Many in society right now are expressing pent-up emotions regarding injustices, unfair acts, and world tragedies. People feel an increased need to feel they are heard and understood once they uncap that bottle. Mentally strong people recognize this.
Being able to express yourself is essential to growth and your own mental and physical health. With that expression, control of your emotions is also vital. Learning to control your gut reactions does not mean you cannot express yourself.
Instead, it means you can recognize that your emotions come and go like the tide, and you don’t need to hold onto them. Having a grasp on your feelings is a sign of maturity and mental strength. Here are five ways mentally strong people use to control their emotions.
The power of expressing your emotions
Many of us have been taught to “suck it up” when we have strong emotions. This result is us “sucking it up” by smoking cigarettes, doing drugs, drinking alcohol, being anxious, and possibly depressed. Yet the study above and other studies have shown that emotions’ initial biological and physiological responses are instantaneous. We have relatively no control over experiencing them. Yet once we can tell ourselves, ” I feel angry, sad, frustrated,” or whichever emotion, we become aware, can decrease its effect and then take control. It is not about attempting to suppress or deny our inclinations. It is the exact opposite, which makes them controllable.
Learning healthy ways to express emotions is vital to mental and emotional health. A study conducted at UCLA provided an image of the brain after the participant received a label. Subjects were given pictures of an angry or sad person. A particular region of the brain called the amygdala lit up. The amygdala is responsible for setting off alarms to other regions that we are in danger.
When the subjects labeled the image as an “angry face,” the activity in the brain decreased in the amygdala but increased in the right prefrontal cortex. This area is responsible for thinking in words about emotional responses as well as possibly processing emotion and suppressing behavior. This is a display of how putting words to our emotions can help decrease their intensity.
Suppression is not the same as controlling your emotions
Attempting to suppress emotions just makes them worse. Your body is now just building up the initial emotion and whatever garbage you are throwing on top in an attempt to bury it. You still felt the emotion, but now you compounded and confused it with other feelings. This state creates stress on your mind and body.
That stress creates various physical responses that mimic the physiological reaction of different emotions. Until you have identified the initial emotion, de-tangled the additional emotions that became added in, and acknowledged what it made you feel, the stress will continue. Thus, you will continue to trigger or feel that emotion.
Emotions vs. Feelings
Did you know that emotions and feelings are different? The majority of people use the words interchangeably, but they do have different meanings.
Emotions are a reaction to a stimulus, either internal or external. We can react to a memory or to hearing a baby cry. This reaction releases hormones and neurochemicals in our brain and body. These chemicals are to ensure that we are physically able to respond.
Feelings are still a reaction but with a meaning behind it. In other words, there is a recognition of the emotion you are feeling, mixed with your interpretation of it based on your life or the meaning you place upon the event triggering the emotion.
Further distinguishing differences include:
- Length of time they last. Emotions are almost instantaneous and leave almost as quickly. Feelings are what we have attached to the emotions and will last longer. Such as, being happy to see someone can become a feeling of love.
- Which came first? We form feelings off of emotions. Therefore, emotions come first.
- Which has a stronger reaction? Emotions are more intense because they are created to spur us into action. Feelings entail more analysis lessening their intensity.
- Which are processed? Emotions are almost instant. Therefore we do not process them as quickly. Feelings are thought out, resulting in more processing.
- Emotions, due to their intended purpose, are difficult to control. Feelings can be controlled over time and with proper methods.
Being able to recognize that emotions are sudden reactions and are meant to be felt and then discarded if no action is required is an important understanding of how to control our emotions and feelings. You are going to have strong gut instincts that may or may not make sense at the time. They are just a flash of a stimulus. It’s the feeling that we place on those emotions that can make or break us. By understanding that we can label these sentiments and then let them go as they are meant to, we gain control.
When we cling to our responses and give them more meaning than they should have, it is when they begin to control us.
Methods mentally strong people use to control their emotions
Given the previous section, it is more our feelings than our emotions that mentally strong people learn to control. After all, the emotion is gone. What is left is the feeling that we associated with that emotion and the meaning that we give it. Here are five ways mentally strong people use to control their emotions and feelings.
1 – Label the emotion and feeling.
The first part of this article emphasized the importance of labeling an emotion. We don’t need to create a long story about how or why we felt the emotion. We felt it. What was it? Give it its name.
It is additionally beneficial to become more emotionally intelligent. In other words, they become more familiar and specific with a variety of names for emotions. We have quite a few simple and complex feelings. The more specific you can be, the better. Just saying “I felt hurt” may not truly express what emotion you felt. Whereas saying I felt “rejected” puts a more specific meaning to the general hurt and labels the feeling.
2 – Respect your body’s needs.
What this means is that your body and brain are processing all of your gut reactions and feelings 24/7. It requires a release of that stress through exercise, time to process through proper sleep, and energy through a balanced diet and hydration. We cannot emphasize this reality enough.
Studies continue to show that these three things are essential for your brain to process information. A lack of sleep, improper diet, or not relieving stress has shown to exasperate your anxiety level, decrease your ability to problem solve, concentrate, and plan. All of these are negatives if you are looking to gain control of your responses and feelings.
3 – Question the emotion and feelings.
Too often, we hang onto emotions and feelings because we think they must have some greater meaning.
“Omg. I must be stressed about this test because I am not prepared”.
It is possible that you are stressed about that test because tests make people feel pushed to perform, and emotions are created to spur us into action. Your body is creating a physical sensation of anxiety to give you that extra push it believes you need. Therefore, take a few deep breaths, calm your body, and your mind will follow.
Ask yourself if you need that emotion or if it is doing more harm than good. Anger is great when you need to defend yourself physically, but not so good when you react violently unnecessarily.
4 – Don’t dwell on the negative, dwell on the positive.
People who struggle with depression tend to stay on the sad or negative things happening in their lives. They then attribute those occurrences to perceived negative traits about themselves, thus creating negative feelings. This is called rumination.
Mentally strong people understand that this also works in reverse. They will make a list of positive things that occurred to them. Maybe visualize it throughout the week, write it in a journal, or make a gratitude list. Not only is writing a great way to express yourself, but handwriting reinforces concepts and thoughts into memory. The more positive memories you can recall, the less likely you are to attribute emotion to a negative event, therefore not creating a negative feeling.
5 – Do things that make you feel happy.
Mentally strong people use tools to boost their capability to feel good. A great tool is to incorporate little things that boost dopamine in the body or replicate feeling good. For example, start the day by lifting your arms up to the sky and giving the world a great big smile. Another tool is to listen to music that makes you want to dance and sing or makes you feel like a superhero.
Everyone experiences emotions and has feelings. Mentally strong people have recognized that our natural reactions don’t need to control them and that feelings can be manipulated to their benefit. That is a very strong realization, but the practice takes work. Mentally strong people weren’t born with this ability. They either had great role models or mentors or gradually learned these methods through life experience. What makes that great is that you, too, can use the same five ways that mentally strong people use to control their emotions.