How to Control Our Emotions

Are you an emotional person, meaning that you act more often in reaction to your emotions, rather than to your rational mind? If you are, this article is just for you.

By definition, any strong feelings, whether positive or negative, represent our emotions. They are how we express ourselves, how we think, feel, and behave. We need emotions to communicate well with other people, to keep up our mental health, and to understand ourselves and others. The ability to recognize and manage emotions is known as emotional intelligence.

We have positive and negative emotions, as well as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral feelings. Positive emotions lead one to feel good about life. Negative emotions lead to a dissatisfied and unhappy life.

How do we process emotions?

First, we have thoughts. Responding to our thoughts are our emotions. Only after experiencing these emotions do we act or react.

How can we handle negative emotions like anger, resentment, envy, frustration, or fear? We have little trouble handling positive emotions such as love, happiness, hope, or enthusiasm, but negative emotions are more difficult for us to handle. The trouble with this is that, if we do not handle them, negative emotions can literally control our lives.

Who or what is in charge of our emotions? It’s the limbic system, a system of neural structures in the brain involved in the control of emotional behaviour. One part of the limbic system is the amygdale, a group of neural cell bodies in the brain. Called the emotional center of the brain, the amygdale is tasked with the role of processing memories and emotions.

There are two types of brains: rational brains and emotional brains. These two types of brains work together, processing the same information. The emotional brain operates faster, in the subconscious mind, generating emotions, which we experience in the conscious mind. Because the emotional brain responds more quickly than does the rational brain, we can find ourselves acting before any preceding thoughts—we act emotionally!

Why do we act emotionally? Well, when we act emotionally, our perception goes directly to the amygdale—the emotional centre—instead of first going to the neocortex , which is the part of the brain in which we think and process thoughts. Basically, we feel and act before we think!

Everyone knows how devastating it can be if we react before we think. If we want to manage our rational responses, we must exercise emotional intelligence.

Let me say something more about the difference between acting and reacting. When we are acting we have the power of control. When reacting we do not, because commands are coming from emotional brain, not the rational one. You probably know the saying, “Act, don’t react.” This simply means that we should think and act first, and feel later.

The essence of emotional intelligence is to rationalize emotional reactions, and to not have them create unnecessary drama. But what can we do in that regard?

The simplest advice is to take a deep breath and count to ten before reacting. This makes perfect sense when we know that we need to give extra time to the rational brain. Remember, the rational brain is reacting slower than the emotional brain.

Next, be aware of what’s going on. Spot potential triggers. Manage yourself. Ask for clarification. Replace anger with humour.

When the emotional brain takes control over rational brain, it brings down rational thinking. As a result, we are reacting instead of acting. It is almost impossible to think rationally because the part of the brain we think with is inhibited. We call this emotional hijacking, and it happens to people every day.

When the emotional brain reacts first, we can’t do much do to prevent emotional hijacking—it’s not the rational part of the brain that deals with emotional responses. Therefore, it is our responsibility to learn how to handle negative emotions and how to act instead of reacting.