written by
Gabriella Rayna

Emotions Controlled: Science-Based Steps and Strategies

6 min read

Emotions are essential in our daily lives. It could be useful to prepare our fight or flight response and anticipate things in dangerous situations (1, 2). It could be used to facilitate our adaptation to other events that have important consequences for well-being: grief for recovery; joy and pride for motivational enhancement (3). By the way, it does not stop there. From recent researches, emotions are really vital because it influences many aspects: attention, decision-making, memory, physiology response, and even our social relationship (4).

Unfortunately, emotions are often seen as something negative. Even in some movies, it is depicted as something potentially interfere with humans’ works and daily life plan. Why is it?

Giving an example, the Hulk. He turns into Hulk only when he gets mad. In this case, Hulk's superpower gives benefit, but he sometimes destruct things that’s he's not supposed to.

It's the same within our daily lives. Negative emotions such as anger or fear could be good for adaptation tools if it is expressed in a right context; from its intensity, duration, and frequencies (5). When our emotions are not controlled (especially the negative ones), it could easily shift our thoughts and perception of external world reversely and shift our decisions.

Controlling emotions and its benefits

Imagine if our emotions burst out inappropriately. How many things could be ruined? It is better to control our emotions or as the experts say, “Emotion Regulation”. It refers to our efforts to influence emotions in ways we think will increase the chance that they are helpful rather than harmful. When it comes to regulating our emotions, what comes to mind first is to control the negative or unwanted emotions (6). It is the goal of controlling emotions for many people. It benefits us by lowering the risks of having heart diseases and lowering risks for experiencing depression.

Photographer: Huyen Nguyen | Source: Unspla

There are many forms of controlling our emotions. It depends on the person and the intensity, frequency, or duration of the emotions. Focusing one’s breathing, punching a pillow, texting a friend, going for a run, having a drink, taking a nap, reading a book, quitting one’s job, biting one’s lip, or thinking about a situation differently. You can choose which one suits you best (7). However, some of them are better than others when it comes to certain contexts.

The big question is how to control our unwanted emotions? Here are 3 steps to help you successfully control your emotions.

Three big steps to successfully control emotions

1. Identifying what’s going on inside and outside you, also what’s going to happen next (7).

Photographer: Nathan Dumlao | Source: Unsplash

This is the first step. How do you control something if you do not know what you want to control? To control emotions, we have to know what emotion we want to control. We also have to know how we usually express it, what are the consequences for ourselves and others, physically and psychologically.

Identifying current emotions need time, willingness, and patience. Some of them might feel this an easy thing to do. Don’t worry if you are not used to reflecting on your emotions and think it's hard. You can start with naming your emotions, "what am I feeling right now when my heart beating faster (or other physiological cues appear)?"

If you already know what you’re feeling, you do not need to re-ask or re-check if it is right. It’s okay, take this easy. You can just go to identify “If I feel angry (or other unwanted/negative emotions), what would I do?” also remember to ask “What would I get from doing that?” or if you are the socially-driven-type of person you could also ask: “How the others would react?”

It sounds like too long to be done to when you’re in tight situations. But the more you practice, the faster and the deeper you understand your emotions. Note for identifying is please be honest with self. In this early stage, do not try to judge and do not try to alter, even deny it. Note that emotions are subjective experience, so after all, there is nothing wrong with experiencing certain emotions in a certain context and one could be different from others.

2. Choose a Goal (8)

A Sunset on a Swiss lake
Photographer: Dave Ruck | Source: Unsplash

Goal is the defining feature of emotion regulation. Once the goal is being decided, it could influence how the emotions expressed. Goals are useful to direct our behavior so it is more clear and more purposeful. Once the goal of controlling emotion is decided, it could influence how the emotions are expressed.

The goal could be intrinsic and extrinsic. The intrinsic goal is to make ourselves more relieved and comfortable, and the extrinsic goal is to get accepted by the socials normatively. For example, if I am nervous a minute before a presentation and I try to take deeper and longer breath in order to make myself could focus and think clearly, it is intrinsic. If at the same situation I try to smile and stand straight in front of an audience in order to convince them I’ll do good, it is extrinsic.

3. Choose a Strategy to Achieve the Goal

Scientifically and theoretically there are two big strategies: suppression and reappraisal.

· Suppression

Suppression is the one that beginning with inhibiting the expressed emotion-related behavior while actually still aroused emotionally (9). Suppression is similar to when you feel scared of dark-narrow yet you still walk through it so you’ll be praised as a brave person with your heart beats so fast and sweating much. Or it could be when you’re angry with your best friend and really want to yell at him yet you are watching movies at the cinema which just makes you biting your lips or making a fist to forcefully silent yourself.

By common sense, yes, suppression could successfully take us to a degree in which the unwanted emotions do not burst out in the wrong context in a brief time. Take a minute to ask yourself for having suppressed your emotions. Do you really find it comfortable? And when this strategy would be effective for you?

· Reappraisal

Reappraisal refers to efforts involving think about the emotional situation and reframing it. We try to think about a situation in a way that alters the emotional response (10). To apply this reappraisal strategy, you can also take a step back and ask yourself (place yourself in someone’s shoes) with same issue “What would I suggest when my friend faces thing like this?”.


Those are the steps and strategies to control your unwanted emotions which could alter the way you see the world. It could make your day brighter by being more free from negative vibes, feeling more relax and calmer. Note that for the strategies, it is up to you to choose but some researchers do claim that reappraisal is better (11). However, it depends on how intense the emotion is. So, experiment with it.

Don't worry if these steps doesn’t work for the first time you try. Everything needs process, practice, and discipline in order to succeed. It is the same for controlling emotions. Good luck!