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Emotional Rescue: 7 Steps to Taking Control of Your Emotions

From the minute we drew our first breath, our emotions played an important part in our survival. If we were hungry or had a diaper that needed to be changed, we cried. Sometimes, we even yelled. These emotional outbursts helped ensure we got what we wanted. And, usually, right away. Our young, developing brains figured out that this was an effective tactic and sent us the message: “Hey! That worked! Let’s keep doing that!” As infants, when we experienced feelings of safety and happiness, we giggled, cooed, and smiled. And our caretakers reflected those emotions back at us; they would giggle, coo, and smile, too. Bottom line: our emotional outbursts helped keep us alive.

Humans are an exceptionally smart and adaptable species. Once we’ve found that something works for us, we generally stick with it. Using our emotions to not just manage our day-to-day lives, but to survive, is an ideal strategy for an infant who has no other way to cope or communicate. However, as we continued to develop, we learned new skills (language, patience, empathy for others, etc.) that we could draw upon to express ourselves and get our needs met. But what about those ever-present emotions that have always worked so well for us? Or have they?

When Emotions Run Wild
How many times have you been on the receiving end of someone’s emotional outburst? Whether it was a patient or client, a significant other, a co-worker, or your favorite barista (at least, he was your favorite barista!) who unloaded their emotional baggage on you, the feeling is the same: “Hey! I don’t deserve that!” Now let’s turn that around. How many times have you unleashed a “bad case of the Mondays” on some poor, non-deserving fellow human being? How we manage our emotions can make or break any situation – this is especially true in working in the behavioral health field.

If you are not in control of your emotions, you can be sure, your emotions will take control of you. Think about the last time you took out your anger at someone who didn’t deserve it. When was the last time you self-soothed sadness with a pint of ice cream? Ever avoid something you were afraid of confronting with an online shopping spree? And although you might experience a fleeting feeling of contentment in the moment, all that you really have left to show for your emotional outburst is someone who has zero desire to interact with you, an empty pint of ice cream, and a maxed out credit card. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Taking Back Control
The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, was one of the first great thinkers to study human emotions. He wrote, “Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” This is as true today as it was when he wrote it in 300 BC.

Here are seven simple steps you can take to manage your emotions:

  1. Step away – when you take time to reassess a difficult situation, many times, you’ll find that the issue at hand is more manageable (and often, less all-consuming) than you previously thought. The old adage “sleep on it” works for a reason.
  2. Ask for an unbiased opinion – find a neutral party and ask their opinion. Often, we get so mired down in our own thoughts and pre-conceived ideas that we are unable to see beyond our own biases. Guidance from a trusted, unbiased source can help us see beyond our emotional perspective.
  3. Stay present – when confronted with a situation that triggers negative emotions, it can be easy to follow down a rabbit hole of worst-case scenarios. Staying in the “now” and dealing with issues as they arise will help you quell those negative emotions and move forward instead of bogging you down in the negative.
  4. “Fake it until you make it” – this might seem trite, but it can help turn things around. When you come at a situation with a smile on your face, even if it isn’t genuine at first, you’ll attract positive attention. Remember the baby who coos and smiles when her needs are met? Her caregiver can’t help but coo and smile right back.
  5. Keep a healthy routine – the secret to a positive attitude and a greater feeling of wellbeing is really no secret at all. Getting proper rest, eating a balanced diet, and keeping an exercise routine does wonders not only for our physical fitness, but our emotional fitness as well. Even if you trade in one bad habit for a healthier alternative, in three short weeks, you’ll notice a difference.
  6. Devine intervention – whether you call it prayer, meditation, or just quiet time with your Higher Power, quieting your mind and being open to the positive will help keep your emotions in check.
  7. Forgive yourself – we’re all human, which means we’re all fallible. Regardless of how hard we try, our emotions can still get the best of us from time-to-time. When you recognize this and can own your mistakes, you’ll be amazed at how quickly forgiveness from others will come.

In order to not just survive this life, but thrive, we can’t just manage our emotions, we must master them. Maya Angelou said it best: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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