Controlling Negative Emotions

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Controlling Negative Emotions


Negative emotions are part of life. Feelings such as sadness, anxiety, anger or guilt can and will present themselves, for some more often than others. As painful as they can be, these emotions do not set out to intentionally make you suffer, this is simply your body’s way of trying to protect you, to tell you something needs to be addressed. Imagine your emotions are like an alarm system fitted around a house. When something is not right the alarm system trips to get your attention. Sometimes there is something serious that needs addressing, other times it is just the neighbour’s cat running across the garden. An alarm system does not know the difference between a potential threat and a neighbour’s pet so it will react regardless of the trigger. Human beings, on the other hand, are capable of discerning the difference but sometimes even a small problem can lead to a big reaction. Sound familiar? If so, keep reading to find out why and what you can do to rewire your brain. 


It is important to understand that the emotional part of the brain, the amygdala, is your alarm system. Once it is triggered it is essential to turn the alarm off before trying to fix the problem just like you would if it was your burglar alarm. Emotions are temporary and all too often we can make decisions that we later regret if we have been too hasty in our reaction. There are various techniques you can try to calm yourself down such as bringing yourself back to the present moment through deep breathing and becoming aware of your bodily sensations. Once the alarm is off,  the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain, can step in to provide a solution to the problem that is not influenced by emotion. This is when you can determine whether it is a burglar or a cat, whether it is something that needs addressing or not. Questions you can ask yourself at this time are:

Am I taking this personally?

Am I catastrophizing?

Does it really matter?

Am I going to care about this 1 week, 1 month, 6 months from now?

How would I advise a friend in this situation?

Once the problem has been analysed in a calm and rational manner then ask yourself:

What is the best solution (now in a position to focus on the solution rather than the problem)?

Once you make a conscious decision to choose your reaction, eventually, it will become your automatic response as you are literally rewiring your brain to think differently resulting in different emotions and behaviours. Over time, this rewiring will prevent you from getting triggered by certain situations in the future. Remember, if you are being triggered, you are the one carrying around the explosives. 

You always have a choice – what to think, what to feel and how and when to react. You can’t control the people around you or the situations you find yourself in but you can control your perception and your reaction. Once you start to think more positively then you will ultimately feel and behave more positively. 

‘You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realise this and you will find strength.’

Marcus Aureliu

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