5 signs you’re exceptionally good at managing your emotions, according to psychology

by Wendy Kaur | February 7, 2024, 3:32 pm

As a human species and civilization, we have certainly evolved in a myriad of ways from the caveman times. 

We don’t have to wander into the wilderness and kill for our food, for example. Our means of shelter is no longer a deep, dark cave. We can travel to the corners of the earth by airplanes. We can be connected to the rest of the world through technology that is always at our fingertips. 

But our emotional evolution hasn’t been able to keep up with all of these vast changes, says Daniel Goldman, author of Emotional Intelligence

“While our emotions have been wise guides in the evolutionary long run, the new realities civilization presents have arisen with such rapidity that the slow march of evolution cannot keep up,” he says. 

The emotion of fear may have served a caveman well if he sensed that a lion was nearby in the jungle, for instance. It alerted him to danger and he could carefully back away to safety somehow without drawing attention to himself. 

But that same fear isn’t going to help someone if they have a panic attack while they’re driving on a busy highway.

So how do we manage powerful emotions when they threaten to overwhelm us?

Here are five strategies according to psychology. 

1) You’ve taken the time to identify your triggers

An emotional trigger is anything—this can be memories, experiences, or events—that spark an intense emotional reaction, regardless of our current mood, says Jennifer Litner, PhD

In everyday life, some amount of distress or pain is normal, adds the mental health team at Ridgeview Hospital

“Everyone feels fear, sadness, anger, and other negative emotions. But for most people, these emotions have logical and proportionate causes. When these feelings seem to come from nowhere or be stronger than their cause warrants, it may be due to an emotional trigger.”

Public speaking even notable people such as Catherine (Kate), the Princess of Wales, has mentioned how public speaking terrifies her but it’s something that she has learned (or is continuing to learn) to overcome. 

I remember being afraid of doing speeches on stage at school, or of auditioning and playing a part in a play (even though I loved performing). Even making a presentation in class would make my heart race. 

What mitigated a lot of my nerves was to identify my triggers beforehand and to be well-prepared. I knew that if I was prepared, I could avoid emotions like embarrassment and even shame of not doing well. I made sure to memorize my lines, or prepare for that presentation without procrastinating and putting it off. 

As someone who interviews high-profile people for a living—something that can be kind of nerve-wracking at times—I feel the all-too-familiar free creep up on me the evening before I have a sit-down with someone. 

But then I remember the mantra from my Girl Guide days: Always be prepared. 

I’ve learnt that while the first five minutes are nerve-wracking and I was feeling a wave of fear and anxiety, because I was prepared, I can actually relax and even enjoy the experience. 

I psych myself up by telling myself that I don’t care if I appear awkward or stumble over my words a little, the point is I’m doing it and I’m proud of myself for that. That gives me confidence and I find that my words carry well without faltering. 

Knowing what your emotional triggers are—and how to deal with them—is a key component of good emotional health, says Litner. 

2) You don’t beat yourself up over past choices 

We have all done things we aren’t proud of. After all, to err is but human. 

It’s natural for human to make mistakes, but sometimes those mistakes can haunt us for years, cause overwhelming guilt, shame, and self-blame, says Joyce Marter, LCPC from Choosing Therapy

“The worst part is that despite your best efforts to move on, your mind replays the incident repeatedly, leaving you feeling trapped and helpless.”

Marter says that although learning from our mistakes and striving to be better versions of ourselves is essential, we should pay attention to signs that we are too self-critical. 

“Specific indications include focusing more on limitations, faults, and weaknesses than strengths and accomplishments.”

This is why it is vital to practice self-compassion. This means treating ourselves with the same kindness and understanding that we would give to a dear friend. 

“It’s important to learn how to love ourselves [talking to a trusted therapist can profoundly help us with this] and practice self-acceptance,” Marter explains. 

Remember, without your mistakes you wouldn’t have evolved as a person. 

The truth is you are not your past choices. It’s what you do now with your life—and keep doing—that counts. 

3) You are able to apologize when you’re in the wrong 

People who are good at managing their emotions are self-aware to know when they owe someone an apology. 

They have no problem acknowledging an offense, said the late psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Lazare, who was an apology expert at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

“[They] take responsibility…whether it was a physical or psychological harm, and confirm that their behavior was not acceptable.”

They avoid using vague or evasive language, or wording an apology that minimizes the offense or questions whether the victim was actually hurt. 

They also explain what happened. “[They] explain how the offense occurred without excusing it.”

They also express remorse. “If you regret the error or feel ashamed, say so: this is all part of expressing sincere remorse.”

Finally, they offer to make amends. “When the offense has hurt someone’s feelings, acknowledge the pain and promise to try to be more sensitive in the future.”

4) You don’t get offended easily 

Being the type of person who is easily offended creates a lot of unnecessary stress, conflict, and drama in life, says April Eldemire from Couples Thrive.

It’s human to feel offended at times. It could be something someone did (or didn’t) do or say. It could even be in response to what we assume the other person meant by their words, tone of voice, or actions.

When other people treat you poorly, of course you have the right to express your feelings, set some boundaries, and distance yourself if you feel that’s necessary, says Eldemire. 

“But when you’re constantly irked, irritated, offended, or upset by others [this can include entities such as political groups, etc.], that’s a strong indication that you might benefit from changing your mindset, rather than demanding other people change—or even apologize for that matter,” she says. 

People who manage their emotions well know that the “issue” a co-worker snapped at them about is really more about them, than anything they did. 

They take a split-second notice of it and simply decide to move on from it. 

If it continues to happen, they let the person know it’s not okay for them to do that, and they sit them down to ask what is really going on. 

Then they figure it out and go on from there. 

5) You know that change is but inevitable 

It’s normal to feel anxious about the uncertainties of life: losing your job, a scary health diagnosis, parents who are aging and need your support. 

You wonder how you will cope, and if you’ll be able to manage the unpredictability of it all, and come out the other side.

We can all get caught in a spiral of worrying about the future and we think could happen. But this anxiety usually dissipates quickly. 

When it doesn’t; in other words, it becomes a cycle of anxiety, then it can affect our well-being, says the NHS mental health team

A person who is able to handle their emotions well will perhaps put time aside to examine their current situation and reflect on how they really feel about it.  They might talk it through with someone they trust. 

They’ll be compassionate with themselves and practice regular self-care such as going for a morning walk every day and sticking to the same bedtime to ensure sufficient rest. 

They’ll make it a point to de-stress and unwind; they’ll also exercise, have hobbies, and speak to friends and supportive family members. The point is they have a number of constants in place so that they are taking care of themselves—especially during times of turbulence. 

They will also focus on their short-term needs, says the NHS staff. 

“The further we look into the future, the easier it is to get overwhelmed by long-term uncertainty. Instead…[they] try to focus on the day-to-day, and think about what is in their power to do right now.”

When they focus on what’s in front of them, they help their mood improve and seemingly difficult things begin to get easier. 

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