It’s a rare person who never gets emotionally flustered. And I’m not sure such a person truly exists. Some people get worked up over the smallest things – the coffee maker didn’t start on time, or your coworker pulled into your favorite parking spot just as you were about to grab it. But there are plenty of big things that can cause even the toughest person to temporarily lose their emotional footing, such as a serious illness, a major financial loss, the death of a loved one, or a friend’s betrayal.
Reacting out of your emotions when you’re worked up is natural. And we each have our favorite ways of doing so: withdrawing into isolation, lashing out in anger, or dissolving into tears or anxiety. Strong emotions affect our decision-making ability, and it’s easy to say or do things out of those emotions that we will later regret. One of the first steps in emotional maturity is understanding yourself well enough to know when you need to slow down long enough for your rational mind to catch up.
When you feel the heat of being emotionally worked up churning in your being, press PAUSE. Here are several mistakes to avoid at those high-temperature times.
- Don’t make big decisions. Making wise decisions that will have long-lasting consequences requires a clear mind. Most of us can’t do that when we’re worked up. Quitting your job or your marriage, throwing away a friendship, selling or buying something expensive, moving to a new church or city, bailing out on a challenging project – none of those decisions can wisely be made out of fear, anger, disappointment, frustration, or any other strong emotion. Wait until your mental temperature cools somewhat, and include your rational mind in the decision-making process.
- Don’t hurt other people. Hurting people hurt people, and it will be hard to completely refrain from doing so if you’re seriously upset. But that’s still no excuse for treating others badly. Angry or damaging words can never be taken back. You may need to make adjustments to who you allow to be in your life, but that’s one of the decisions to make deliberately and not out of strong emotions. Be aware of your tendency to hurt those closest to you, and make every effort to own your own feelings rather than lash out or blame others.
- Don’t hurt yourself. Physically harming yourself through substance abuse, eating poorly, or other destructive behaviors will only make it harder to recover when your emotions lose their steam. Consciously choose healthy ways to cope, such as getting positive input from trustworthy people, spending time in nature or in prayer, getting physical exercise, or other soul-nourishing activities. Pause, breathe, smile. Play some positive music. Take time to rest.
- Don’t ignore your feelings. Use your feelings rather than letting them master you. Become an observer of your emotions, and ask, “What is this feeling trying to tell me?” Most emotions alert you to something that needs attention. You may need to learn how to handle conflict better in your marriage, say NO to commitments that would overwhelm your schedule or budget or mental energy, learn ways to better take care of yourself, or mourn the loss of someone or something significant. Take the time to learn what your feelings want to teach you.
- Don’t retreat from others. You need other people to do life with – not to fix you, but to encourage, support, and join you on this journey. You need people who will listen without judgement, but who will also help hold you accountable. You need those who will be “Jesus with skin on” in your dark times. You need people who will help you see the bigger perspective and think through the consequences of decisions you make. Sometimes this means getting professional help if you’re not coping on your own.
- Don’t forget your blessings. Most strong negative emotions such as anger, fear, betrayal, or grief are focused inward. You will heal more quickly and your mind will clear more effectively as you look outside yourself. Choose to focus on people who care about you, positive aspects of your life, and the blessings God has given you. Even when your feelings tell you otherwise, there is always something positive you can think about: a flower or bird’s song, someone who does care about you, a happy memory, or a moment of peace.
- Don’t choose to stay stuck. No one else can tell you when to get over being worked up, but at some point you will need to do so. You have the choice to nurse your bitterness, fear, or grief, or to do the hard work of moving forward. The bigger the hurt the longer it will take, and that’s OK. The point is that you have a choice about whether you will remain upset, hurt, or angry, or whether you will choose life. And more than anything else, know that God’s grace offers you a tomorrow regardless of what your yesterday may have been.
Strong negative emotions are normal. You and I are human. It’s what we do in response to those emotions that determines their impact on the rest of our lives.
Your Turn: How do you react when you get worked up? Have you run into any negative consequences as a result? Leave a comment below.
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