Learn to Manage Your Emotions or Your Emotions Will Manage You
As a clinical therapist, I have worked with countless people over the years. The level of their dysfunction has varied and there are a few ways to guarantee dysfunction and chaos in your life and one of the most basic, easy and guaranteed ways to have a life of dysfunction and chaos is to let your emotions run the show. A lot of my clients have walked through the door without any working concept that they can learn to manage their emotions or even that they should manage their emotions. As a side note, the most dysfunctional people that I have encountered are those that take their emotions as factual. If their feelings tell them something is true, to them, it is true. They disregard the evidence around them, their emotions prevail and chaos ensues.
Over the years I’ve done a lot of work with adolescents and it’s interesting to notice the subtle shift when their logical mind starts to split away from their emotional mind. They don’t usually notice when this happens, it’s incredibly subtle and as a therapist, I make it a priority to help them learn to use their rational thinking brain instead of relying solely on emotion in the same way that they have largely done up to that point. Some adults never learn to harness the thinking power in their brain and they are a slave to the whims of their rapidly shifting emotions.
Emotions change at the drop of a hat and there’s no good explanation as to why emotions do some of the things that they do. Have you ever woken up and felt a sense of blah or felt blue and your day ended up being a total bust because you allowed your emotions to decide that today was just going to be spent under a blanket watching TV or playing video games? Similarly, we can wake up feeling like a million bucks and we can decide that we’re going to conquer the world. Have you ever had that happen and ended up having one of the best days ever? I love it when that happens. I don’t know about you but I hate being at the mercy of whatever my emotions decide to do that day. Wouldn’t it be nice to alter the river your emotions like you might change the direction of a river?
Well, guess what guys, that’s kind of the point. If you don’t learn to manage your emotions, your emotions will manage you. Managing anger and fear are at the top of the list but the bottom line is that it’s important for you to understand that managing emotions is a daily practice for those that live powerful and authentical lives when the exact opposite is also true. Allowing your emotions to run your life each day is chaos, misery and suffering.
I’m going to teach you one of the easiest and most basic ways to manage emotion. Most people will overlook this because it will seem too simple or too stupid. Here it is: Learn how to control your thoughts. Like a radio or a TV, you can choose what station that you have turned on. You can choose:
- What specific things to think about
- How to think about things
- Not think about certain things at all
Don’t let your whimsical and capricious mind decide what you’re going to think and feel moment to moment. Learn to take control of what you think about and you’ll be able to have greater control over how you feel.
There’s a therapy model called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. It’s one of the easiest and most basic therapy models. It’s simple and it’s effective. It’s essentially learning how to manage your thoughts. Anybody can learn how to do this, you can go online and buy a CBT workbook. I also recommend an older therapy model called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or REBT which specifically goes after irrational beliefs that cause us misery. A wise man once said that if you change your thoughts, you’ll change your life. There are so many therapy approaches that can teach you different skills to control thoughts and manage emotions. A couple of other examples would be cognitive therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT.
I’ve talked in other articles about stoicism and it astounds me that certain groups and certain types of people are advocating that stoicism is a nefarious and bad thing that is equated with being sociopathic. When I hear people bad mouthing stoicism I immediately put them on a list that keep in my mind. That list is titled “people that I don’t listen to.” We have to be really careful because there are people that promote really bad things, they even try to pass those bad things off as things that are somehow good or even altruistic. The fat acceptance movement, for example, absurdly promotes that being obese is a good thing and those evil nefarious doctors are hurting people by discouraging people from being fat. I don’t listen to those people and neither should you.
Stoicism is the practice of being in control of emotions and I can’t help but think that those who discourage it are like fat people bagging on healthy people. Of course, emotionally chaotic people would bag on stoicism and feel free to take that as a warning sign that someone is emotionally sick. You wouldn’t take health advice from someone who was obese and sick and you shouldn’t take life and mental advice from someone who is mentally sick and has a chaotic life.
Understand that emotion is energy and if you don’t harness it and channel it, you usually just end up with a big mess and stoicism is learning how to do channel it and point it in a good direction. Anger and fear can be used to create motion and movement that helps you overcome obstacles. Anger and fear can actually help you create positive change if you know how to properly channel it better.
Emotions are suggestions, not required marching orders. Just because your emotions tell you to do something doesn’t mean that you are required to do it. You might be sitting there thinking, no duh, but trust me when I say that a lot of people just don’t understand this. They have grown up in homes where emotions were God and if emotions told them to do something, they just do it. Guys, this is one definition of insanity.
It’s true that emotions get overwhelming and can have the tendency to totally eclipse our rational thinking. All of what I have said so far is great in theory and practice, I know, but what happens when the emotions become overwhelming and hijack your ability to think rationally or problem solve? The basic answer is to focus on coping.
When you’re overwhelmed you have one objective and one objective only and that is to stabilize your emotions. You should avoid all important decisions as much as humanly possible. Your only job is to take a break and deal with the emotions. If you have a major situation on your hands you’re not going to do yourself any favors by trying to sort it out while you’re having a meltdown. You’re actually more likely to make the situation worse and thereby increasing the amount of work you’re going to have to do to because you made the situation worse. Freaking out is guaranteed to make any problem worse.
So take a break. Physical movement should be included, even if you’re only taking a walk. If you go walking, you should do it for at least thirty minutes. Find something else that will help take your mind from it, at least for a short time. Easier said than done, I know, but it this will be far more effective if you find something that is distracting. I like to shoot hoops or ride my bike.
There are a lot of skills, tools and strategies for effectively managing emotions so that they don’t manage you. This is just the tip of the iceberg but what’s important to understand is that good mental health and good emotional health is exactly like maintaining good physical health. You have to establish the habits and routines, week in and week out, to stay in good shape and in good health. Emotional management is useful in all areas of life. Learn to manage your emotions or your emotions will manage you.