I get so mad. Are your emotions holding you hostage?
Husband: “Why are you always talking in the middle of a tv show? You know I can’t follow the show when you are talking.”
Wife: “Humph! I was just asking the dog if she wanted out. I wasn’t even talking to you.”
Wife to her friend: “He makes me so mad. Everything must be his way. He can talk to me when I am watching something or on a ZOOM call, but everyone must be perfectly quiet for him.”
How often have you said something like this, or heard someone else say it? “She made me so upset.” “He really hurt my feelings.” We say these things often not even thinking. But was it really the other person who made you mad, upset, or hurt? No. Those feelings come from your response to that emotion. What if you could control your response?
Sure, that sounds ok. But does it really make any difference? And what does it have to do with the way I lead?
You can control how you respond. I will share a bit more about that shortly. And as a leader, you are setting an example. Furthermore, as a leader you want your team to function optimally, and to do that, they also need to be able to be in control of their emotional responses.
Let’s examine more about emotions; where they come from, and why we react the way we do. First, we don’t want to get rid of our emotions. What we want is to be in control of our response. Emotions aren’t good or bad, but they do drive our physiology. Some emotions drain our energy, while others recharge our energy, like your cell phone battery. Some emotions are more intense than others. Regardless of the emotion, they affect our energy, how we perform, how we communicate, and our ability to self-regulate, or be in control.
Without going into a lot of detail I will explain what happens to our bodies when we are experiencing stress. After all, when we are angry, frustrated, or frightened we are experiencing stress. Knowing what is going on physiologically might help you to understand why you want to be in control of your emotional responses.
Within seconds of sensing a threat – real or perceived – fear, anger, or frustration your body is at work releasing adrenaline and noradrenaline to increase your blood pressure and heart rate. This is needed to ensure that you get the required oxygen and blood to where it is needed – the brain, muscles, heart, and lungs. You need this to ensure you are physically strong enough to protect yourself. (Remember, your brain doesn’t know if it is anger or a lion attacking, it merely knows there is stress.) When your heart rate increases you are stressed. There is also less blood going to the skin, digestive system, and kidneys – that is what causes the ‘butterflies’ in your stomach. Noradrenalin also hones your senses making you more alert, causing your facial muscles to become tense, you might clench your teeth, you might get goosebumps, and you are likely to look more aggressive.
Cortisol is also released and converts stored fat into energy to drive your muscles. However, too much cortisol weakens your immune system. Have you ever noticed that after the big project is completed, or the exams are written you get a cold, cold sore, or other infection? I often got ill when I took a vacation – why? – because I had been under stress, knew it was time for a break, but I had waited too long and there was just too much cortisol that had weakened my immune system.
Learning to control our response to emotions will help keep our stress down. It won’t make it go away, but it will help keep it in control and less cortisol will be released.
What are we going to do about this? There are numerous things that we experience daily causing us stress. Some of them we don’t even notice anymore because they happen all the time – your daily drive to work, your rush in the morning to get the kids off to school and you to work, or standing in the grocery store check-out line.
When you react to your stress you are prevented from thinking as clearly as usual, you can’t solve problems as easily, and your production decreases.
Have you ever found yourself saying something along the lines of
“that made me so mad, and when I get mad, I cry, which makes me angrier cause that looks like he had hurt my feelings, rather than I was angry”?
I know I have certainly done that a time or two. I have learned over time to have better control of my emotional responses. Of course, that doesn’t mean I will never do that again. Being in control of my emotional response is the way I expect to respond most of the time.
Have you noticed the use of the words react and respond? They are not the same. In this situation ‘react’ means what happens is spontaneous, without thought. Respond means you have taken a moment – now or at some point in the past, to evaluate how you will behave to the words or activity that stimulated a specific emotion. That time between the action and what you say is where you choose to either react or respond. When you choose to respond, you are in control. When you react, your emotions are in control. Most of us like to be in control of our actions, words, and behaviours.
Learning to respond rather than react isn’t easy. We have probably been reacting all our life. This kind of change takes some work, but with a few simple steps, it can be done.
Gaining Control of Your Emotions
- Acknowledge and name your feeling.
- Focus your attention on your breathing – the chest area or your upper lip where you can feel the cool air going in and the warm air coming out. Picture your breath flowing in and out of your chest area. Breathe a little slower and deeper than usual. Choose a rhythm that is comfortable for you. Do this for 3 – 5 breaths, or more if you feel you need to.
- Identify a positive attitude or regenerative feeling – calm, peace, sitting on a beach enjoying the sun, something you appreciate, petting or playing with your dog, or just relaxing and reading.
- Now ask yourself – what would be a more appropriate, effective, or efficient way for you to respond to the feeling you identified. (What would be a better solution than displaying your reaction?)
- Notice the very subtle change in how you perceive the situation, your feelings, and your attitude. Make a promise to yourself to sustain this feeling and your attitude in this and similar situations.
You have now taken a few minutes to go through this process and in doing so you have not reacted to the emotion. Will this happen the next time an emotion overcomes you? Good chance it won’t. But, as soon as you realize that you reacted and were not in control, go through these steps. Continue to do this practice until it becomes comfortable, and you can do this before you react. You will find that as you do this with each emotion you will be establishing a new pattern for yourself.
What if you don’t identify a better way to respond? Don’t worry about it, just repeat the process later, or the next day until you identify a better response. The more you practice the easier it will be to have the response come naturally.
You can use this technique at times when you feel frustrated, angry, impatient, worried, or scared. Identify your emotional reactions that could benefit from being controlled with a response.
Check out an earlier blog for some more about stress and emotions and the video that accompanies it:
Our world is full of potential stressors. We aren’t going to be able to control all of them. But there are many emotions connected with these stressors that can be tamed. You can avoid some stressors – don’t have the news on constantly or even take a few days to not listen to the news, consider a change in your morning routine, or maybe change the time or place you do your grocery shopping (or maybe get someone else to do it occasionally).
Your health includes managing your response to stress. Give me a shout and we can discuss this in more detail and plan what you can do that is specific to your needs.
Let’s talk: firstname.lastname@example.org
or set up an appointment on my calendar: https://koalendar.com/u/drelaineleadershipcoach