How can you be less emotional: recommendations from neuroscience

Sometimes you feel like your day is like an emotional roller coaster. You find yourself annoyed by what other people say and do, and it’s difficult for you to control your responses.

You constantly regret doing or saying things you didn’t mean. You start to isolate yourself. You push people away because you’re afraid to show your emotions. You try to get rid of your emotions, even becoming scared at the thought of showing them too much.

You know these things are not the answer, because you keep feeling like crap.

How can you be more emotionally intelligent?

Even though you can’t change your emotions at will, you can learn how to take a step back when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You can influence your emotional experiences to handle your responses and become more emotionally healthy.

Try these techniques proven by neuroscience[1] and learn how to be less vulnerable to your mood.

1. Take care of your body

Let’s start with the basics. You need to eat healthy, get enough sleep and exercise to keep your body budget in good shape. That is, to have enough resources (like oxygen and glucose) for your body to work right.

Your physical and mental domains are deeply interconnected. So having a balanced body budget is fundamental for you to feel better. This will help your brain to calibrate your stats such as heart rate, blood pressure and hormones according to what your body needs.

Next time you feel crappy, check out if you are taking care of your “body trifecta”: eating, sleeping and exercising.

2. Recategorize your feelings

Your meeting with your boss for a “quick chat” is in one hour, and you’re starting to feel anxious. You feel your palms sweaty, your heart-rate speed up. These are all things you’ve felt before and you know it’s because you feel anxious. What if you could interpret this as being excited instead? Instead of thinking “I’m scared, surely he’ll give me bad news” you can say to yourself “I’m pumped up about this meeting!”. Those two feelings have many similarities anyways.

Recategorization (or reappraisal) is another name used for “emotion regulation”. It’s a hard skill to gain but with practice you can master it.

3. Learn new emotional words

Learning new “emotional words” will increase your level of emotional granularity. That means you will be able to construct more finer-grained emotional experiences.

When you learn more words, you help your brain construct new concepts and make better predictions. This will allow your brain to better regulate your body budget and you’ll end up feeling better.

Where can you find more words?

  • See this Emotions Wheel and look up the definition of words you don’t know.
  • Learn new words from other languages. See this list of untranslatable words for well-being.
  • Read an emotive book or watch a dramatic film. Be alert on those new emotional words and how the characters represent them. What words they use to describe their emotions? Here’s a list of weepy movies if you’re up for a cathartic movie night.

4. Practice meditation

Meditation is a powerful method to alter your brain structure and function and can facilitate your emotional regulation. The networks and connections in charge of the construction of mental concepts (such as emotions) and recategorization are larger in expert meditators (scientists are not sure why this happens though).

I recommend you to learn about mindfulness. It isn’t just about meditation. Mindfulness means paying attention to what you’re feeling in this moment in a non-judgmental, non-reactive and openhearted way[2].

You can try to see emotions as leafs that are passing through a river. That stream of water is you. Take five minutes to see how you feel right now. Focus on each part of your body, your breathing, your heartbeat, your temperature. Be curious about your perceptions. What do you observe?


  1. How Emotions Are Made
  2. Mindfulness for Dummies

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