Dealing with intense negative emotions like anger and fear is a necessary life skill. Learning the source of our feelings allows us to control our reactions. It’s something everyone can do, are you ready?
We learn ways to cope with emotions in our family. If your family has healthy coping skills, you are way ahead of most people. It isn’t easy to find a family unit with healthy emotional management skills that fit all the family’s personalities in our modern culture.
Experiencing the full range of our emotions is part of life. We look forward to positive feelings of love and joy. However, experiencing the full range of emotions also includes the negative ones of pain and loss. So, dealing with intense negative emotions is necessary to maintain emotional balance.
Understand the Source of Our Feelings
Our feelings create a host of hormones that affect our bodies and minds, which are part of our survival system. One of the primary triggers engages our fight, flight, or freeze reaction. This system triggers emotional states like fear, shock, and anger. The mind reacts to protect the higher thinking areas of the cortical cortex when powerful hormones associated with anger and fear are released.
The key to handling our feelings is implementing the tactic as soon as possible. Once we are downward, it becomes harder to stop the emotional chain reaction. The sooner we act, the less likely we will get caught up in negative feelings. You can “know” all the right things to do but fail to implement them when you are too far along.
Dealing with Intense Negative Emotions
“Let today be the day you control your emotions. Don’t let them get the best of you. Whatever you are feeling right now should not be overwhelming. Don’t allow others to dampen your spirit. You are entitled to enjoy peace.” — Amaka Imani Nkosazana
To deal with our feelings, we must be aware of them before they are too intense to control. There are three specific tactics we can use to maintain emotional equilibrium. Will you always be successful? No. But, the more you practice taking back control, the less often you will fail. You’ll need to learn three fundamental skillsets.
First, Be Mindful
Learn to be mindful and monitor thoughts.
Second, Learn to Take Control of Emotions
We can learn to take control of emotions through breath, ocular focus, and body awareness.
Third, Practice Body, Mind and Spirit Integration
Practicing activities that promote integration puts us closer to our thought life and emotions. When body, mind, and spirit are balanced, we control our thoughts and feelings.
When you practice the above three tactics, you will minimize the effects of harmful negative emotions. Here’s how to do it.
Be Mindful and Monitor Your Thoughts
When you become aware of your thought life, you will be more in touch with your feelings. And when you are more in touch with your feelings. This perspective puts you at the beginning of the feelings chain reaction. When you contact the source of your emotions, they are easier to control. It’s easy to do with a bit of practice; you’ll be a mindfulness expert.
We have a complete training module on this skill, including seated and walking Mindfulness. Try it, and you’ll see how good it feels to be aware of what’s going on in your mind.
You’ll discover the cues that are the source of our feelings. Knowing what situations, people, and things trigger reactions will give you the power to keep them from spiraling out of control.
“When you remain angry with another person, you give away your emotional control to that person each time you think of him or her. You allow him or her to control your emotions at long distances. By not forgiving, you allow that person to run your emotional life, exactly as if he or she were right there with you and the situation was occurring all over again.” — Brian Tracy
Taking Control of Your Emotions
Dealing with intense negative emotions requires you to stop the downward spiral as soon as possible. Your breath and optical tactics move your awareness away from the stimulus, causing the runaway reaction.
If you practice mindfulness, you’ll be able to intercede sooner, and that means you’ll be more successful more often. Whether you are mindful or not, the process to regain control is still the same. The answer to managing your emotional response is in your breath, eyes, and body.
1) Manage the Breath
The moment you discover how you are reacting emotionally, take in a deep breath slowly with a count of 3 or 4. Focus your attention on breathing—breath in for a count of 3 or 4. Then, breathe out for a count of 3 or 4. As we Inhal and exhale slowly, this will calm your active mind and help to move you back to emotional equilibrium.
Keep up this breathing rhythm until you have control of your feelings. Breathing is the first primary tactic for controlling the release of those hormones that allow our feelings to take control. Learning to control our breath is the first step in dealing with intense negative emotions.
2) Manage Visual Input
Another thing that can help you gain control is through your eyes. If you can close your eyes, that will help. Shutting off external stimuli enables you to focus on breathing. However, there are times when it’s impractical to close your eyes. Don’t close your eyes if you are driving a vehicle or operating equipment.
If you can’t close your eyes, the next best thing is shifting your gaze into peripheral vision. If you cannot shut your eyes or change into peripheral vision, look down if possible. The last option is to blink your eyes. Be sure to keep breathing with any of these optical control methods.
The eyes are the mirrors of the soul. They are also valuable devices that we can use to control our sympathetic nervous system. The use of peripheral vision and the unblinking stare suspend the transition from the parasympathetic nervous system to the sympathetic nervous system.
The latter is the primitive emergency system that kicks in a host of hormones like adrenalin to boost our physical capabilities and shut off pain stimuli. But, many of these hormones aren’t healthy for the higher thinking centers of the brain, so it simply cuts off blood flow to these areas of thinking. So, although we can react quickly and with the most strength, we are doing so without the help of the higher thinking functions necessary to assess a rapidly changing situation.
That’s why martial artists train to maintain control of their higher brain functions. It’s an internal battle against the fear of the conflict. Those who win the internal conflict are more likely to win the external struggle. You can use this same strategy to maintain control rather than succumbing to negative emotions.
3) Bring Awareness to the Body
The third tactic is to bring your attention to your posture. This tactic also helps move our awareness away from the feelings causing the pain. A self-hug is another good way to intervene. Wrap both your arms around yourself. Use your arms to feel your breath.
If you are standing, it can help to shift your weight to one foot. Focusing on balancing also helps the mind to breathe the emotional chain reaction.
4) Remove Yourself From The Stimulus When Possible
If the source of your feelings is a stimulus you can remove, then do so. Simple as it seems, it’s often hard to do. If you are in a conversation with someone, you can always ask to take a 5-minute break or continue your discussion at a later time.
We can often remove the stimulus, like something we see on TV or the internet, but we can continue down the slope of negativity. The mind fixates on the issue, holding us hostage to the emotional response. That’s when you need to employ the tactics of breath, ocular control, and bringing attention to the body.
Practice Body, Mind, and Spirit Integration
The best way to integrate and balance is to become “grounded.” Grounding is a measurable connection between objects. We want to connect body, mind, and spirit. When we accomplish this, we are in tune with our intuition, thoughts, and emotions.
A balance means one doesn’t dominate the others. So, as we become more in harmony, we are less likely to be influenced by negative emotions. It doesn’t mean you stop feeling them. It means you can feel them without losing control.
There are a host of great grounding exercises that will help you maintain emotional equilibrium. Here are the progressions we recommend:
Grounding Techniques for Anger, Anxiety, and Depression
The tactics outlined above will help ground us no matter which emotional roller-coaster you are on. Some emotions creep up on us while others come on immediately. Anger and fear are often almost simultaneous to the stimulus. So, if you aren’t in a state of mindfulness, it’s easy to lose control and spiral out of control.
Emotions like depression build over time. Again, if you aren’t mindful, you don’t even recognize that you are in an unhealthy mindset. You experience the effects but don’t connect them with the underlying issues.
Grounding helps us gain the perspective we need to deal with the issues. Unfortunately, some physicians will medicate people for long periods numbing them to negative and positive emotions. So, grounding exercises may not be the complete answer to anger, anxiety, and depression, but it is a tool you can use with proper counsel and medication.
The practice of grounding techniques is one way to develop a daily mindfulness practice that can help us address the underlying issues.
Let’s dissect a popular form of mindfulness called Tai Chi. When you practice this technique, you’ll need to focus on the body and breath. The key is adding the unfocused stare of the eyes.
Do you see how Tai Chi incorporates all three tactics for handling our emotions.? You can use this same strategy to create your own form of moving meditation. Practicing Tai Chi is a way of dealing with intense negative emotions.
When you encounter ideas that conflict with your belief system, this can also trigger feelings of fear or anger. The stimulus is an idea that conflicts with your worldview. This kind of collision happens when we explore the world.
One way to explore the world is through a process called comparative analysis. It’s a structured method of comparative religious study based on the scientific model. We learned early on that this kind of research can trigger the fight, flight, or freeze reaction. When this happens, accurate analysis is impossible. So, we integrate regular “emotional checks” to ensure everyone involved in the research isn’t suffering from adverse emotional reactions.
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