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5 Ways to Let Your Emotions Rule Your Behavior

By Sheryl Kraft

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I've been around long enough to know that no matter how calm, careful and wise we may think we are, it's just about impossible to get through life without letting emotions lead us astray.

But oftentimes things like anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, shame, guilt and jealousy can be hazardous to your health, causing you to do things you wouldn't normally do—like eat or drink too much or sleep or relax too little. I'm sure you all know what I mean: maybe your spouse/partner/child/boss/friend/window washer/waiter/in-law/fill-in-the-blank did something to drive you bonkers. Those emotions gnaw at you like that pesky fly that keeps on dodging the swatter.

And then it happens.

Self-destruction sets in. I don't mean the intentional slash-your-wrists kind of self-destruction, but instead, behavior that veers from your best intentions. Whether that be cutting yourself a huge slab of chocolate cake (or having seconds), cheating yourself of sleep or drinking yourself into near-oblivion, it's all bad—and it all will make you feel bad the next day.

Not convinced you really want to tell your emotions to cease and desist? OK, then, here's how they can be front and center and play havoc with your health:

  1. Keep obsessing. Can't stop thinking about that seven-layer chocolate cake or that extra few glasses of wine? Then don't. Thinking about it will make you want it even more and make it even tougher to resist. The more you think about it, the more you'll convince yourself that you deserve it. There's nothing like a little obsession to fuel the fire of desire.
  2. Don't distract yourself. Don't engage in anything relaxing, like knitting, talking a walk or calling a good friend, even though studies find that these go a long way toward curbing unwanted behaviors and keeping emotions in check. Why risk distraction when instead you can let your emotions wash over you and carry you away?
  3. Don't keep a journal. Being accountable for your actions will only result in you being able to control them. Knowing what you are feeling and what it's causing you to do will only make you face up to your imperfections, help you plan ahead and deal with temptations. Just because someone once said, "I write, therefore I am," doesn't mean you have to buy into it.
  4. Shun regular exercise. There's no reason to break a sweat when you've already worked up a sweat with your emotions. Regular exercise can help regulate your mood, make you feel good about yourself, help you strengthen your resolve and control your cravings. Why would you want to do that when you can instead exercise your right to your emotions?
  5. Go to sleep angry. So what if it's true that getting enough sleep is good for reducing your cortisol (stress) levels? Then why in the world would you want to go to sleep feeling all nice and relaxed? Going to sleep angry will keep those levels high enough to make you irritable, depressed and unable to deal with even small problems.


Other suggested reading:
20 Small Ways to Get Healthier and Happier in 2012
How to Keep Your Cool During a Hot Emotional Time

Comments

Thanks for this reminder of how important it is to know how our emotions can overtake us if we're not objective about them!

You're so welcome. Those emotions sure are sneaky, and if we don't grab hold of them, they really can destroy us.

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Great tips. It can difficult to stop and take a look at why you're making the choices you are making, but it is helpful to do so.

I especially like "don't go to sleep angry" especially when I know that lower cortisol levels make it easier to lose weight.

I like that you took the opposite tack instead of the usual positive statements. It made the message more powerful. It's so easy to let your emotions take over your eating or not exercising.

Okay, I'll not sleep, not keep a journal,not distract myself---oh wait--You're being IRONIC!

Meditation has taught me to observe my thoughts as opposed to investing my emotions in those thoughts. It can be difficult to learn to meditate as we are not used to simply being still with our thoughts - in fact, we keep busy as a distraction. The problem is the thoughts continue - meditation allows for control of emotions. The thoughts will continue to occur as that is the function of our brains however, over time, meditation will calm reactions to them.

Great photo!!

Isn't it funny, Joan? I love it when I can find something that is so good at "explaining" the way I am thinking about things!

I needed these reminders today. It is dreary and rainy and I had a dream last night that made me very homesick today. Like Kris, I do meditation, which I'm getting ready to do. I also journal, but didn't do that this morning. Thanks for reminding me!

I can vouch for knitting as a huge relief. Sometimes I'm so worried about things that I cannot concentrate enough to read, but even in the hospital (in the ER or ICU) with a family member, I can always knit. Not well ... but I can knit.

I find that with age, when I'm tired, which happens more often, I am more apt to lose my temper, usually with my spouse. I try to recognize when I snap at him, think about why, and go to bed earlier ...

I find that, too. I especially recognize it in other people. When they get cranky, and I ask them if they're tired, they'll usually say something like, "come to think of it, yes, I am!" Tired does not make for a clear head...

Thankfully, I'm VERY good at distracting myself when I'm obsessing about something (or on deadline). The house is never cleaner when I've got a problem I'm trying to work through!

I'd say that's a win-win: you get a clean house AND a chance to clear your head, hopefully!

In the heat of emotions, it is so easy to forget to breathe and step back!

I think at times I've been guilty of doing all those no-nos at once--eating the chocolate cake after skipping exercise and staying up late... These are good reminders.

I recently realized that most of the major life decisions I've made have been based on emotions. And I don't know if that's necessarily a good thing. But I continue to ponder it.

That's interesting, Jane. I don't know if it's good or bad...I guess it depends on how it's working for you, or whether or not the emotions decisions came out of were negative oor positive ones.

One thing I have recently come to understand is this: that feelings are not reality. This was a huge thing for me to really "get." I am someone who is in touch with her feelings, only it is important to use feelings appropriately, for example, one way to give us a clue about how we are thinking.

I've found that regularly practicing mindfulness meditation can be very beneficial for keeping emotions in balance. am

If I have learned one very important lesson in life recently, it is to focus on what has been bothering you because you will find, like I did that you will begin falling apart, become out of control, cry non stop because you did not face what was bothering you. Mediation is fine, distraction is fine for some but I believe in all my heart that facing your fears is what you have to do.

This is a timely one: Methinks it's a cruel biological twist that teenagers -- with their surging hormomes -- wind up in the same house as perimenopausal or menopausal women -- whose hormones are also often out of wack -- and emotions, shall we say, can run wild on both sides, hopefully not at exactly the same time.

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