Managing your emotions is not easy, I know.
In the past, I thought hitting the gym or meeting with friends after work was all it took to destress myself and conquer my inner demons.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got into good shape and made nice memories—but these weren’t the long-term solutions for getting better with my emotions.
It was more of a distraction to ignore my true feelings.
It took me a while to learn that the key to success, mental health, and happiness was learning the art of emotional intelligence.
Being emotionally intelligent or having a high emotional quotient (EQ) refers to the ability to healthily regulate, manage, and deal with both our own and other people’s emotions.
Truly, having strategies for mastering the art of emotional intelligence is probably one of the biggest life hacks there is.
Let me tell you more about it.
10 strategies for mastering your emotions
1) Learn the “why” behind your emotions
As with anything, awareness is the first step to solving any problem.
You may already know that it’s important to be able to identify what exactly you’re feeling.
However, to get to a good level of emotional intelligence, you also need to be able to determine what causes you to feel a certain way.
One of the best ways to do this is to put your feelings to paper. Reflect on what you’re feeling and what you think led to it. Writing all of this down will give you a clearer vision of things.
Do this regularly, and you’ll eventually notice a pattern. You may realize that certain people or events often lead to you feeling certain kinds of ways.
The better you understand what causes your feelings, the easier it will be to manage and regulate them.
Unable to do so will leave you confused about your inner thoughts, making it impossible to truly master them.
2) Beware of how your emotions impact others
Another important thing to be aware of is how your emotions may impact other people.
For example, you may fear intense emotions because you think you’ll be too much for others to handle. This might lead you to suppress them.
On the other hand, you may underestimate how much your emotions dictate your actions and consequently affect other people. This may lead to you becoming insensitive.
Remember that emotions, including intense ones, are normal and healthy.
But how do you know when there’s a problem?
Both suppressing emotions and expressing them in unhinged manners can result in:
- Relationship tension and damage;
- Loss of focus in school or work;
- Difficulty establishing connections with others;
- Being tempted to resort to substances;
- Harmful physical or emotional outbursts.
Try to include this in your journaling. Take note not only of where your emotions come from but also of where they lead to.
From there, you can more easily develop a better way of expressing your emotions.
3) Know your triggers…and know them well
No one is perfect—we all lose control sometimes. But we need to understand why we lose control when we do.
Can you think of certain situations that trigger you to feel furious? Are there any specific people involved? At what time does it usually happen? Are there patterns, or are these occasions totally random?
These are tough but important questions to answer. Here’s how you can better identify your triggers:
- Take a deep breath and step back when you feel overwhelmed by a situation or a person’s actions. Then, assess the situation and how it relates to how you feel. This is incredibly hard to do in the heat of the moment, but do your best!
- Be kind to yourself. Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense why we’re upset at a particular situation. A lot of people’s triggers are rooted in past experiences and unhealed traumas. Blaming yourself will only hamper you from truly processing your emotions;
- Take it slow. You might feel discouraged if you can’t identify or understand your triggers quickly. Human emotions are deeply, deeply complex and require a lot of time and effort to understand.
4) Regulate, don’t repress
Some people repress their emotions out of fear that they come off as overly emotional to others.
However, pent-up emotions will usually only lead to emotional outbursts later on.
Quite ironic, isn’t it?
This doesn’t mean that you should let your feelings dictate your every thought and action or express your emotions without thinking about it. How, when, and to whom you express your feelings are also important.
Both suppression and over-indulgence of emotions are unhealthy. As with everything, the key to emotional intelligence lies in balance and moderation.
5) Respond to conflict instead of reacting to it
Huh? But what’s the difference?
Reacting implies an impulsive, emotion-driven response.
But responding to a situation means that you remain calm and level-headed.
After all, emotional outbursts and impulsive, irrational decisions are incredibly common during the intense conflict.
People with high EQ are aware of this and make it a point to control their emotions during such times of stress.
They keep in mind that while it’s tempting to want to “win” against the other person, the true goal is resolution. That is the main reason they’re able to keep their cool.
6) Go socialize!
The truth is most of our emotions stem from our interactions (or lack thereof) with other people.
Also, emotional intelligence isn’t just about managing your own emotions—it’s also the ability to handle and be aware of the emotions of those around you.
So the more you socialize with other people, the better you will simply get at handling both your own and other people’s emotions!
Thus they make it a point to be approachable to other people:
- Try to smile and exude a warm, positive aura;
- Learn the ropes of social etiquette;
- Adapt your conversational style based on who you’re talking to;
- Listen to others more than talking yourself;
- Learn about non-verbal communication and master it;
- Build great interpersonal skills and know how to communicate clearly, whether the communication is verbal or nonverbal.
But I’m just not good at socializing…
Oh, trust me, I wasn’t as well. But like any skill, it can be developed with practice!
7) Don’t hesitate to get help
The same people who prefer to bottle up their emotions are typically those who don’t reach out for help even when they need to.
And even if you’re not necessarily going through extreme emotional distress and just want advice on becoming more emotionally intelligent, I highly suggest working with a professional.
After all, becoming emotionally intelligent isn’t exactly a straightforward process.
And it’s not weak of you to ask for help—it’s totally normall.
There are different kinds of trained individuals who can help you depending on the severity of your need:
Or even your friend who is good at managing their emotions! Talking to them still counts as getting help.
8) Reframe the narrative you tell yourself
We see the world through stories.
Whenever there is an absence of information, we fill in the blanks with details that can be heavily influenced by our biases and experiences.
For example, let’s say a good friend of yours hasn’t contacted you in quite a long time. If you have abandonment issues, you may hypothesize that they no longer want to be with your friend.
This then sends you into a negative emotional spiral. Emotionally intelligent people will refrain from jumping to such conclusions.
Or maybe you receive mild criticism from your boss. Then this leads to you telling yourself how incompetent and useless you are.
Reflect on the kinds of stories you tell yourself. Always remind yourself that you don’t know what you don’t know.
Perspective is everything.
9) Respond consciously
We may not always have full control of how we feel, but we will always be responsible for how we act and respond to different situations.
If you tend to respond to anger by lambasting people, then I’m sure you’ve noticed the strain it has caused on your relationships.
Because…why wouldn’t it?
So, if you let your feelings dictate your actions, nothing good will come out of it. Instead, you have to learn to take a deep breath before acting on your emotions.
Breathe in…breathe out…
In the heat of the moment, we may fail to recognize that we can actually pick how to respond. And once we do, we feel powerful and in control.
Not only is this an incredibly liberating feeling, but your relationships will benefit from this skill too. When you’re on the brink of losing emotional control, remember to take a deep breath and step back before doing or saying anything.
10) Focus on positive emotions
Psychologists have proven that humans tend to remember negative experiences more than positive ones. Similarly, we usually put more weight on negative emotions than on positive ones.
Countering this negativity bias is crucial to a healthier mind and a more manageable emotional state.
Learn how to appreciate moments of peace and quiet, cherish a moment of happiness with your loved ones, and always be grateful for the things in your life.
Then once bad experiences and emotions come to haunt you, you’ll be stronger and more resilient when facing them.
What even are emotions?
Emotions are one of the defining characteristics of human beings.
They represent the infinite complexity of what it means to be human and comprise the majority of our inner experience.
Emotions are a complex psychological state with three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response.
For example, take the emotion of grief. The subjective experience can be the feeling of sadness. Its physiological response would be tears, and its behavioral response would be hugging a loved one.
The types of emotions
Human emotions are so complex that it’s impossible to map out every single emotion. After all, we often feel mixed feelings as well.
While there are various theories, we can boil them down to six primary emotions. Use this as a starting point to identify and regulate your responses to what you feel.
- Happiness: A pleasurable state of feeling satisfied and joyous. We all strive for happiness and it’s typically expressed through smiling or speaking in a more upbeat tone than usual;
- Surprise: This refers to feeling shocked by an unexpected event. People often open up their eyes and mouth to gasp when surprised. Acute feelings of surprise may also trigger the fight-or-flight response;
- Fear: One feels fear when they are afraid. This can cause a faster heart rate and racing thoughts. When particularly intense, it can also cause panic or trigger your body’s built-in fight-or-flight response;
- Disgust: Disgust is feeling deeply repulsed by something unpleasant. This is usually caused by a physically unpleasant object such as rotten food, blood, or feces. It can also refer to feeling morally disgusted when seeing someone commit an offensive or unethical act;
- Sadness: Sadness is the opposite of happiness: it refers to feeling depressed or experiencing sorrow. People often cry, remain quiet, or isolate themselves when sad;
- Anger: This is the intense, raging feeling of disappointment and annoyance. One typically frowns or yells when angry. Particularly angry people may commit acts of violence, although it can also move people to do good.
How hard is it to regulate emotions?
Emotions are highly personal and incredibly complex. So how easy or hard it is to regulate emotions depends on numerous factors involving the individual in question.
Some people were raised to be resilient, while others were not taught any coping mechanisms.
Your genetics may also influence your emotional patterns.
However, emotional regulation is a skill like any other: it can be developed with time and effort.
What are the triggers?
Triggers, also called emotional, mental, or psychological triggers, can be anything—a person, an event, an object, or a memory that can instantly cause intense negative emotions.
Triggers can abruptly change how you feel and, in most cases, will result in severe emotional distress.
For example, someone might be triggered by public speaking. They may have had a traumatic, shameful experience before that now manifests itself as a trigger.
So when they are asked to share a presentation at work or give a public speech, they may suddenly feel anxious and fearful and even experience physical disturbances like:
- Feeling nauseous;
- Chest tightness;
- Heart palpitations;
- Mind fog;
- Panic attacks.
Depending on your individual symptoms, triggers typically fall into three categories:
- Anxiety triggers: These triggers cause intense anxiety and panic in the person and are often caused by profound stress. They are usually part of a larger anxiety disorder.
- Trauma triggers: Trauma triggers are caused by unhealed and deep-seated trauma. The triggers are often things that remind them of their traumatic experience. People with PTSD often have trauma triggers. However, studies show that gradual exposure to these triggers is often necessary for long-term healing.
- Anger triggers: Anger triggers are usually otherwise normal objects or situations that irrationally make someone angry. This is often a particularly difficult emotional response to tame.
What is an emotional regulation disorder?
Emotional regulation disorder refers to someone’s emotional dysregulation. Essentially, this is when they have a particularly difficult time controlling their feelings and emotional responses.
People with such a disorder usually experience dramatic mood changes, thereby causing sudden and often negative shifts in behavior.
The emotional regulation disorder can cause difficulty by:
- Making it hard to form and maintain relationships;
- Encouraging self-destructive behavior;
- Uncontrollable mood swings;
- Causing temper tantrums or intense emotional breakdowns;
- Making one hypersensitive.
Emotional regulation disorders are usually but not necessarily linked to or caused by other mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, or borderline personality disorder can have the emotional regulation disorder as a side effect.
Symptoms of emotional dysregulation
The main symptom of emotional dysregulation is the regular occurrence of inappropriate and disproportional social behavior.
After all, our social interactions are largely driven by our emotions. Thus, if our actions are out of control, then our emotions must be so as well.
Other physical or behavioral signs of difficulty regulating emotions include:
- Rapid changes in mood;
- Binge eating;
- Crying spells;
- Regular emotional outbursts;
- Disproportional and persistent interpersonal conflict;
- Acts of violence;
- Self-harm and suicidal tendencies;
- Substance abuse.
Emotions and moods—what’s the difference?
Emotions are typically more short-term because they are caused by something specific (like witnessing an event). Thus, they are usually easier to regulate.
Fun fact: our brains only need a split second to release chemicals that will cause an emotional reaction after a trigger!
On the other hand, moods are more long-term. They result from a complex collection of internal factors (such as diet, physiology, genetics, and current emotions) and external inputs (weather and political situation).
Emotions often only last seconds or minutes. Moods can last up to days or entire weeks.
Why emotional mastery is so important
Emotions, along with our thoughts, comprise our inner world. They also affect how we see, interpret, and interact with the external world. Emotions are, therefore, a key pillar to how we experience life as a whole.
This is the main reason psychologists hold that the answer to “What is an emotion?” necessarily includes mental and behavioral aspects.
We cannot change our objective experiences—what has happened has happened and what will happen will happen. We do not have complete control over everything in our life.
However, our subjective experience—how we interpret and create meaning out of these events—is something firmly in our hands.
Recognizing this and being in full control of it is what emotional mastery is all about.
We may not be able to change the fact that we failed the test, but we can control, at least somewhat, how we feel about it.
Emotional mastery is truly the most crucial psychological asset one can have to achieve a fulfilling life.
Mastering your emotions leads you to feel positive emotions more intensely and more regularly.
It also teaches you to avoid negative situations and helps develop compassion, problem-solving, and self-esteem skills.
Truly, you will benefit in quite literally all aspects of your life:
Your physical health…
Your career performance…
All this relies heavily on your emotional maturity and intelligence.
However, it’s important to remember that emotional intelligence does not mean you will never experience negative or difficult emotions.
You will inevitably have them because you’re human. What’s important, again, is how you deal with them.
One last recap
You are allowed to feel whatever you feel; your emotions will always be valid and natural.
However, you are responsible for how you process, manage, and express your emotions.
Developing emotional intelligence entails doing these effectively.
Not being able to do so will negatively affect your life.
But it’s never too late. Through time, effort, and even the help of a trained professional, anyone can become more emotionally mature—and lead the happy, healthy life they deserve!