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Having strong emotions does not have to be scary. Emotions often tell us that we need to take care of ourselves, so denying or suppressing them harms rather than helps us. This series explores six common emotions – often seen as difficult or troublesome – utilizing different techniques to work through them. Please remember that meditation is not a replacement for professional help. If you have any mental health questions or concerns, please consult a qualified mental health expert for guidance.
You have just finished a project successfully. You feel proud, happy, and excited to share this news with your partner. But when you go home, your partner, busy with his work, barely acknowledges your presence. Like a splash of cold water, all your early euphoria gets replaced with anger, sadness, and a plethora of other emotions towards your partner. Your mind falls into a self-deprecating loop of unending negative thoughts, which plummets you from the high of success to the low of failure within a few minutes. Do you often face similar situations where you feel losing control of emotions? Do you understand the fickle nature of emotions? How they dictate your moods and actions every second? If the emotions are not understood and expressed positively and it will take you on a merry ride of broken relationships, low self-esteem, social distancing, and a deep end of the depression. Learn to control your emotions or they will control you by pulling you into their complicated web. Do you want to take action mindfully than reactively? Can emotions be controlled? As you gain more knowledge on the mysterious working of emotions, you will learn different ways to control emotions. This will helps in improving the quality of your personal and work life.
Emotions are strong feelings, which are aroused as a response to the internal and external stimulations and bring changes to our physiology, feelings, and actions.
Emotions add colour, texture, and life to the otherwise dull existence. If we take out emotions, we strip away the purpose and drive to survive and succeed in life. We would exist as a lifeless machine, unmoved by pain or pleasures of life.
Emotions have evolved as a signalling system, which helps us detect threats and enemies, security, and friends in our surroundings. They motivate us to take actions that will help us to achieve things in life.
Whatever emotion we feel, it triggers some changes in mind and body. Understanding these changes will help you recognize the type of emotions. Physiology - Some of the physiological changes observed are an increase in our heartbeat, tense muscles, shortness of breath, sweating body, etc. They prepare the body to respond with actions such as fight, freeze, submission, etc. Attention - The negative emotions narrow your attention to the threat. Whereas positive emotions open and expand your attention. Motivation - Emotions motivate us to take actions, which are useful to lead a successful life. Thinking - Our thoughts trigger emotions, other way round emotions trigger thoughts, which defines the experience. It becomes a cycle of one feeding the other. Feelings - Expressions such as excitement, wonder, joy arouse positive feelings. Expressions such as anger, anxiety, disgust arouse negative feelings. Expressions - We express the emotions verbally, through words, and nonverbally through body postures. For example, when we are scared, we barely produce any sound, lower our gaze, we change our body posture to look as small as possible.
Some of the common emotions are joy, calm, sorrow, anger, anxiety, shame, disgust, etc. It will be easier to understand if we study emotions based on their functional purpose. Paul Gilbert, a clinical psychologist, has come up with a ‘three system model,’ after years of research on the evolution and neurophysiological basis of our motives and emotions. The threat system - These emotions detect any threats and take actions to protect ourselves from them. Emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, grief fall into this system. The drive system - The functions of these emotions are pursuing, acquiring, and consuming resources, which are useful for survival and reproduction. Emotions such as joy, excitement, awe, wonder, pride fall into this category. The soothing system - The functions of these emotions are calming, soothing, resting, which helps in caring and developing attachments with others. Emotions such as calm, safe, care, peaceful fall into this category.
Emotions which inspires negative feelings and have unfavourable effects on our life are called difficult emotions. They weigh us down with grief and sadness without allowing us to move on in life. They make us feel inferior and inadequate, stopping us from trying out new experiences in life. These emotions appear when we come across threats in our life. The common negative emotions are fear, shame, disgust, anxiety, panic, grief, etc.
Every emotion has evolved to do certain functions. They are neither bad nor good. Difficult emotions are useful because they work as signals to tell, something is stopping us from achieving things in life. It will keep on blaring until we take actions that will have some positive effects on us. They will turn bad only when you become deaf to their screams.
To create ways to control emotions it is important to know the origin, journey, and end of every emotion. Below are some of the points which will help us to gain that information. Triggers - What arouses the emotion? The trigger can be internal such as thoughts about our career or external, such as meeting a person from our past. Frequency & Duration - How frequently, the emotion is triggered? Is it a lifelong companion or a distant relative who visits us once in a while? Intensity - In some cases intensity of emotion can plunge us into a mood and make our stay there for a long time. In other cases, it will make us act impulsively and lash out at others. Expression and action - Do we show the emotions we experience to others? or Just put a lid on it and ignore it? Effect - Sometimes, emotions pass without affecting us. Other times it will bring us to our knees. Regulate - Some people will have control over emotions, guiding and using them to achieve their goals. Others feel like they are controlled and rampaged by emotions.
Our brain has two sections called the old brain and the new brain, each known for different abilities. The old brain is responsible for survival abilities such as motives, emotions, and behaviours. The new brain is responsible for human abilities such as imagination, planning, worrying, and self-awareness. Every time our new brain imagines a threat, the emotions will be triggered by old brain as if there is a real threat in front of us. It creates a feedback loop that makes controlling emotions even more difficult. It is always hard to manage genetically coded animal instincts with human abilities.
Now that we know what, why, and how emotions affect us. We are better prepared to learn how to control emotions. Controlling emotions is the ability to be aware, manage and modify our emotional response to achieve goals.
There are different models and techniques available to learn to control your emotions. You must understand and follow the below-mentioned steps, which will aid in finally achieving your goal. 1. Awareness of emotions You have to learn to be aware of yourself and your surroundings, so you can feel the emotions as and when they arise. Many emotions overlap and arouse the same kind of reactions, which makes identifying them very difficult. The awareness will help you to create your method to sort out and recognize exact emotions. 2. Observe Emotions Once you become aware of the emotions, the next step is to learn their journey. Observe and note down the triggers, frequency, intensity, and effect of the emotions. They will help you to identify the factors affecting emotions and how emotions respond to them. 3. Recognise and label the emotions You have to learn to recognize the emotions before you try to master them. Being aware will help you to notice the changes brought by emotions in your body. Note down how emotions affect your physiology, feelings, expressions, thoughts, attention, and actions. Recognize the emotion and label it. Labelling helps you to become familiar with emotion and which makes it easier to handle it. 4. Understand and Accept emotions Whenever you try to understand someone, you have to listen to them without any expectations or judgments. The same attitude applies when we are dealing with emotions. In this step, be aware, observe and understand emotions without expecting to control or master them. Let them freely flow. Observe how they interact within and with the outside surrounding, appreciate their complexity and accept them for what they are. This step will help you to develop a healthy relationship between you and your emotions. 5. Take action Once you go through the above steps, you will get a better picture of your difficult emotions. This knowledge helps you in taking a few simple actions to control your emotions. Develop your own mechanisms to control emotions in any situations. Learn how to handle anger in critical situations by practising the diversion of mind from anger arousing thoughts to something pleasant. It will break the feedback loop between thoughts and reactions, allowing you to calm your mind. Learn how to deal with anxiety by practising meditation regularly. Develop the wisdom that only you will choose who will have power over you, nobody else. Come up with some handy tricks to relieve the nervous energy created by anxiety. Learn how to build self-confidence by identifying the triggers which will lead to low-self esteem. One of the most important steps is to spend some time with yourself and learn to love who you are. Do not let your mind to control you and end up feeling a failure.
Compassion is a sensitivity to the sufferings of self and others. It compels you to try to reduce or prevent their suffering. The compassionate mind will help you to develop a few core attributes such as caring, sympathizing, empathizing, distress tolerance, and a non-judgemental attitude. It triggers a new pathway for emotion control in brain. It makes you look at difficult emotions, not as some bad guys who are there to destroy your life, but more like troubled kids trying to find the right path in life. You will learn to control emotions like a compassionate friend than a tyrannical ruler.
Mindfulness is an innate part of every living being. If wild animals are not aware of their surroundings and where they are going, they won’t be alive to see the new day. The technological comforts in modern society have significantly reduced the threats from outside. But threats are raised in their frequency and intensity in the form of difficult emotions inside your mind. Practising mindfulness will help you to improve your awareness of your surroundings and increases your attention to detail. In your daily mindfulness meditation, you can spend some time observing fleeting thoughts and the play of emotions aroused by them.
Realize that emotions are built for you, not by you. You didn’t choose to have these emotions and feel the way you do. So there is no point in blaming yourself. The experiences you go through in life have an impact on the emotions you feel. You don’t have control over most of the experiences you go through in life. So stop criticizing yourself over it. Emotions are controlled by your overactive imaginations and non-stop thinking. Hence practise meditation to gain control over the mind. One of the best tips to control emotions is to divert your mind from the situation or problem for a few minutes until raging emotions settle down. Living mindfully is the magical solution to tackle any problem in life.
Life is full of ups and downs. We rarely have any control over its course. But one thing we can control and manage is our negative emotions. Learn to control emotions and build beautiful relationships with people around you. If you treat negative emotions as your well-wisher, they will help you to become a stronger person.
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