7 Strategies for Controlling Negative Emotions

It is much healthier to redirect your anger into a poem, or smash the face out of a punching bag than blow up at the person who caused your eruption.
— J A Santosa
Are you the emotional type? Don't worry - we are all in this together.

Are you the emotional type? Don't worry - we are all in this together.

NB: Before you read this post, I overlap a few concepts in 5 Tips on Handling Rejection Well, in case you wanted to read that one first to flesh out context!

Length: 15 minute read.

Happy New Year!

So, I write this article for one primary reason:

I am utterly and completely the emotional type, and I loathe it.

I'm often praised for my ability to inject energy and enthusiasm into a lifeless atmosphere. Beautiful. That's great.

However, when I am experiencing inner turmoil, I wish I was more like my friend Matt, who can coast through life making steady, rational decisions with little affecting his cool, even in the face of aggravating personalities.

Or my big sister, who will face a terribly stressful situation and will go into superwoman-problem-solver mode. Oh - and she’s fantastic at life admin and everything else practical too.

Or my single Mum friend Shelley, who had every essay in our Bachelor’s course finished 1 week before the deadline, while she was in court dealing with her douchebag ex-husband and trying to give her two children under 7 (at the time) a normal-enough life. (They were super well-adjusted kids too.)

So you get it. But, far out.

(I’m jealous of all you logical, emotionally-even-keeled people.)

Coping with stress and strong emotions, baby.

Coping with stress and strong emotions, baby.

Growing older, my natural tendency to crumble and curl into the foetal position has significantly improved. Praise the Lord. I’d say it was part doing a Social Work degree and entering that line of work, part doing serious Counselling, and part being the personality type (ENFP) whom wears her heart on her sleeve for just about EVERYTHING.

I couldn’t go on blowing up in anger or boiling into a hot mess of tears anymore when confronted by little challenges. It just became too much.

What clicked was when I realised it was interrupting my ability to function as a normal person. It was affecting my growth as an adult.

That said – for us ‘tortured artistes’, here are a few tips I picked up over the years to harness my emotions into energy I can control and use to my advantage.

Let us know in the comments section what other strategies you employ, and whether we can add to this inventory of emotion-harnessing wisdom.

 

7 Strategies for Controlling Negative Emotions

 

1. Permit yourself to feel every one of them.

Think of the colour spectrum - as the gradient travels from white to mauve to fuchsia to deep sea blue and eventually, black - such is the spectrum of your emotions

It is healthy to feel everything, and negative emotions such as sadness, anger, grief etc are completely normal[1]. Our thoughts are the psychological portion, whereas our feelings are the biological part. Regardless of whether they are positive (happiness, joy, laughter) or negative (sadness, anger, grief) emotions, our brain responds to our thoughts in hormones and chemicals, inducing a state of arousal.

Keep calm

 

This purely internal process is complex. It is empowering to learn that we are able to control where these emotions go. 

In sum: School yourself on your emotional map, mechanics and patterns, so when the not-so-nice emotions rap at your door, you will accept them. Also, they won't stick around for longer than they're meant to, because you'll know when it's time for them to exit the building.

 

2. Turn Every Emotion Into Art.

If you’re a creative, you’ll have probably noticed by now that your emotions are the rudder of your Creative Ship. 

I survived my teenage years by writing poetry about everything. Catharsis is often the first introduction to creativity for Artists. More on this in another post.

It is echelons healthier to redirect your anger into a poem, or smash the face out of a punching bag than blow up at the person who caused your eruption. 

Beauty from ashes. Artist credit: Riccardo Mortandello

Beauty from ashes. Artist credit: Riccardo Mortandello

My best poetry was written feeling. Yes - there was strategy and technique and years of learning how to construct impactful sentences, but without the Emotions as your conductor, the orchestra of your fingers cannot create a piece that will move hearts. 

It sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? It’s just that I had so many of these emotions, that transforming them into pieces of poetry helped neutralise the intensity, and reflect back the chaos running amok in my mind.

Consider them like drops of rainwater in a bucket. They pitter patter or bucket down violently in volumes, but eventually the rain will calm, and you will have 100mL or so of water to play with. Where will you pour your catchings? Where will you direct the flow? 

So paint on a canvas, write a song, mix a track, arrange a bouquet, rearrange your sock drawer, bash up some code (or whatever the verb for writing code is) and relish in the beauty of what your emotions have created.


3. Speak Life Into Yourself.

This is thinking positive truths out loud.

Practically speaking: Rationalise the emotions by holding them against the objective truth of the situation. Then encourage and comfort yourself as you would your best friend, who is approaching you for advice. 

Talk to yourself. You'll get expert advice.

Talk to yourself. You'll get expert advice.

Say you're feeling upset about making a huge mistake - if this were your friend, what would you say to them? The dialogue might occur like this:

 

Your friend: "I stuffed up big time. Everyone's going to hate me."

You: "Is everyone's hatred warranted for making big mistakes? I don't know if anyone is immune to big stuff ups. Just be honest and apologise to [insert hurt-person's name here]. I'm sure they will forgive you, at least eventually."

 

I recommend talking to a trusted friend or Counsellor about this. A professional should be able to help you draw out the situation, your thought patterns, and how to remedy the situation within your sphere of control. I'm an external processor (meaning I think out loud, and need someone to soundboard off).

 

Watch Well Cast does a great teaching video on how to govern your thoughts, fortifying your Observing Mind. I use this as material in my mentoring sessions which has yielded amazing fruit.

 

4. Commit Power-Phrases to Memory

My favourites are: 

  • Focus only on what you can control. Give the rest to God.
  • Keep calm. Make lists. Trust Jesus!
  • Great things take time to build. Consistency is key.
  • Forgive yourself. Let it go. For as far as the east is from the west, God has also.

I know, it seems ridiculous and ‘self-help cheesy’.

As a Performance Poet, I’m all about this life. Memorisation is key for every piece we do. This is why I believe in reading positive literature, because it enters the real estate of our mind, influencing all our thoughts, words and gradually - our actions. 

So when you are facing an ordeal, and are ready for an emotional breakdown (which you are welcome to), these phrases will fly in the face of any unreasonable thoughts, and thus put things into perspective.

 

5. Quarantine yourself. 

Sometimes, a little solitude is what's needed to clear our heads.

Sometimes, a little solitude is what's needed to clear our heads.

Let the negative emotions spend you for a brief window season. In my other post, 5 Tips on Handling Rejection Well:

Go to your room and cry. Go to a green field with nobody on it, and cry. Go to the beach and climb to the peak of the rock cliff and cry. Bring your journal, pen and write out everything you are feeling, and let your tear drops stain the ink of your words while you write furiously and cry.
Talk to a friend whom you trust and cry to them. Write poetry about it, harness all that gritty, messy emotion into your creativity and turn it into art. And cry some more.

In other words, don’t let anger or fury control you. Rather, feel it, scream in private, cry in your pillow, talk to a third party friend or counsellor about your situation.

The adrenaline rush you are experiencing is called turbulence - like when you’re about to land on the tarmac from a descending aeroplane.

So ride the wave, let it take you. But when you come down again, walk slowly back on the asphalt and put the negative emotions behind you.

 

6. Utilise helpful distractions.

Do little things that are good for others and/or yourself. You will be spreading positive energy out into the world, and refocusing your mind.

This will yank your head out of spiralling rumination and provide the perspective your mind desperately needs.

Nawww.

Nawww.

I know this might be the last thing you're thinking about, but for the amount of times I took this route, I was so glad that I did.

Distract yourself with the following suggestions:

  • Send an encouraging text to a friend about their life.
  • Cook a surprise meal for your Mum.
  • Clean your bedroom.
  • Take your dog for a walk.
  • Do a 7km run along the beach (or just do the Bay Run).
  • Go to the gym and splurge on a Personal Training session (it's better than splurging on junk food, trust me.)
  • Go to your local cafe and give a genuine, heartfelt compliment to the Barista for his/her amazing coffee-making skills. 
  • Do laundry.

Anything that involves moving around, not focusing on your woes, and a touch of productivity will surely increase endorphins.

 

7. Re-write the next chapter of your life.

Vision cast. Journal about what change will physically look like. In painstaking detail. Be unnecessarily specific. This is for you, and not for anyone else to read.

You can't change the past, but you can change the future. Sometimes a period of reflection is necessary to ensure we don't repeat those same mistakes again. 

So you made a mistake, or that person hurt you - so what? You have the power to control what is going to happen next.

Once upon a time I would move too fast when it came to romance. After what felt like the 10th time getting burned, I said to myself: "I will never trust smooth-talking males ever again."

The rest is still unwritten, says the sage songwriter Natasha Bedingfield.

The rest is still unwritten, says the sage songwriter Natasha Bedingfield.

However when this happened for what felt like the 11th time, I realised I couldn't handle even conversing with smooth-talking males, and just flee the situation should one approach me ever again. The heavy pain associated with what happened all those 11 times I felt, was enough to prevent me from playing with fire. 

With men (and I promise I will dedicate a whole separate post to this) - I don't even let them peck me on the cheek until the 3rd to 5th date. The reason I have this rule is so we test out a friendship connection, they prove to me they can restrain themselves, are committed to getting to know who I am in soul before body, and are looking for a serious relationship to explore the possibility of marriage. 

I have too much love and respect for myself to endure more unnecessary pain from men who don't want to commit. (Like I said, more on this later).

Maybe for you it is standing up to people who don't respect you, or eliminating negative self talk. Whatever it is, be honest with yourself about your weaknesses, and make a plan for the changes you will make if the opportunity presents itself again.

IF YOU LIKED THIS ARTICLE, CLICK ON THE LOVE HEART BELOW AND SIGN UP TO THE NEWSLETTER FOR MORE WEEKLY COMFORT BLOG.

Follow me on Instagram for the poetry I write on this stuff too!

Have a tough question you'd like an answer to?

Ask me. I'd love to help.

 

 

[1] "Negative Emotions", Mental Health Foundation Victoria, 2012, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/negative-emotions.

READ MORE OF THE WEEKLY COMFORT BLOG: