When Emotions Feel Out of Control
I think everyone experiences emotional ups and downs. And the hard truth is our emotions control us more than we like to admit.
While you may have years of repeating the same reaction, it is possible to establish new pathways in your brain. With practice, you can redirect your emotional responses and level out the ride.
Shedding Light On Our Emotions:
While emotions aren’t good or bad, they can be experienced as positive or negative. Positive emotions motivate us to achieve our goals. While negative emotions can derail us from developing connections and intimacy.
Emotions are so much more than giving your feeling a name. Emotions are made up of physiological sensations in our bodies, as well as how we think about the situation, and act in reaction. All of these reactions can occur outside of our awareness.
The emotional center of the brain (the limbic system) reacts in a split second when it perceives a challenge or threat. We are all hardwired at birth with the stress response, where we either fight or flight when faced with real or perceived danger. This is obviously useful in some situations, and not as useful in most social interactions.
Changing the Course of Your Emotions:
The good news is our brains can be redirected with persistent practice. You can change the course of your emotional roller coaster. When you feel your emotions are running you off course, you can get back on track by activating the thinking part of your brain.
Step 1 = React – This is the easy part. The part we are all really good at. Reacting emotionally before it enters into our awareness. Your brain senses a threat and begins making bodily changes in an attempt to rev up or adapt to the challenge.
Step 2 = Recognize – Identify what works for you to bring your reaction into awareness. If you immediately retreat, defend, or attack, then find ways to slow down your reaction time. Become a good observer of your self, and how your body and mind feel when you are experiencing a particular emotional response.
Step 3 = Restrain – Once you bring your emotions into awareness, you realize you have a choice in how you respond. You can react how you typically do, or you can restrain your fight-or-flight response. If you think of the situation or person as less of a threat to you, then your emotions will settle down.
Step 4 = Revise – Revise your usual reaction by considering alternative ways to manage your emotions. Now that you are tuning into other possible actions, your thinking brain (the frontal lobe) is more engaged and ready to work for you. You either think yourself out of feeling challenged or find ways to comfort yourself with integrity.
Step 5 = Repeat – Learning to better manage your emotions is not a quick fix. It takes multiple repetitions of these steps to establish a new pathway in your brain. Keep your long term goals in mind. And it will be worth it when you realize you can redirect your emotions.
The goal in learning to change your emotional course isn’t to diagnose yourself as unstable, and it isn’t too eliminate negative emotions. The goal is to shift from negative emotions to more positive or neutral emotions. And to decrease the intensity of your emotional hills and valleys, so you can enjoy the ride!
Which step in the process of redirecting your emotions is the hardest for you?
Marci Payne offers individual, marriage and family counseling in Independence MO (near Kansas City MO). Schedule a free 15 minute phone consult to determine if she is the best counselor for you and/or your family.
Photo Credit: “Thunder Roller Coaster” by Freakazoid