Sometimes we can find ourselves in situations where we have such a strong reaction to something the emotions seem to come out of left field. Finding yourself in a state of panic or fear or anger can be difficult in a workplace environment, where we want to remain calm and act in a professional manner.
The first thing to know is that there is a logical explanation for strong emotional reactions. The centre in our brain – called the amygdala – registers strong emotions and then stimulates the body’s flight or fight reactions. Basically, our whole body goes on high alert mode. Once the amygdala is aroused, it is very hard to override it simply by thinking.
The best strategies for handling intense negative emotions are:
- Use deep breathing or relaxation or meditation strategies to physically calm down. You may want to go somewhere else to do this – take a time out.
- Once you are feeling calmer, think of something that gives you a positive emotion – for example joy, satisfaction, happiness, contentment. Experiencing positive emotions has been shown to help us to recover physically and emotionally from intense negative emotions.
- After you are feeling calmer and more hopeful, then have a go at shifting your thinking about the challenge that triggered the strong emotion in the first place.
This strategy for handling intense negative emotions will be easier if you practise it, including in situations that are less difficult. This makes the strategy more familiar to you at times of strong emotions that seem to come out of the blue.
Being able to think of positive emotions on the spot can be tricky too. It can help to have some reminders prepared – for example, photos that remind you of good times stored in your phone, or a notebook with positive feedback about yourself.