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Regulating Emotions: How a Simple Pause Changed My Life

anger emotional regulation mindfulness pause Jun 01, 2024
Find that Pause
Regulating Emotions: How a Simple Pause Changed My Life

I remember clearly when I first learned how to sit with my strong emotions. I had gotten really, really angry with someone in my family (truthfully, it was my husband!), and I desperately wanted to yell at him. However, I knew from experience that this wouldn’t make me feel better; it would make me feel worse. Recognizing this was a big win—I knew to PAUSE.

I knew how to do this because I had been practicing mindfulness, which I believe is essential for learning how to regulate oneself, especially in difficult and stressful situations. As Viktor Frankl said so many years ago:

“Between stimulus and response lies a space. In that space lie our freedom and power to choose a response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”

In that pause, especially when you are mad, lies the freedom to choose how to use that anger. You can either let it out impulsively, possibly saying or doing something you’ll later regret, or you can take a moment to pause, feel the emotion, and respond more thoughtfully.

With a pause, it’s a CHOICE.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but in my view, it is essential to lead a calm and contented life.

In that moment of anger, many years ago now, I took myself off to the kitchen to pause. I remember clutching my kitchen counter for dear life, allowing myself to feel the anger in my body—feeling the need to scream from my throat, the heat in my face, and the tension in my hands. I let the deep throbbing in my chest be felt.

Oh, it was uncomfortable.

Oh, how much I didn’t want to do it.

But after a minute or so (research shows us that it takes only 90 seconds for an emotion to pass through us, did you know?), I noticed that I felt calmer and less angry. After that time, I knew I could talk to my husband about what had upset me in a more regulated and useful manner. And you know what? It worked. That was the start of me learning to feel far freer in my life and far more empowered in my emotional life.

I have been sharing this story with my students this month as I teach about emotional intelligence for Mental Health Awareness Month. Many of my students have been surprised that learning to feel their emotions is the first step in being more regulated in stressful situations.

It’s no wonder it’s surprising, as many of us grow up learning to suppress our feelings or simply not knowing the tools to understand how we feel. As Marc Brackett, the founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, says, only 40% of adults had someone in their childhood who taught them how to recognize their feelings and to allow them to feel them.

For everyone else, like me, who is learning these tools later in life, know that it’s never too late. You can find better ways to regulate your emotions and learn to live a happier and more regulated life, one emotion at a time. If you want to start today, try listening to the meditation above, or feel free to join us in the membership.


I’m hoping together we can create a world where more people know how to PAUSE.