A clinical psychologist explains the 60-second approach to managing your emotions

Emotions are a big part of our lives — our emotions largely dictate our thoughts, intentions and most importantly our actions.

Emotions influence our attitudes and judgments, which in turn, influence the decisions we make, and for every emotion, there’s normally an emotional trigger — we take chances when we are excited by new opportunities, we make sacrifices because we love.

Research suggests that positive emotions, such as happiness, comfort, contentedness, and pleasure, help us make decisions, allow us to consider a larger set of options, and decide quicker.

Intense emotions can easily overwhelm our rational minds and have a powerful impact on our behavior.

Negative emotions, like rage, envy or bitterness, tend to spiral out of control, especially immediately after they’ve been triggered.

When we act on our emotions too quickly or act on the wrong kinds of emotions, we often make decisions that we later regret.

Gaining control over your emotions will help you rely on your rational brain more frequently to make informed decisions and better judgments.

Many researchers define controlling emotions as the ability to enhance or reduce your emotions as needed — the ability to know what you’re feeling and what to do about it in any environment.

“Emotion regulation means practicing something known as impulse control,” says Kris Lee, Ed.D., a professor at Northeastern University, behavioral science expert and author of Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking: Learn What it Takes to be More Agile, Mindful and Connected in Today’s World.

“When something happens, our brain’s automatic response is to be reactive. When our amygdala, the small part of our brain that regulates fight or flight is set off, we have to avoid taking the bait of our raw emotional reactions that make us want to overreact,” Kris says.

“When we buy time, we then have access to the frontal lobes of our brains, where we have access to reasoning, better problem solving and perspective. We never have to take the bait of primitive emotions,” she explains.

Intense emotions can easily overwhelm our senses and have a powerful impact on our behavior. Fortunately, you can do something about your emotions when they are too strong and constantly lead to overreaction or choices you regret later.


Wait 60 seconds before doing anything

Dr. Amelia Aldao, Ph.D., therapist, and Founder of Together CBT, a clinic specializing in group therapy for anxiety, OCD, stress, and depression in New York City recommends we wait 60 seconds before doing anything to gain better control of our emotions. Amelia has spent over a decade studying how people can better regulate their emotions.

“That’s it; simple as that: Just wait. Hit the pause button. Don’t do anything,” she writes. “In particular, don’t follow what the emotion is telling you to do: Don’t send that angry text, don’t decline the invitation to present at work, don’t tell your potential date you’re too busy this week, don’t send that passive-aggressive email to your boss. Just don’t, ” she explains.

Pausing before reacting is probably one of the hardest things for most people. In many situations, our emotions get the best of us — we easily give in to how we are feeling, act on that feeling and regret a few minutes later.

To overcome that strong feeling without quickly action out, Amelia says we should try to stay with the emotion and not act on it right away.

“If this is hard to do — which tends to be the case for most people — try setting up a timer. Seriously. When you feel the rush of emotion, take out your phone or watch and start a 60-second countdown. Then notice your body and, later, your thoughts. And everything else about your experience.”

We all suffer from emotional overreactions. At our worst, we typically experience stress, anxiety, self-doubt, impatience, irritability, and defensiveness. We tend to lose focus when we can’t regulate our emotions and things can quickly get out of hand — emotions usually spill over and, by the time they recede, the damage is already done.

The 60-second approach is one of the best ways to regain control and be mindful of our reactions to any emotionally charged situation.

“By the end of these 60 seconds, more often than not, the intensity of the emotion and its hook over your behavior will have subsided. It might not be gone completely, but it will likely become less central to your experience. The reason is simple: Emotions always come on quickly and immediately begin to decay,” writes Dr. Amelia.

Managing your emotions takes time and practice. But the more time and attention you spend on regulating your emotions, the mentally stronger you’ll become.

To avoid the burn of acting out during an emotional upsurge, always take a moment to calm down and quiet your uneasy mind before you do something you may regret later. In the end, you’ll be grateful you were able to be the master of your emotions.

This article originally appeared on Medium.