The Simplest Emotional Control Tip

It literally involves doing nothing

May Pang
May Pang
Mar 19 · 7 min read
Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

“It’s like she’s Godzilla and a two-year-old toddler all at once! Full of rage and impossible to reason with!”

“So, what do you do?”

“I tell her I need to go to the bathroom!”

I laughed out loud. I was having a conversation with a friend who was telling me his strategy to surviving his wife’s hormonal rages when she was having her period.

“Works every single time! She just needs a moment to break the escalating rage.”

A light bulb when off in my head. I realized that this was something I already practiced frequently.

So, what was this magic emotional control trick?

It was simply to pause.

Society has conditioned us to think that we have to address every emotion we feel right immediately. Have a headache? Take a pill ASAP. Feel lonely? Join other lonely singles online right now! Feel hangry? Quick, eat a Snickers bar!

But this sense of urgency is unnecessary and often serves only to treat the symptom and not the cause. Not reacting works too, and it’s free from side effects, ghosting, and calories. Sometimes, all your body needs is a break from the escalating vortex of energy, and as soon as the cycle is broken, the emotion will dissipate and leave you.

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.” — Anne Lamott

Here’s the catch. I said it was simple, but I never said it was easy. Anyone who has ever been on a diet will tell you. Sometimes, not doing is harder than doing. Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful — sorted by how easy they are to apply.

Break the cycle

Another tip is to do something silly — like pressing on your nose and saying, “Beep!” out loud. Whatever you choose, create a physical action that helps breaks you out of your current train of thought and actions.

Set a time limit

If you feel your anxiety mounting from constant bombardment of COVID-19 media, just resist the urge to get on that news site. Tell yourself you can do it in 10 minutes.

When you first start applying this pause, doing nothing will seem like an impossible task — which brings me to my next tip.

Create a distraction

Write it out

My next tip is perhaps the most counter-intuitive.

Don’t reach out…yet

If there is a real need to reach out, that need will still be there once your emotions have calmed down. No productive decision or discussion can ever be had while you are in that vortex.

This tip does not apply when there is a physical consequence in play — e.g., you are contemplating suicide, you are in physical danger, or if you need to leave a date that is making you anxious.

Change the focus from your mind to your body

Once you have some privacy — let the thoughts arise in your head and then ask yourself where you feel it in your body. If you feel hurt or anxious, is there a tightness in your chest? Or do you feel it in the pit of your stomach? Take long 6-second inhales, followed by long 6-second exhales, and imagine you are directing your breathe into that part of your body.

This tip works because a lot of our suffering often isn’t from the event itself but from our thoughts around the event. So, just allowing your brain to focus on your body helps release the thoughts.

If you struggle to guide yourself through this, another really simple technique is tapping or the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which boasts high profile advocates like Jack Canfield. I was skeptical at first, but given that you can complete it in under two minutes anywhere and that it’s completely free, there are absolutely zero risks of trying it.

Created by the author

Remind yourself that your emotions are not reality

I came to this paradoxical realization when I started experimenting with cold showers (which I wrote about here) and doing multi-day fasts. I was always hungrier and colder in the initial part than I was at the end. This does not logically make sense. I can’t have had more food or heat at the end than at the beginning but I certainly felt that way.

Still not convinced?

You’ve probably experienced that distortion effect too. Have you ever been exhausted on a Friday afternoon but had your coworkers drag you out to the bar? You meet a cute guy/girl at the bar and hit it off. You’re so excited you forgot to eat dinner. Four hours of dancing and intense flirting later, you’re wide awake and full of energy. Clearly, you didn’t suddenly gain all that energy by not eating and dancing.

The conclusion? Our emotions — particularly strong ones — are bad indicators of reality. Reminding yourself of this fact will make it easier not to react.

Watch yourself

Created by the author

You will quickly realize how annoying, inane, and utterly irrational your internal dialogue can be. If this were a real person, you would have asked them to leave in less than 10 minutes.

Often when I am experiencing intense emotions, this internal dialogue goes from being an annoying adult to an irrational toddler. It just cannot reason with it. Instead of trying to reason with it or soothe it, I try to picture my inner self as a toddler having a massive tantrum. I simply let it cry itself out. More importantly, I don’t judge myself. It is not good or bad that I’m having a tantrum — it just is. Importantly, just as the toddler will always tire eventually, the emotion will always leave you in the end.

“The key is to be quiet. It’s not that your mind has to be quiet. You be quiet. You, the one inside watching the neurotic mind, just relax — Michael Singer”

Why should I?

I’m not suggesting that you suppress your emotions or ignore them when they arise. A wise friend of mine often says, “Where there is a strong emotion, there is information.” Anger, anxiety, sadness all have a place in our lives. They serve as a signal to say, “Hey! Pay attention!”

The pause allows you to pay attention to what that emotion is telling you. Maybe it’s telling you to resolve an old trauma or to care less what other people think. Once you have the information, let it go. Its served it’s purpose and there is no additional value to holding on to the emotion.

So, try it today. Just pause. Simple, right?

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response, lies our growth and our freedom — Viktor E. Frankl (Holocaust survivor)

May Pang

Written by

May Pang

Experiments in living intentionally and connecting deeply. Come play along with my experiments. I want to hear from you — Facebook — MojoMint

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