What You Can Do When Your Emotions Are Taking Over

What You Can Do When Your Emotions Are Taking Over
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

When you notice that your emotions are taking over, stop and take a deep breath. We’ve all experienced that feeling in the middle of an argument or when anxiety takes control. Those emotional kidnappings are devastating. However, we always have tools at our disposal to help us remain in control.

It’s possible that we know this type of situation all too well. Some people are more vulnerable to emotional overloads. Others, on the other hand, rely on their strong self-control. They manage their self-control by managing each of these “emotional threats”. However, neither of these two strategies usually produce the best results.

“The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain.”

-Daniel Goleman-

Overwhelming emotions

The imprint of these complex emotional universes will remain there, on the surface, robbing us of our peace and balance. Therefore, we always see patients who put the blame on their shortcomings come to consultations. They say things like “The problem is my terrible anxiety”, “I don’t know what to do about my anger”, or “I have problems with my emotions. I don’t know what to do to live a normal life”.

These types of statements show us once again that there’s a bias in our society regarding these issues. We keep thinking that emotions are bad, that there’s no point to feeling anguish. We think that life without the shadow of fear would be a life of greater meaning. However, we tend to forget that these emotions always have a clear purpose for our survival and adaptation.

Knowing, accepting, and managing our emotions a lot better will help you avoid those recurrent emotional floods.

An overload of emotions.

Look at the horizon when emotions take over

If emotions begin to overflow at any given moment, look at the horizon and stay there for a moment. Let the world go through its motions, let any discussion take its course. Allow all those scary stimuli to become frozen in time, trapped in a harmless dimension. Put your gaze on that imaginary peace line. Do this to grant your mind and body a few seconds to regulate your breathing, heartbeat, and whatever tension you’re experiencing.

The best thing to do when chaos is raining down on your life is to remain calm. When we as humans experience emotional floods, panic takes over our brain. This makes sense, as it’s the most instinctive part of our brain. In these moments, everything is chaotic, messy, and intense. In these situations, the prefrontal cortex, where our analytical capacity is orchestrated along with decision-making and logical reasoning, becomes “disconnected”. Let’s take a look at how this complex process works.

The amygdala and the direct journey to fear and anger

When emotions begin to take over, you can go from peace to panic, anger, or fear in just five seconds. How can that be? What mechanism inside of us is capable of taking control so fast? We’ve all asked ourselves this question at some point in our lives. The answer is just as fascinating as it is disturbing: the amygdala is responsible for all of this.

A study carried out at Emory University in Atlanta and published in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry revealed that the amygdala modulates all our fear, stress, or aggression-related behavior. For example, the study showed that this small structure is the one responsible for collecting information from our environment related to threats around us. The amygdala also makes us react with a very specific purpose: to survive.

A man crying.

Unregulated emotions that overflow

People who develop emotional disorders are characterized, in essence, by something very specific: they can’t or don’t manage to regulate their emotions properly. This situation creates more anguish for them over time. They begin to feel helpless and that everything around them is beyond their control. Therefore, we must be clear: the emotions that we don’t regulate today will overwhelm us tomorrow. If this situation becomes chronic, conditions such as generalized anxiety and depression may emerge.

We should also consider that, in these situations, it’s useless to suppress emotions or block thoughts. The classic idea of “I’m just not going to think about it” doesn’t help us at all. In fact, it can generate more blockages and problems in both the short and long term.

What to do when emotions take over

What strategy should we employ when emotions take over? In psychological contexts, we often use the phrase “emotional control”. Instead of “control”, it would be more accurate for us to use the term “regulation” due to the flexibility and dynamism that this word allows us.

When emotions take over, take several deep breaths. Little by little, you’ll regain control over your body and mind.

Somehow, control is the main player here. Think about strength and dominance. In this case and in the emotional sphere, we should leave resistance behind. We need to opt for acceptance, management, flexibility, transformation, and movement.

Let’s take a look at what strategies we should apply in these situations:

  • A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology noted that emotional regulation isn’t one size fits all. This means that there isn’t a single strategy that works for every situation and circumstance. The anxiety of facing a test, a discussion, or having to accept a breakup or a loss will make us begin to implement coping strategies.
  • On the other hand, emotions are always there for a purpose and we must ask ourselves what they want from us. What’s their purpose? Therefore, raising our gaze to the horizon is always a useful strategy against the state of alarm. This will allow us to enter our mental palace and find ourselves. Once there, we should ask ourselves what’s happening and why it’s happening.
  • We have to point out another relevant factor. The cerebral amygdala is the sentinel that in most cases decides to mobilize fear or anger before we consciously think about it. It acts by instinct rather than logic. When it does, it takes control of our body and triggers all the symptoms that we’re so familiar with such as tachycardia, dizziness, and sweating.
A person taking deep breaths.

Deep breaths

When emotions take over, it doesn’t help to tell ourselves “Calm down, nothing’s going to happen”. Because, in reality, something is happening in our brain. Therefore, in these moments, it’s most appropriate to calm our body down with deep breaths. Breathing deeply and exhaling slowly will help us regulate our heartbeat and relieve muscle tension. When the body is balanced, we can then deal with our thoughts and take a closer look at how and why we’re feeling that way.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.