Master the art of gaining control of your emotions


Marriages where emotions are suppressed often end suddenly and unexpectedly during a crisis.

Photo credit: Samuel Muigai | Nation Media Group

Can you control your emotions? It’s a skill that’s well worth learning because couples who tend to flare up during arguments often part.

But it’s not something that’s easy to master. Because when life’s irritations make you short tempered, fear-driven regions of your brain quickly take charge. Their purpose is to help you deal with physical threats, but they can really get in the way in relationships.

It’s also not the same as suppressing your emotions. Anger, for example, is not always bad. It tells people that your values are being violated, and that you’re serious, willing to fight, and even to get hurt. So it can inspire you to confront an injustice, or mistreatment, as well as to defend yourself.

But most of the time it’s better to keep calm under pressure. Do that by learning to consciously observe your emotions rather than being swept up by them. Calm people feel the same emotions as the rest of us. It’s the way they respond that’s different. They monitor their emotions rather than being driven by them.

So it really does help to pause before shouting at someone. Because that gives you time to stand back from your feelings. As does forcing yourself to think of the incident from their point of view rather than yours.

Remaining calm just means you’re considering things from a different perspective, while suppressing your emotions means that problems can lie simmering for years, only to cause serious conflict when something goes wrong. Marriages where emotions are suppressed often end suddenly and unexpectedly during a crisis. While couples who stay calm tend to stick together.

As you consciously note your emotions, also watch for what triggers them. Because once you’re fully aware of your emotions and their triggers, you’ll quickly find you can control them. That’s because actively observing your emotions changes the way your brain processes them. It reduces the activity of the emotional parts of the brain and boosts the areas which control the way you respond to stress.

Visualisation, also known as ‘image rehearsal,’ is another very good way to keep your emotions in check. It works because vividly imagined images trigger exactly the same emotional responses as real situations even though they’re not actually there. So visualising being in control will help calm you down, even when there’s lots happening to wind you up. Rehearsing cool-headed approaches to conflict also helps, for example, imagining responding to your angry spouse by seeing their behaviour as a cry for help, rather than thinking ‘You can’t talk to me like that!’

Watch especially for the situations that make you angry. It doesn’t matter why something bothers you, just recognise that it does, and figure out how to manage it. Like seeing someone’s irritating behaviour as an interesting problem to solve rather than getting annoyed.

It’s really worth learning to be calm because not only will that reduce your stress levels, it could also save your marriage.


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