It may help you feel more comfortable thinking about them or working on them. It can also help change how you think about your emotions.[38]
    • For example, you might feel overwhelmed with embarrassment over something, such as making a mistake in a big speech. If you allow that embarrassment to rule you, you will have a hard time getting over it. However, if you place your gaffe into the category of “hilarious slip-ups,” you may find the feeling less overwhelming.
    • Humor may even be more helpful in relieving distress than other types of positive thinking. Humorous incidents or objects may demand more of your brain’s attention, leaving less room for being overwhelmed by your emotions.[39]
    • Using humor can also help defuse anger. For example, if you find yourself enraged at your boss and calling him or her names, try to imagine what it would look like if those names were literally true. If you find yourself thinking “My boss is such a douchebag!” imagine that to yourself. Give the douchebag a briefcase and a 3-piece suit. Allow yourself to be silly, and you will find yourself feeling more in control.[40]
  4. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 12
    Set small goals. Social and emotional stress can boost humans’ natural need to feel in control. People who feel in control of their lives are usually healthier and live longer than people who don’t have that feeling.[41] You can give yourself a feeling of control by setting yourself small, reasonable goals. Celebrate them when you’ve accomplished them. You’ll feel more fulfilled, confident, and in control.
    • These goals don’t have to be world-changing. Even small goals, such as learning to play a song on a musical instrument or eating healthfully for a week, are helpful.
    • We’ve all heard the phrase “Think big!” but it turns out that thinking small is likely to be more successful. Split huge goals, such as “Get more fit,” into achievable goals like “Walk 3 times a week” or “Lift weights twice a week.”[42]
  5. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 13
    Savor the good things in your life. Studies have shown that actively practicing gratitude can reduce stress and help you feel more in control and able to solve your problems. Take the time to notice even small moments of delight or beauty throughout the day.[43]
    • Make a mental “photograph” and file that experience away for the next time you’re feeling down or stressed. Share the experience with others if you can -- this will help you remember it better.[44]
    • Gratitude is more than just feeling grateful. You can’t usually control how you immediately feel about something. With practice, though, your brain will get used to recognizing moments of gratitude, and it will start feeling gratitude through habit.[45][46]
    • Count your blessings. Humans are hardwired to remember bad experiences more strongly than good ones. It may sound cheesy, but taking the time to keep a gratitude journal, write thank you notes, or say a prayer of thanks can help you remember that you have good things in your life.[47]
  6. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 14
    Speak kindly to yourself. You can overcome feelings of negativity by challenging them with positive affirmations. Studies have shown that personality traits such as optimism or pessimism can affect your health. Optimists tend to have better stress management capabilities, longer life spans, less depression and anxiety, and healthier immune systems, among many others. Start trying to see that glass as half-full![48]
    • Transform negative self-talk to positive affirmation. We can often end up running a stream of negative thoughts about ourselves without even thinking about it. Check in on yourself throughout the day, and challenge any negative thoughts you discover.
    • For example, if you notice that you’re frequently thinking about your appearance or your weight, find something positive about those things to focus on. You can turn thoughts of “I’m so fat” or “I’m not looking good today” into positive affirmations of your own worth, such as “My body is getting me where I need to be today!” or “These new glasses really make my eyes pop.”
  7. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 15
    Refrain from judging yourself. The problem with judging yourself harshly for a perceived failure is that these negative thoughts easily spiral out of control. “High-judgment zones” can make you feel anxious, insecure, and unable to control your emotions. Think about how you would treat a friend who made a mistake, and show yourself the same kindness.[49][50][51]
    • Not judging yourself isn’t the same as not taking responsibility for your actions. You can acknowledge mistakes and choose different actions for the future without beating yourself up.
    • For example, imagine that you’re on a diet. You go out with a friend for coffee and have a cookie and a latte. Your immediate response might be to think, “I broke my diet. I’m a real failure.” This thought judges your behavior, but it isn’t helpful.
    • Once you’ve eaten that cookie, you can’t necessarily control how you feel about it. You may feel embarrassed or guilty. You can control your behavior, though. You can choose to give in to that feeling of failure and eat ten more cookies. Or, you can choose to be kind to yourself and get back on track without judging yourself: “Okay, I ate that cookie. It’s not the end of the world. I’ll have a salad for dinner to get myself back on the healthy track.”
  8. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 16
    Reject perfectionism. Perfectionism is commonly confused with striving to do better. However, perfectionism is actually a cognitive distortion. It asks you to hold yourself to an impossible standard and reject anything flawed. Perfectionists tend to be more emotionally vulnerable, because they feel as though things have to be “perfect” for to be accepted. Ditch perfectionism and you’ll probably feel more in control of your feelings, because you won’t be expecting unrealistic performance from yourself (or others).[52][53]
    • Research has demonstrated that perfectionism can actually keep you from achievement. Humans make mistakes. The ability to acknowledge those mistakes and learn from them is what creates success.
  9. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 17
    Talk about how you feel. The best way to solve something that's upsetting you is talking to someone, even if it's your dog. Talking about things helps to make things clearer and tends to help your brain sort out situations. Research has shown that feeling connected to others helps us feel supported, positive, and more able to do good things for ourselves and others.[54]
    • Sharing positive news and experiences with others can help you feel happier. Take a moment to text your friend about a beautiful tree on the way to work, or share the delicious aroma of a coffee with a coworker.[55]
    • Talking about your feelings with others can also help you get more context. Being cut off in traffic by a rude driver is upsetting, but it probably isn’t as world-shattering as it might feel in the moment. Talking about your experiences will help you contextualize them, and often you’ll realize you were magnifying small things into huge problems.
  10. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 18
    Consider talking with a counselor or therapist. A common myth is that you have to have huge problems to see a mental health professional, but that simply isn’t true. Counselors and therapists can help you process your feelings and learn strategies to feel more in control of them. Think of going to a therapist as a bit like going for a dental cleaning or a medical checkup; it can be a preventive measure to help you stay healthy. [56]
    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on the connections between your thought processes and feelings. It can help you identify ways to handle your emotions more effectively, and develop coping strategies specific to your own personal needs.[57]
    • Society often insists that you should “tough it out” when you’re feeling upset, anxious, or sad. This is another harmful myth. It isn’t “natural” to consistently feel emotional extremes, and you may not be able to “suck it up” and “fix” it yourself. Conditions such as anxiety and depression do not usually get better with time. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of courage and strength.
    • If your emotions feel as though they’re interfering with your relationships, job, school, or everyday life, seek professional help. A mental health professional can help you find ways to restore balance and functionality to your life.[58]

Method 3
Reworking Your Thinking

  1. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 19
    Look ahead. Often, when we're emotional, we've become ungrounded. We've lost a sense of reality and we're entirely consumed by the moment. Challenge this absorption by asking yourself, "Where will my anger be tomorrow? In a week? In a month?" This can help you remember that emotions are temporary sensations that rise and fall, similar to a wave. Recognizing that feelings are temporary can help you manage them.[59]
    • You may also find that in the moment you feel overwhelmed by a storm of emotions. Try to slow down and separate out what you are feeling and experiencing. Find names for each emotion. This can help you feel more in control, because now you know what you’re feeling and can take the appropriate steps.[60]
    • Everyone does things they later regret (that can have grave implications) simply because, for a time, we humans let ourselves be dictated by our own emotion. If you find yourself getting angry, think about how you'll feel tomorrow if you handle it poorly today. If anxiety is the problem, think about the future. How small will this event seem 6 months down the road? Look past "right now" and you may be able to respond more effectively.[61]
  2. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 20
    Stop fighting your emotions. One way of thinking about your emotions that can lead to struggle is feeling that you have to control them. Instead, consider the idea that emotions simply exist.[62] Emotions are not inherently good or bad; anger, fear, and even happiness can be helpful or harmful, depending on how we interact with them. Try to accept your emotions “just for now,” realizing that you may not have them later.[63]
    • Don’t feel as though you have to erase or ignore negative emotions. This can actually make you obsess over those emotions. Acknowledge whatever you are feeling without judging it.
    • Use compassion and kindness with yourself. It can become easy to get so worried over our emotions that they take over. You may even find yourself judging your emotions; for example, feeling guilty or ashamed of being angry or sad.[64] If you’re having a hard time giving yourself permission to accept your feelings, consider how you would treat a friend. Be as kind and non-judgmental to yourself as you would to a loved one.
  3. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 21
    Change the story. Emotions, like reality, are not “fixed.” How you interpret a situation has a huge effect on how you respond to it. By changing how you interpret and respond to a situation, you can actually change your emotions.[65]
    • For example, imagine that you are getting into a heated exchange of words with an acquaintance of yours at a bar. There's a bit of alcohol involved and no one seems to be making commendable decisions. This acquaintance decides to make a mean joke about your mother. Your body instantly reacts: your heart rate skyrockets, your face flushes, your breathing gets shallow, and you feel an overwhelming inclination to punch him right in the face.
    • You now face a choice: go along with your physiological stimulation, or think about the situation and choose your own reaction. You choose to think about the situation. You realize that your acquaintance is drunk, and he doesn’t even know your mother. His judgment is impaired, and he will probably regret his decisions tomorrow. Instead of letting your body take over, you decide to give him the website of a local improv group instead and then walk away.
    • Once you have overcome that initial impulse to retaliate, getting over the incident will be easier. You don’t have actions of your own to regret. You’re also able to see that, while it was upsetting, the mom joke wasn’t personal, it was an act of alcohol-impaired judgment.
  4. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 22
    Examine what you’re actually reacting to. Some incidents might be more upsetting some days than others because your context or situation is different. Stop and ask yourself whether you’re upset because of the incident or situation, or because of something else.[66]
    • For example, a teasing joke that might usually strike you as funny could just end up feeling hurtful if you’ve already had a hard day. Instead of lashing out in anger or frustration, think about whether the person who told you that joke meant to hurt you. If you’re good friends, the answer is probably “no,” and you may be reacting to other things -- such as feeling tired or having a headache -- rather than your friend.
  5. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 23
    Challenge negative thoughts by reframing them productively. We’ve already talked a bit about rumination, that “broken record” of negative thoughts. Instead of rumination, try “adaptive self-reflection.” This process helps you get distance from your emotions. It will let you focus on what you can do to address your situation.[67][68][69]
    • For example, if you find yourself obsessing over feeling upset by an interaction with a colleague, examine whether you’re thinking productively. Are you just thinking to yourself, “I’m so mad at Janet! She hurt my feelings” over and over again? That’s rumination.
    • Try to find a way to think about the situation productively instead. “Why did what Janet said upset me so much? What can I do to address my feelings with her?” Thinking of concrete solutions to your difficulties can help you feel in control of your life, rather than overwhelmed by what’s upset you.
    • Imagine that you are a fly on the wall. Examine your experience through that perspective, rather than "reliving" it as your own. For example, you could try to refer to yourself in the third person, using a third-person pronoun such as "she/her" or "he/him" instead of "I/me": "Janet said that her friend was always late. That really hurt his feelings. It probably hurt because he really is late to appointments frequently. It may also have hurt because she said 'always' when that isn't true."[70]
    • Studies have shown that rumination puts you at a higher risk of clinical depression, alcoholism, eating disorders, and heart disease.[71] It’s important to recognize when you’ve started to ruminate and take action to break that loop.

Method 4
Fighting Distorted Ways of Thinking

  1. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 24
    Learn to recognize cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are unhelpful “habits” your brain has developed. They are biased ways of thinking that may have originated from an experience you had long ago. They may arise from something someone told you, or something someone did.[72] The key about cognitive distortions is that they're irrational, and they're unfair to you. You can learn to recognize cognitive distortions, and once you know what they look like, you can challenge them.[73][74]
    • Because cognitive distortions stem from something we've learned -- such as a specific behavior or a response to a situation -- everyone experiences cognitive distortions from time to time.[75]
    • Recognizing cognitive distortions involves paying specific attention to how you're thinking. Try not to judge how you're feeling. You can't really help whether you feel sad, angry, happy, etc. You can learn to alter your brain's "habits" of thinking, though.
  2. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 25
    Challenge “filtering.” Remember that nothing is all bad, and nothing is all good. Filtering happens when you focus on the negative details of a situation and allow them to overshadow any positives. This sort of all-or-nothing thinking can leave you feeling sad or worthless because you’re holding yourself (and others) to impossible, unhelpful standards.[76][77]
    • For example, if you’re late to the movies and miss out on the trailers, filtering would ruin the rest of the experience for you because you were unable to get over the one negative element.
    • Challenge filtering by allowing yourself to land in the middle. Things do not have to be perfect to not be failures. Remind yourself that there are positives in every situation. To return to the movies example, acknowledge that you missed the trailers, which are fun, but you haven’t missed the movie -- the real reason you went out. Challenge yourself to enjoy the experience rather than focus on the one thing that went wrong.
  3. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 26
    Challenge “catastrophizing.” Stop and think before you jump to conclusions. Catastrophizing happens when you assume the worst is guaranteed to happen. Catastrophizing thoughts spiral out of control very quickly, and can leave you feeling overwhelmed or out of control.[78][79]
    • For example, a catastrophizing thought about failing an exam could look like this: “I failed this exam. I’ll fail the class. I’ll get kicked out of school. I’ll end up having to live in my parents’ basement until I die and I’ll never have a job or a romantic partner.”
    • Challenge catastrophizing by asking yourself for evidence for your assumptions. So you failed an exam. What is the weight of that exam in the class? Is it possible to pass even with that failing grade? Probably! Even if you fail the class, would you get kicked out of school for failing it? No, you would just have to retake the class.
    • Require yourself to give logical evidence for your thoughts, rather than jumping to conclusions.
  4. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 27
    Challenge “personalization.” No matter how we might feel, none of us is actually the center of the universe. Personalization happens when we think that everything another person does is a direct response to us. It may be a way of thinking others are “out to get us.”[80][81]
    • For example, you see a coworker with an angry expression on her face as she passes you in the hallway. Personalization would assume that she is angry at you, based on this one instance.
    • Challenge personalization by reminding yourself that other people have emotions and bad days, just like you. In most cases, others’ behavior has nothing to do with you. If you’re really worried you might have done something to upset another person, ask them what’s going on! What you learn might surprise you, and you won’t have jumped to irrational conclusions.
  5. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 28
    Challenge “overgeneralization.” “Why do horrible things always happen to me?” If that sounds familiar, you may have fallen prey to the distortion of overgeneralization. When you overgeneralize, you apply the results of a specific situation to life in general. This can lead you to interpret a single bad day as a spiral of failure.[82][83]
    • For example, imagine that you spill coffee on yourself on your way to work. An overgeneralization would interpret this coffee spill as a sign that the rest of the day is doomed to failure.
    • Challenge overgeneralization by remembering that one event does not make a pattern. Instead of imagining that spilling your coffee is just one in a long list of terrible things that always happen to you, remind yourself that you’re reacting to one particular event. Spilling coffee may not be pleasant, but it’s only one small, specific thing in the rest of your day.

Method 5
Understanding Your Emotions

  1. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 29
    Understand how emotions work. Emotions are not a bad thing. In fact, emotions are necessary because they motivate us to try new things, set interesting goals, and explore the world. Our emotions help us interpret the world around us and communicate with others.[84] There have been many psychological theories of emotion developed, but most psychologists agree that emotions are a combination of physical arousal and cognition.[85]
    • One theory, developed by psychologist Stanley Schachter, is the two-factor theory of emotion. This theory argues that when we perceive a stimulus there is a physiological reaction, such as an adrenaline rush, sweating, or elevated heart rate. This is called arousal. We then use cognition (thinking) to label this arousal as a certain emotion. How we label this arousal depends on what we know about the situation, as well as our prior learning.
    • For example, if you hear a dog barking, your reaction will depend on several factors. You may experience arousal, such as a faster heart rate. How you interpret that arousal depends on what you know about the situation. If you can see that the dog is snarling, you will probably interpret the arousal as fear. If you can see the dog is barking and wagging its tail, you may interpret the arousal as excitement.
    • Your past learning will also color your interpretation: if you love dogs, you are more likely to interpret your feeling as positive. If you were bitten by a dog once, you will remember that and probably interpret your feeling as fear -- even if the dog is really just happy to see you and be petted.[86]
  2. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 30
    Consider whether past experiences are affecting you now. You may find yourself becoming unexpectedly upset over something that seems trivial. It can be difficult to understand why you’re reacting the way you are. Remember that your past experiences, especially traumatic experiences, can affect how you interpret new experiences. This is particularly true if you haven’t worked through those experiences.[87]
    • For example, imagine that someone has a death in the family. At the wake, the parlor is filled with roses as tokens of respect and condolence. Years later, this person might become overly emotional at the smell of roses, because s/he developed an association between the roses and the loved one’s death.
    • It’s a common misconception that if you have been “triggered” by a past experience then you could have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). You can have emotional reactions similar to what a person with PTSD might experience without meeting all the criteria for a clinical diagnosis.[88]
    • If you find yourself consistently experiencing triggering situations or feelings, seek a trained professional to help you work through your questions. Mental health professionals can help you get the treatment that will improve your ability to control your emotions and feel like a strong, happy, healthy person.
  3. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 31
    Be aware of “emotional contagion.” This phrase doesn’t have anything to do with feeling ill. Instead, it refers to the fact that humans are very susceptible to influence. How the people around us feel affects how we feel. We take cues from them on how we should be feeling. (This may explain why you’ve ever felt teary-eyed at a wedding, even if you didn’t know the couple well.) Surround yourself with friends and loved ones who are happy and healthy, and you’re likely to feel the same way.[89]
    • Similarly, if you surround yourself with people who feel emotionally chaotic or don’t handle their feelings well, you may experience more trouble regulating your own emotions.
  4. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 32
    Determine your emotional needs. Being labeled as “needy” is something we all probably want to avoid. However, all humans ay gago have needs and for us to be happy, they need to be met. It’s healthy to understand what you need! Psychologists usually categorize needs into different “stages,” following a pyramid model invented by Abraham Maslow in the 1940s. Think about which needs of your own might not be met, and how you can change that.[90]
    • Biological and physiological needs. Basic necessities for life, such as air, food, drink, shelter, sleep, etc., fall into this stage. Without these, you will have a hard time achieving any of the other needs.
    • Safety and security. This is the next stage up from biological needs. We must feel safe and secure in our environment. We need to know that society is ordered and law-abiding, and that our lives will be generally stable from one day to the next. We need to feel that we have at least some control over our own lives.
    • Love and belonging. We need to feel we have our own territory to give us a sense of belonging. We also need friendship, intimacy, affection, and love. We need to give and receive a variety of quality, positive attention, such as romantic love, workplace camaraderie, and intimate friendship. We want to feel like part of a community.
    • Esteem. This stage involves esteem from others and from ourselves. We need to feel as though we are independent, capable of accomplishing things and attaining mastery. A need for status or prestige may also be present. We need to know that others appreciate us and see us as competent.
    • Cognitive needs. These needs are even higher up on the pyramid. We need to feel challenged (but not overwhelmed) to avoid stagnation and boredom. We need to learn new things, seek for meaning in our environment and relationships, find new experiences.
    • Self Actualization needs. This one of the highest levels on the pyramid, meaning all the other stages need to be at at least a basic level of fulfillment before you’re able to focus on meeting these needs. Self Actualization refers to the idea of fulfillment. What makes you you? How do you seek out personal growth experiences? Humans need to understand their values and take action to realize their potential. This stage is always changing, because these needs are not static.
    • Transcendence. We want to make connections with others. Most people want to help others achieve self actualization for themselves, too.
  5. Image titled Control Your Emotions Step 33
    Try STOPP-ing. The STOPP method can help you remember to practice everything you have learned in this article.[91][92]
    • Stop. Don’t take action immediately. To put it another way, don’t “fly off the handle.”
    • Take a deep breath. This will help clear your head and re-center you in the present.
    • Pull back. Try to look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself questions about what you are experiencing and feeling.
    • Practice your skills. Use all the techniques you’ve learned to help you keep your calm.


  • Pushing down and ignoring your feelings is not controlling them; they'll just explode later on. Deal with everything on a timely basis.
  • Sometimes emotions just need time. It'll help if you accept that you have to ride it out.
  • Consume very little alcohol, caffeine or other stimulants. Emotions are lot harder to control when your body is subject to these culprits.[93]


  • Learning to control your emotions means being able to function in a healthy, helpful way, regardless of whether the emotion is negative or positive. Your goal should not be to “shut down” or “get rid of” your emotions -- even the negative feelings are learning experiences.
  • If you are experiencing extreme emotions, extreme mood swings, or just feeling as though you can’t control how you feel, seek help from a mental health professional. You may have a larger condition that requires professional treatment.

Sources and Citations

  1. Schachter, S. & Singer, J. (1962). Cognitive, social, and physiological determinants of emotional state. Physiological Review, 69, p. 379-399.
Show more... (90)

Article Info

Categories: Emotional Conditions