Eight steps to manage your emotions

Eight steps to manage your emotions

Our emotions impact who we are, our relationships, our well-being, and our highly valued happiness. Managing emotions does not mean covering or ignoring them, nor does it mean repressing them, this would be -in the long run or in the short run- truly harmful to our overall health. And absolutely contrary to what neuroscience and psychology show us.

Managing emotions is not living like a robot that acts according to a decalogue. Whether it is one of perfection, routine, mandate or guided by the need to be recognized, loved or belong or whatever.

Managing emotions is to be more and more free, happier, more powerful. It is that we are emotional beings by nature and in evolution we learned to think. Thought and emotion are interrelated.

To manage our emotions we first need to recognize them and thus understand ourselves, understand what happens to us in order to choose and act with each one of them. It works in the same way that when we see a friend, we recognize him and call him by his name. Emotions must be named, otherwise we are likely to get confused. This is the first step of others that I share with you:

1. Recognize them: We said that it is to put the right name to what you are feeling. Human beings share a repertoire of emotions! Some of which are universal, come in our endowment, and have a particular and shared way across cultures of expressing themselves on the face, as Paul Eckman discovered in his longstanding research. I refer to the facial expression of the primary emotions, which are disgust, fear, joy, fright and surprise. If you’ve already seen “Inside Out” or “Lie to Me”, both are influenced by and received direct input from Eckman and his team.

All emotions, both primary and evolved, are activated with a greater or lesser intensity depending on the experiences lived. I want you to keep in mind that these experiences can be real or imagined. Our brains do not decode reality or fantasy.

Our emotions are neither good nor bad, they just are. The key is what we do with them, how we act on them and what we think. Each of our emotions comes to us to help us, guide us and teach us. They are messengers from within to our consciousness. By recognizing them and not acting on them impulsively, we can benefit both ourselves and our environment. Thus, we will increase our self-knowledge, self-management and well-being, we will achieve better interrelationships with others and with ourselves.

2. Place them in your body. Each and every one of the emotions we feel in the body. By paying attention, we can identify exactly where. It can be anywhere on the body. Surely you have heard many times people who say they feel the “nerves in the belly”. This makes sense since the digestive system houses a large number of neurons to the point of being called the second brain. Going back to emotions, the truth is that each emotion generates great activation at a physical, neurochemical and even genetic level, each cell in our body receives messages that activate associated responses, for better or for worse.

Once you know where anger, joy, rage, wonder and so on are activated in you, you will learn about the various signals that your body generates so that you are aware of what is happening to you.

Each emotion activates a series of sensations that will happen in the same sequence, just like a circuit and coming to form a pattern.

3. Know your own pattern of activation and response of each emotion. That personal and exclusive pattern in you, with its associated sensations, contains its own intensity, frequency and residence time.

By understanding our body’s signals, we can use them for the valuable treasures they are. I recommend that you “register” them in your consciousness and if you are interested in writing, even better. In some of the stages of activation of the emotion, it could happen that your amygdala hijacks you. The amygdala is part of the limbic system whose main function is to process emotions as well as register them.

What is amygdala hijack? Our brain has a wonderful design and many functions. One of them is to detect emotions and pass them through the sieve of reason, but in some cases in which the emotion is sudden, too intense or connected with previous experiences that alert us to dangers -real or imagined-, the information that the stimulus, is activated from our emotional part without reaching the rational brain. In this way, an impulsive response is generated, generally disproportionate and often irresponsible with oneself and with the environment. As the filter of reason arrives late, we act only to realize what we did afterward. We ask ourselves: “what did I do? What did I say?”, even reaching the point of not recognizing ourselves in that performance, it seems alien, it doesn’t fit who we are.

Knowing your emotional activation will be like drawing a data graph, which will allow you to own your emotion and choose how to react and what to do.

4. Program the desired response, it will serve to design exactly how you want to respond both internally and externally to what you are feeling. This also allows you to put in yourself what is your own and in the other what is of the other. It is to have clearer limits.

In order to choose and program the desired response, we need to answer some questions that will give us powerful answers: Given the experiences lived and the activation of each emotion, what do you want to think, feel and how do you choose to act? As you progress in the process of recognizing each of your emotions, you will compose a road map, which will be a guide to establish new emotional habits. As you know, habits are established by voluntary repetition until a moment comes when they are part of your own repertoire and you don’t need to be thinking from moment to moment, they come out automatically. Therefore, you will transform yourself, according to your choices.

5. Relate the bodily sensation of activation to the desired response. Once you have your road map at the level of thought, emotion, and action, you will be able to link the desired response to a thought. For example: imagine a person who gets angry and yells, which brings enormous complications and displeasure. She discovers his activation pattern, and thus realizes that the first thing that happens to him is that his breathing is shortened, then he feels a current that runs through his neck and finally he feels that the air flows less. After reaching third sensation, he explodes and screams. What does he want? Do not yell and respond more assertively. So in your reprogramming, when you feel your breath getting shorter, you activate several questions at the thought level: what is bothering me? what is the other transmitting to me? what do i want to achieve? If he succeeds, his own management has already succeeded and if his second signal is activated, he will leave. It will leave in a real or imaginary way since we well know that not every time we can withdraw from a place.

6. Activate the desired behavior that you programmed (in point 3) so that when the first bodily signal that accounts for the emotion to be managed appears, you put the desired response into action. As in the mentioned example.

7. Reflect on the impact that the new behavior generates on you on a personal level and in your environment. Once you are clear about the pre- and post-consequences of your emotion management, compare them. This step will be a positive reinforcer that will stimulate you to keep moving forward. It’s like when you’re on a diet and your pants are getting looser, just when you see your favorite dessert and say to yourself, it’s worth following the diet, I’m having the results I expect.

8. I learned from what you did and achieved and… I moved on. It is a development path for life, which has a robust particularity and that is that in each small step we take, we have a great return that is linked to what we choose and value.

Thoughts, emotions and actions are interrelated to such an extent that by activating any of the levels, changes are generated in the rest. What do I mean? Imagine that you decide to activate a simple behavior like smiling at yourself in the mirror every morning and smiling at the people you meet during the day. After a week, you realize that the simple fact of smiling predisposed you to a positive emotionality and your thoughts are also along those lines.

Another alternative could be your decision to pay attention to every negative thought you have and immediately change it to a positive one, which will put you in a healthier place emotionally and your actions will be as well.

You could decide to generate feelings of well-being, as happens when you listen to music that inspires you and remember a situation of great happiness or read something that motivates you. All levels are important and the good news is that you can start with any or all of them at once. This depends only on yourself. With your decision, little by little you will establish healthy emotional habits that will contribute to your happiness and also that of your environment.

I invite you to put into practice the strategy that I shared with you and to register: start one by one, and emotion after emotion, you will empower yourself. Establish your starting point and your daily progress for a week. After seven days, read your notes and observe what happened, what were your learnings and their returns internally and externally.

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