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Managing Emotions

Emotions are a crucial part of life, but sometimes they can feel hard to manage.

A BIT ABOUT EMOTIONS

Emotions are important because they help us communicate with others, motivate us to action, and validate our experiences. They also strongly color how we see the world. The process of understanding and constructively expressing emotions (and not letting them control you) is key to building healthy relationships and a fulfilling life.

Some things to keep in mind about emotions:

  • Emotions themselves aren’t positive or negative, but more like “data” in your life. Accept all your emotions as natural and understandable.
  • Your feelings may be mild, intense, or anywhere in-between.
  • You can’t turn emotions on and off. Feelings come and go whether you want them to or not. It is often better to accept that and whatever you’re feeling rather than fighting it.
  • You aren’t your emotions. You have a choice to act differently than what your initial reaction to an emotion compels you to. We can’t choose our emotions, but we can choose our response to them.
  • Remember that even if your current emotions feel unbearable, they will pass. Remind yourself that you won’t always feel this way.
  • It’s important to deal with painful emotions rather than self-medicate or ignore them.
Whitney
Identifying Your Emotions
It can be surprisingly difficult to identify what emotion you are experiencing, because they can be so subconscious. Also, you may have learned to stifle some emotions growing up, so you may not be fully aware of them. Like so many other things, learning to identify your emotions takes practice. Make it a practice to tune in to how you feel in different situations throughout the day. To help identify your emotions, you might ask yourself some questions like:

  • How do I feel right now?
  • What’s happening in my body?
  • What are my senses telling me?
  • Why am I feeling this emotion?
  • What would one of my friends assume I was feeling if they saw me?

Then see if you can name the emotion. Some people may also find it helpful to look at a list or chart of emotions to help learn different types of emotions, or talk to others about their feelings to practice putting emotions into words.

INTERPRETATIONS AND PERCEPTIONS OF FEELINGS

When learning to manage emotions, it’s important to realize that feelings are usually based more on interpretations of events than the events themselves. Often, our conscious thoughts/interpretations aren’t realistic and can escalate problems. Some examples of self-defeating thinking errors include:

  • All-or-nothing thinking. Interpreting events in extremes (black and white).
  • Excessive personalization. Assuming another’s behavior or mood is about you.
  • Over-generalization. Exaggerating or giving more weight to an event than it really has.
  • Filtering. Magnifying negative events and discounting positive ones.
  • Emotional reasoning. Confusing your emotions with the truth.
  • Catastrophizing. Thinking things are worse than they really are and thinking of the “worst-case scenario.”
  • Unreal ideals. Making unfair comparisons about ourselves.
  • Should statements. Making rules about how your or others “should” behave.
Whitney looking towards the camera
Dealing With or Expressing Your Feelings
Many factors, including cultural backgrounds, family values, and previous life experiences can influence how you express emotions. Instead of responding immediately to an emotion without thinking, you might consider asking yourself these questions first to help you decide how to respond to the situation:

  • Does the intensity of my feelings match the situation?
  • What interpretations or judgments am I making about this event?
  • What are my options for expressing my feelings?
  • What are the consequences of each option for me and for others?
  • What result am I hoping for?
  • What do I want to do, if anything?

If you’re able to calm down and think through these questions, you are likely able to think more rationally about how to deal with the situation.

It can also be helpful to find an outlet for your emotions. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Write down your emotions in a journal. Meditate. Engage in physical exercise.

RESOURCES*

Firestone, Lisa (2018). How Emotions Guide Our Lives. Psychology Today.

David, Susan (2017). The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage [video file].

Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant

How to Identify Strong Emotions

6 Steps to Mindfully Deal with Difficult Emotions

Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive by Marc Brackett

*Please note that selecting any of these links will redirect you away from Ensign College's website. Because websites are constantly changing, Ensign College does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of this information.

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