How to Not Let Your Emotions Get the Best of You

Three Methods:Problem-Solving Your Strong FeelingsUnderstanding TriggersRelieving Extreme Emotions

Human beings may experience a wide range of feelings within a single day. Sometimes, the emotions we feel can get the best of us, causing us to say or do things we later regret. If you are having trouble controlling your emotions, you are not alone. Most emotions can be reeled in by bringing awareness to what you're feeling and using practical strategies to overcome them.

Method 1
Problem-Solving Your Strong Feelings

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    Identify what you're feeling. Your emotional experience is broken down into three elements: body language and behaviors, visceral reactions, and thoughts. Sometimes, you may clearly feel one emotion, while, at other times, you may experience a spectrum of emotions. Consider some common emotions with their three associated elements to determine how you're feeling right now.[1]
    • Anger may be characterized by clenched fists, flaring nostrils, pounding heartbeat, sweating, and jumping to conclusions with thoughts.
    • Confusion may include scratching one's head or cheek, blinking rapidly, rising body heat, and racing thoughts.
    • Disappointment may be exhibited by a heavy sigh, lowering one's head, sudden onset of nausea, a heart that seems to be shrinking, and thoughts of dread or hopelessness.
    • Fear may be associated with pressing one's elbows into the sides, shaking, hypersensitivity to touch and sound, and mentally having the desire to run or hide.
    • Jealousy may be characterized criticizing the rival, sneering, burning sensation in the chest, and rash decision-making.
    • Sadness may include wincing, a trembling chin, soreness in the the throat, the world seeming to slow down, and wanting to be alone.
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    Pinpoint which situations cause you to get emotional. If you are experiencing strong emotions, you need to figure out the stimulus that caused these feelings. This is especially true if you find yourself getting upset often. Think back over the last few hours or days. Consider the people you have talked to and the topics of the conversations you have had.[2]
    • It could be that a certain person caused you to feel strongly, or a specific topic set you off. Possible people/topics that may evoke strong emotions include family, friends, relationships, work, money, criticisms, and broken promises.
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    Become aware of your thoughts about the situation.[3] Once you target which person/people or topic is the stimulus, write down your feelings about this person or topic. Write out these emotions as "I am angry because..." or "I am disappointed because..." This exercise can give you some insight into what's driving your emotions. You may not have even been aware of these factors before now.
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    Verify if your thoughts are realistic. Once you have written what's driving your feelings down on paper, you can check these statements for accuracy. For example, if you wrote "I am disappointed because Dan did not get what me a birthday gift.", you need to consider the variables that surrounded Dan's behavior and your own. Did you explicitly tell Dan that you didn't want a gift this year? Do you generally feel dissatisfied by the previous gifts Dan has brought you? Is Dan going through financial difficulties and couldn't purchase a gift? If you can find at least one shred of evidence that shows Dan's behavior was warranted, then you have proven that your response (i.e. disappointment) was illogical.
    • If you cannot find a single shred of evidence that can challenge your strong emotion, then you need to look at the situation from a different perspective. Strong emotions are virtually always tied to some irrational belief that we hold deep inside.[4]
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    Develop an adaptive substitute behavior.[5] After you have closely examined your thought patterns and behaviors in your interactions with others, try to devise a plan to demonstrate healthier responses in the future.
    • Consider the previous scenario about the birthday gift. Once you realized that Dan did not get you anything for your birthday what did you do? You may have acted passive-aggressively by not expressing your feelings, but performing subtle actions such as withdrawing from him, not being affectionate, or ruining any other plans he had for your day.
    • Think about how you could have responded to minimize your upsetting feelings - and possibly his as well. You could have openly stated that you expected a gift from him and that you were disappointed. This may seem blunt but you are less likely to feel disappointed once you have an understanding of Dan's true motives. What's more, he won't have to tiptoe on eggshells around you wondering why you're behaving a certain way. Your feelings will be clear to him and eliminate any confusion.

Method 2
Understanding Triggers

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    Know when it's not a good time to have a serious discussion. There are a few circumstances when it's best to postpone a discussion until later to avoid our emotions getting out of control. If you are about to talk to someone when tempers are already flaring or extreme emotions are already involved, consider the acronym H.A.L.T. It represents hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness.[6]
    • These are times when we are already vulnerable and running low on resources. Remember, in the future, to take a brief pause and care for yourself before trying to resolve any issues.
    • Eat something regularly, engage in a relaxing activity, reach out to others for social connection or get some much-needed rest. Then, reevaluate the situation when you have more resources at hand.
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    Recognize your interpretations to situations. Individual interpretations to life situations often stimulate emotions that get out of control. For example, an employer does an end-of-the-year evaluation of all employees. One employee may review his evaluation and say "Whew! It wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. At least, I didn't get fired!". Another may say "What is this? I'll never be able to go up for promotion with less than 100%!" Our interpretations to events trigger our emotions. The first employee probably feels relief, while the second is agitated. Our negative interpretations frequently form as a result of cognitive distortions like:[7]
    • Over-generalization- believing that one event has a major impact on all areas of your life when it doesn't
    • Dichotomous thinking- also known as "all or none thinking", this distortion involves interpreting all events as either black or white without recognizing potential grey areas
    • Emotional reasoning- basing your interpretations of facts on your current feelings (i.e. you feel ugly, so you must be ugly)
    • Filtering- focusing narrowly on the negative events in your life while minimizing the positive ones
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    Think about your beliefs about certain emotions. Our emotional responses are largely influenced by our cultural backgrounds and families. People learn how to regulate their emotions based on the modeling and imitating the emotions of others in their early environments.[8] For instance, if a little boy was taught not to cry as a young child, he may take heed to such instructions into adulthood. He may have difficulty expressing his feelings to others or channel one emotions into another more socially acceptable one.
    • Consider what you were taught about exploring and expressing your feelings as a child. These early beliefs are probably playing a major role in how you express your emotions today.
    • Anger is often referred to as an umbrella emotion because it often covers up other emotions.[9] People from different cultural backgrounds may find it more acceptable to display anger than insecurity or sadness. With this in mind, you should always look deeper beneath the apparent emotion to see if there are deeper feelings you cannot clearly identify.
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    Reflect on others' behaviors towards you. If you are having trouble understanding your role in developing strong emotions, pay attention to other's emotional reactions to you. All participants in a discussion play a role in developing strong emotions, although, as we learned above, your emotional response depends on how you interpret a situation.
    • Sometimes, we are not as aware of our own body language or nonverbal expression as we are of others' body language. Contemplate what behaviors the other person is exhibiting. If the other person is acting defensive (i.e. crossing arms or stomping away), ask yourself what you are projecting that could contribute to such a reaction.

Method 3
Relieving Extreme Emotions

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    Try deep breathing.[10]Deep breathing is the perfect tool to use right in the midst of extreme emotions. As soon as you notice the physical cues (i.e. racing heart, clenched fists, pit in the stomach, etc.) of a strong emotion approaching, you can step aside and practice a few seconds or minutes of deep breathing. This can reorient you and cause you to respond more mindfully within the situation. This can also serve as a relaxation technique to keep you from acting out in a way you would regret.
    • Start by breathing as you normally would, but pay close attention to each breath. Then, take deeper breaths in through your nose, expanding your stomach as if you are filling a balloon. Place your hands on your belly to notice these movements. Exhale slowly, deflating the balloon that is your stomach. Repeat this technique until intense emotional states subside.
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    Engage in mindfulness about your emotions.[11] Practicing mindfulness meditation can be helpful in overcoming strong emotions such as sadness, fear, anger, and even jealousy. General mindfulness meditation involves grabbing a cozy seat in an area with minimal distractions. Cross your legs and close your eyes, if that feels comfortable to you. Breathe in and out deeply, noticing your stomach contract and relax with each breath.
    • After you have done the above for several complete breaths, bring to mind the emotion you are feeling. Perhaps you can recall in your head the situation that evoked this emotion. Continue to take deep, slow breaths. Recognize how your body feels in response to this emotion. Is your chest tight? Stomach cramped? Head aching?
    • Once you have become aware of the physical sensations you feel with this emotions, just sit with the emotion for awhile. Accept it as a temporary, changing part of you. Continue to breathe as you focus on this feeling of acceptance. If you ever get caught up in the emotion or worry that it is taking over, return to focusing on your breath and your presence in the room.
    • People often resist strong feelings because they fear the response. By participating in mindfulness about your emotions, you are able to recognize that these emotions alone cannot hurt you. They will eventually fade. You can manage them.
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    Exercise. It may be especially hard to motivate yourself to engage in physical activity when you're experiencing strong emotions, but the benefits are worthwhile. Just as regular exercise provides amazing benefits to your physical health, it can also benefit you mentally. Exercise reduces the levels of the body's stress hormones, and increases the production of endorphins, which elevate your mood and act as natural painkillers.[12]
    • Find an activity that can help you burn off the residual effects of your intense feelings. If you feel angry, you might try running or boxing to relieve this emotion. If you are feeling sad, a light walk or yoga may help.
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    Do progressive muscle relaxation.[13] If a strong emotional state causes you to feel tense in your body, take a few minutes to try this relaxation technique. Progress muscle relaxation involves gradually contracting and releasing different muscle groups in your body. It functions as a way to relieve stress and make you more aware of tension in your body.
    • Have a seat with your thighs parallel to the ground and your arms parallel to your upper body. Relax your posture. Close your eyes or try not to focus on any stimuli in the room around you. Take several deep, cleansing breaths. Starting with your feet, move up through your body. Select a muscle group and clench all the muscles (toes, for example). Hold them contracted for a breath, noticing the tension. Then, release them and notice how the tension melts away. Continue doing this with each muscle group.


  • If you find yourself experiencing strong emotions frequently and feel unable to control them on your own, you need to see a mental health counselor who can teach you skills to manage these feelings.

Article Info

Categories: Emotional Conditions | Managing Negative Feelings