When it comes to an intense rush of emotional energy such as anger, anxiety, hurt,… we could all do with some quick and easy down time so that we are freed to think more clearly and not react harshly or impulsively, potentially doing damage to ourselves or others or the relationships we share with them. We need what I call a reset.
There are several ways to reset and some people may wish or need to use a combination of the techniques I’m about to list. But first learn about those emotional power surges to know why these techniques may be needed in your life.
The Bible explains rather clearly that emotions by themselves are not to be completely trusted or relied upon. To do or choose anything based solely on emotion may very well turn out to be a really bad call. In Jeremiah 17.9, we see that emotions can deceive us. They are God-given to guide and even protect us, but never are they to become the authority to which we bow. We can easily become so caught up in emotion that we believe some things that are there in perception only. Proverbs 3.5-6 is probably the most famous of all the “emotional” passages in Scripture. We should not lean (i.e., rely upon) our own understanding. In other words, we can’t depend solely upon what we think we know or feel in our humanness.
In Genesis 45.1, Joseph almost loses it in front of his cohorts, proving that keeping one’s composure can sometimes take a great deal of emotional energy. It’s exhausting (believe me) and if we are self-disciplined, self-control is of paramount importance. Self-control is at least in part about not reacting to life from pure emotion.
A personal example: Many people believe that I am a quiet person by nature, which would be a false assumption. There is something going on within me at every moment of every day. It would be a mistake to confuse loud for strength and silence for weakness in anyone. But if I’m quiet, it means I’m exercising self-control. I probably don’t think you’re ready to hear what I’m really thinking and I don’t want to deal with the aftermath of saying it out loud. From experience, that tends to blow up in my face. My silence is usually in our mutual interests and it’s definitely for the other person’s safety.
“We could all do with some quick and easy down time so that we are freed to think more clearly and not react harshly or impulsively, …”
What about Job? Job 15.12 — Job’s “friend,” Eliphaz, believed Job had allowed the emotion of anger (to a level of rage, in fact) to lead him down a rather dark path when it comes to his relationship with God. Self-control seems to be missing.
In Proverbs 29.11, self-control is associated with wisdom, but the writer says that fools allow their anger to have full expression. Why? Because that is reckless and can cause damage to individuals and relationships. See my personal example above again.
The apostle Paul declares in Philippians 3.19 that those who become led by their own desires (appetites) have their “stomach” as their god. That’s idolatry! Philosophical tenets, such as from Buddhism and stoicism, would agree that emotions can be dangerous and that self-control is an important part of truly living in peace with one’s self and others.
There is also a process of change to consider here. These techniques I am about to reveal are not rocket science but will make a difference each time you utilize them. But to get a long-term change, you must practice them consistently so that they become a habit. The idea is to literally infuse so much of God’s light into your life that whatever darkness is present will be overpowered and eliminated, cast as far as the east is from the west. Any lasting change will begin with changing the mind; how you think about something.
Here is just a partial list of techniques to use for your reset. I’ve used all of these or combinations of them at one time or another. They have all worked for me:
- “Seven-second delay” — Learn to be aware of what you are thinking and feeling at any given moment. I’ll explain more about a Christian version of mindfulness and meditation in other blogs. Learn to feel the strong emotional bursts “coming on” — you know, like when you feel a belch coming and you’ve got to do something about it because you are in the middle of a crowd and don’t want to be rude (not that I’ve experienced that part or anything). As you feel the emotion welling up, stop whatever you are doing, even if it looks or feels weird. Do nothing. Say nothing.
Close your eyes if you have to, though as it becomes a habit you won’t have to do that before long. Breathing deeply, silently count to seven slowly (one, one thousand; two, one thousand; three, one thousand,…). As you count, think of what you are experiencing and what the right action would be. At “seven,” breathe out slowly and for as long as you can. Breathe normally. Now make your choice.
- Relax. If you are able, sit down somewhere. I find that if possible, outside is best. The natural world helps me to regroup. Become aware of your surroundings through your physical senses.
- Go eco. If possible, take your shoes off and stand in the grass or even dirt if that’s possible at that moment. This is a huge reset for me and works almost instantly. Some people call this grounding; some call it “earthing.” I don’t necessarily agree with why some people say it works, but for me it just works. I don’t have to know how a watch works to be able to tell time with one.
- Set some boundaries and be willing to say ‘no.’ You may not be in any condition to do much until you can conquer these feelings and get a handle on them. It’s okay to say no once in awhile.
- Eat better. Especially if your emotional bursts tend to last for long periods of time, avoid caffeine, sugars, and fats as best you can. These have a tendency to mess with your digestion, your heart rhythms, and your hormones.
- Take a walk. A little exercise can make a big difference in an emotional response or your ability to think clearly. It helps build within you the support you need for self-control. You don’t need to walk hard or far necessarily. I try to walk until the surge has “drained out of my shoes onto the path I’m walking.”
- Play. If supportive people are helpful to you, find one of them to just be in your presence, hold you, or pray with them. For me, people are sometimes the stressors and the best thing I can do is get away from people (partially why I’m outside with my shoes off and my feet in the dirt). But I find the animal members of my family (my dog, Dakota and my cat, Cheeto) can bring great comfort when I can pet them or play with them for awhile.
- Put it on a shelf. This one is part isometric exercise as well. I visualize my issue as a huge box of cargo that is kind of heavy but needs to be put on a shelf, so God can deal with it instead of me. I bend over like I’m going to touch my toes, lift the pretend box using all of my muscles to strain like it is almost more than I can lift. I hoist it over my head and then I push it up onto pretend shelves, the highest shelf, in fact, using my tip toes to finally get it up there and out of my way. Sounds crazier than it really is.
- Transform the emotion to water. Imagine your emotions becoming like water. They cannot go through you because you are a rock. Let them pass over and around you like a flowing current. Be aware that they exist, but don’t allow them to bother you because they are just water and they quickly flow away from you into oblivion.
- Take it to God. I saved this one for last; not because it is the least important, but because it is the most important. Prayer is divine asking. God wants to help you with your now as well as your yesterdays and tomorrows. Yes, He already knows how you feel and what you think and believe in your heart, but he wants to hear it from you, like a parent who already knows what his child wants for Christmas, but wants to hear the request come from the child’s mouth.
In addition to this is Scripture — either reading or reciting. Philippians 4.8-9 is what I call an effective “thought stopper.” Remember? The path to change is first to change your thinking. Read or recite this passage slowly and by the time you are done, you will have a better grip on your self-control and you may even have forgotten what your emotional surge was about to begin with.
These are just 10 of my favorites. Use them for those moments or seasons of life that are particularly difficult; those times that stress you out or times that you feel your self-control mechanism is on the fritz. Need some help? Contact me through my website, thepowerofbecoming.com, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m here to help.