Managing Emotions

I touched on managing our emotions in my earlier drafts on managing anger and having self-control. In this draft, I want to talk about managing emotions from a slightly broader viewpoint. What I mean by that is rather than looking at emotions on their own (like anger), I want to talk about ways we can manage our negative emotions, rather than letting it get the better of us.

When things are going well for us, we feel good. When things are not going too well, we may feel sad and depressed. We shouldn’t be affected by our “social weather”, and we also shouldn’t be affected by how others respond to us. Instead, we should have a strong inner core, and nothing should disturb our peace of mind.

Here’s the thing: we can either manage our emotions or we can be managed by them. For instance, it’s easy for us to lose our cool when we find others around us yelling and being reactive. The hard part is to keep our cool and remain calm while others around us are losing theirs. This reminds me of what Rudyard Kipling wrote in his poem, If:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too

Here are some strategies for managing our emotions:

We cannot allow ourselves to be jerked around by our impulses. Instead, we need to defer our impulses (or feelings) to values and make value-based choices about things.

When others say things to provoke us, the best thing we can do is shut up and not respond. The last thing we want to do is to react emotionally, which only makes things worse.

We need to think before we act. Remember, there is always a space between a stimulus and response. How we use that space is our choice and our responsibility. We can help ourselves by pausing in those moments and making appropriate choices. When things get difficult (and they will, at some point), we need to take a step back, reflect, and try to listen and understand things from their perspective. As Rumi has said (and I paraphrase), we need to quiet down so we can hear more.

It’s quite common in relationships to hear things from your spouse (or loved ones) when they are feeling extreme emotions. When others are reacting by way of yelling, shouting, or some other outward negative communication, we need to be empathic to them and strive to listen and understand them without judgement and also without feeling the need to agree or disagree with them; we need to give them a chance to vent by giving them psychological air and not competing for listening time. In other words, we need to understand them, and not try to make ourselves understood just yet.

We only worry about things we have no control over, such as the weather, getting a promotion at work, making it to our next meeting on time, waiting to hear from the prospect about a proposal, etc. If you think about it, getting anxious doesn’t help relieve you of stress, even though it may appear that way. On the contrary, it amplifies things that are outside your control, which does you no good.

Learn to agree to disagree on things with others. We don’t have to agree on everything with everyone. This should have no bearing on our relationship with them. Be comfortable having diverse viewpoints without coercing others to think your way and vice-versa.

Wanting things such as wealth or fame (or peace and quiet) can make us equally vulnerable. When things don’t go our way, it’s likely that disappointment will ensue and we’ll lose our self-control in response. Are you in control of things that you strive for, or are they in control of you?

Our time on this earth is limited. Instead of worrying about what’s not right about our life, let’s be grateful for what is right. That’s a choice we always have.

Stop concerning yourself with trivial things that others are thinking about all the time such as their age expectancy, their health/fitness levels, and generally focusing on others and what they should be doing. Instead, focus on things you can control (or change). You have more control over yourself than you believe. You control your own thoughts, attitude, beliefs, actions/behaviors, perspectives, etc.

When you’re unhappy from others’ actions (because of what they have said or done or not done as per your expectations), instead of confronting them and taking out your anger on them, take out a piece of paper and write a letter to them explaining your case, but never send that letter. Call it therapy for the soul, if you will.

I wrote in my draft on Anger:

Believe in the paradigm that one must always be in control of one’s emotions regardless of the situation. Believe that our emotions are our slaves and not our master.

When others around us are yelling and seem out of control, it’s all the more reason to be at peace with ourselves so we can handle the situation wisely rather than letting it get out of control. In other words, when things around us seem to be out of control, we need to be in control of ourselves. Furthermore, it’s good to remember that we are hurt more from our response in a given situation than the seriousness of the situation itself.

As MLK Jr. has said,

Hate is too great a burden to bear.

I wrote in my draft on managing anger that anger only begets anger. Hatred can’t be solved by hatred, but only love. It surely seemed to have worked for MLK Jr. and Gandhi. It can work for the rest of us.

Leo Roskin has said (which I paraphrase here) that gentleness can be expected only from those who are strong; only the weak can be cruel.

When things are not going well for us, it’s even more important for us to keep ourselves together because we can’t help others (or our situations involving others) unless we help ourselves first. Healthy selfishness becomes even more important and difficult during this time. For instance, when I found myself in distress due to family issues in the recent past, there were often times where I didn’t feel hungry. In some cases, that meant skipping meals and eating maybe once or twice a day, simply because I had lost my appetite. Those were the times when I needed to remind myself to drink (to keep myself hydrated) and eat (even a little) even if I didn’t feel like eating.

The choice is ours. We need to pause in those situations (in the heat of the moment) where we might feel impulsive. We need to learn to always be in control of ourselves in any situation. The closer we are to strength, the calmer we will be. Strength is the ability to hold oneself together, to not get rattled, fazed, mad, or to lose one’s cool. Let nothing disturb your peace of mind.

We need to manage our emotions rather than be managed by them. It’s always our choice, and we should not be affected by how others respond to us. We should always be the ones in control, and not let our emotions get the better of us. We should be in control of our passions, and not be controlled by them.

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