A Simple Trick to Control Your Emotions
Have you ever said or done something you regretted because you were emotionally triggered? Haven’t we all? When something upsets us, making us angry or scared, our brain detects it as a threat. When we feel threatened, the part of our brain that controls our emotions, the amygdala, takes over. When the amygdala is activated, the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain in charge of executive functioning, like decision making, is inhibited. That’s why we react without thinking when we are emotionally triggered.
The good news is that there is an amazingly simple, yet effective technique for controlling your emotional reactions. It’s called “affect labeling”. All you have to do is name or label the emotion you are experiencing. Saying “I’m angry” or “I’m scared” is a cognitive process, so it activates your prefrontal cortex. This puts your thinking brain back in charge, so you can choose a better response.
Research using fMRI machines to measure brain activity shows this. When people are asked to label an emotion this reduces amygdala activity, while increasing activation of the prefrontal cortex. Researchers also found that this effect is stronger for people who practice mindfulness meditation. Meditation appears to lower amygdala activation and being mindful helps you to notice and name your emotions.
The next time someone at work makes you mad or one of your children does something that scares you, try to name what you are feeling before doing anything else. It takes just a second to say it or think it and that will immediately reduce your emotional arousal and put your thinking brain back in the driver’s seat. Let me know how it goes!
And for a fun way to learn more about your emotions check out the movie “Inside Out”!