Some days it feels like we have our emotions perfectly in check, but other days, it seems like they drive us to make knee-jerk decisions. Fear, anger, bitterness, elation, over-excitement and euphoria – these kinds of extreme feelings can lead us to make spur-of-the-moment decisions that don’t always serve us in the long run.
Emotions are important – they send us critical messages about what’s going on in our lives. Fear, for example, can tell you when you need to escape from a dangerous situation. Love can encourage you to open up and make worthwhile human connections. Our emotions are a fact: we can’t pretend not to have them, and we can’t always force them away, even when they’re inconvenient. So how do we deal with our emotions in a healthy way, and in a way that doesn’t cause us to make silly, irrational or harmful choices in the heat of the moment? Start by practising these five helpful life skills.
5 ways to handle your emotions in a healthy way
1. Don’t react immediately
If someone has triggered a negative emotion in you, like anger, resentment or sadness, wait before you respond. Reactions that happen immediately after a spike in emotion can be disruptive and destructive, and lead to words or actions you later regret. Learning to respond – which is measured and thought-out – rather than to react helps prevent regrettable behaviour.
2. Find a constructive outlet while you wait out the worst of your emotions
When you’re full of pent-up emotions, it’s hard to wait for rationality to prevail. Instead of sitting around and letting it consume you, find a healthy outlet for those feelings while you think through your response, like exercise, yoga, painting or drawing, cooking a meal or playing with your kids or pets. Don’t make sweeping statements or big decisions when you’re buoyed up on extreme emotions, be they positive or negative.
3. Find someone to talk to
Another great outlet is having a trustworthy friend or family member to bounce your thoughts off. Sometimes the most effective way to diffuse our emotions is to talk them through with someone outside of the situation. They can also help us to see things from a different perspective so that we make calm, rational, healthy decisions, and not ones based on spontaneous bursts of emotion.
4. Learn to reframe
If something has upset you, constantly rehashing what has happened will continually trigger the negative emotion, keeping you locked in an unhealthy cycle. Instead, think of the ideal resolution to the problem, or better yet, consider what you could learn from the experience, or how it could help you to grow. This takes the power away from the person who has hurt you and places it with you instead. In other words, you have the choice to reframe the situation in a way that empowers you.
5. Be compassionate to yourself and others
Letting go of grudges and forgiving yourself and others for personal shortcomings is immensely freeing, and immediately diffuses pent-up negative emotions. Accepting that people are a certain way helps you to let go of expectations that could cause disappoint and resentment – and in turn, waves of negative emotion. Being compassionate towards yourself allows you to move on from negative experiences without continually berating or punishing yourself, or agonising over what you could’ve done differently.
Acceptance leads to healthy detachment, and this is one of the most powerful tools in taking charge of your emotions and not allowing them to run – or ruin – your life.
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