11 Apr Can You Control Your Emotions?
Imagine yourself standing behind a curtain and on the other side of that curtain are thousands of individuals who are there to hear you speak. In 30 seconds, the curtain will draw and you will be standing alone in front of all of these people. How do you feel?
Imagine you’re on the way to the hospital to see a relative who had to have an emergency medical procedure. You’re stuck in rush hour traffic and your cell phone is dead so you can’t contact your family or the hospital to see how things are going. How do you feel?
Imagine you’re about to complete your final college exam and be the first in your family to graduate from college – with a 4.0 GPA. How do you feel?
Each of these situations may evoke a range of different emotions, depending on who is experiencing them. A presentation in front of thousands may excite some, while horrifying others. The traffic jam may make some feel anxiety, while others feel anger. Feelings about the same situation can change over time. The soon-to-be college graduate may feel relieved at first, then excited, then nervous, and later maybe even a little sad.
If emotions are subjective, meaning they are unique to the person experiencing them, and circumstantial, does that mean we have the ability to control our emotions? Or do our emotions control us?
Emotion and Mood
When answering the question of whether you can or can’t control emotion, it’s important to differentiate between emotion and mood. Emotions are generally short-term feelings based on experiences, such as excitement, joy, anger, panic, or fear. A mood is a longer-term state of being, such as happiness, sadness, or contentment.
Mood can impact emotion. If you’re in a bad mood, something that normally makes you feel happy may have less of an impact on your emotions at that time.
Emotion and Physiology
While the subjective feeling is hard to measure scientifically, one component of emotion that we can measure is the physiological response. According to HumanIllnesses.com, “A pounding heart, sweating, blood rushing to the face, or the release of adrenaline in response to a situation that creates intense emotion can all be measured with scientific accuracy. People have very similar internal responses to the same emotion. For example, regardless of age, race, or gender, when people are under stress, their bodies release adrenaline; this hormone helps prepare the body to either run away or fight, which is called the “fight or flight” reaction.”
While physiological responses to emotion serve a valuable purpose in some situations, such as making us aware of how to respond in dangerous or time-sensitive situations, they can also hold us back. If you’re about to give a speech in front of thousands of people, you probably don’t want to be beet red and sweaty. Unfortunately, those things happen to the best of us, simply because that’s how our body knows how to respond to specific feelings.
To prevent physiological responses to emotion, we have to know how to prevent feeling the emotion in the first place.
So, Can You Control Your Emotions?
While we may not be able to control an initial feeling any more than we can control a physical impulse, in both situations we can control how we respond. The more control we have over our reactions, the more control we have over our lives.
This doesn’t mean you should suppress feelings or desires. It’s more about learning how to express them in healthy ways. For example, instead of punching someone when you’re angry you can practice calmly verbally expressing your frustration. This takes more practice for some people than others. But ultimately I do believe it’s possible for every person to get to a point where they can control their emotional reactions in almost any situation.
What do you think: Can emotion be controlled or do our emotions control us? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.