"I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them." Oscar Wilde
There are indeed effective ways to control your emotions!
According to James J. Gross, a psychologist and professor at Stanford University and best known for his research in emotion and emotion regulation, the inability to control, or regulate, your emotions is at the root of some psychological disorders including depression, social anxiety and borderline personality.
While these disorders may be at the more extreme end of the spectrum, no matter how psychologically healthy we think we are, most of us can benefit from learning how to better manage our emotions in everyday life.
Gross came up with a 4-stage model he calls the "modal model" whereby he describes the sequence of events that occur when our emotions are evoked. It begins with a specific situation for which we then assess and determine the meaning, followed by an emotional response resulting from the way we’ve assessed our experience.
Certainly, like anything else, one of the keys to controlling, or regulating, our emotions is to be prepared in advance. By being prepared, you can nip the problematic emotion in the bud before it gets in the way of living life fully.
1. Situation Selection - involves taking actions to put yourself in a situation where you know which emotions you are likely to experience, or not experience, depending on what you want.
For example: If you know you always get agitated and overwhelmed when shopping at a crowded mall, then shop when it's less busy and you are able take all the time you need to make good purchase choices.
By selecting the situation and preparing yourself appropriately, you have control over the emotional response.
2. Situation modification - takes place during the course of what could be a potentially stressful situation and you take it upon yourself to modify the external physical environment.
If, for instance, you know you get nervous when you have the boss over for dinner, instead of trying to prepare the meal yourself and risk 'flopping' by being nervous, you have it catered. Instead of worrying how he/she will enjoy the evening, set a relaxing mood with candles, a warm fire and soft music. This way you ensure a welcome ambiance and any nervousness will be kept at bay.
Again, you are controlling the situation and, in turn, your emotions.
3. Attentional Deployment - Unlike the first two situations for which you change the environment, attentional deployment involves directing one's attention towards, or away from, an emotional situation. It is an internal version of situation selection whereby you change your focus, or choose how to think about the circumstance.
By changing your thinking, you change your response.
As an example, if you were about to audition for a play which was also auditioning many accomplished actors leaving you to feel intimidated, one way to divert your attention from your perceived inadequacy would be to focus on your accomplishments. You could concentrate on your natural talent, capability, willingness to work hard and therefore have less time to worry about anything else.
By changing your focus and attention, you are controlling your emotional response.
4. Cognitive Change - involves changing how you assess the situation so as to alter its emotional meaning.
Sometimes no matter what other strategies you may have employed, you must alter the meaning of a situation by entirely reappraising it. In other words, you must reframe, or think of it differently.
If, as an illustration, your significant other forgot your birthday and you were hurt and disappointed believing they no longer cared, you could employ a cognitive change or reappraisal of the situation. Perhaps he/she lost track of the date, had more pressing issues to deal with, or were otherwise distracted.
By changing your thoughts in this case, you would not change the situation, however, you would change the way it affects you.
5. Response modulation - involves attempting to directly influence physiological, experiential or behavioral responses.
As an example, exercise, meditation, or counting to 10 when you're angry or upset can be used to decrease the physiological and experiential aspects of negative emotions. Although response modulation is best effective when it is used in combination with one of the other strategies, it is never the less useful.
In that regard, Gross suggests that solely using a physiological response could lead to suppressing emotions which, in turn, may present other unwanted issues. Even so, regular physical activity has been shown to reduce emotional distress and improve overall emotional control.
As you can see, Gross' 4-stage model is one that you can, with practice, apply to most troublesome emotional situations. Being able to modify your thought processes, assessments and reactions will lead to better control of your overall emotions.