3 Simple Ways to Control Your Emotions in the Moment

Maybe this has happened to you.

You’re doing something important, like being interviewed for a new job, preparing for a presentation, or even on your way to spend some time with a friend or pick up the kids.

Then something happens. Maybe an interview question throws you off, you receive an upsetting call before your presentation, or some jerk cuts you off in traffic.

And you’re no longer at your best. Maybe now you’re nervous, sad, or angry.

You could suppress those feelings. After all, you’ve got important stuff to accomplish and don’t want those pesky emotions to get in your way. Unfortunately, research continually shows that suppressing negative emotions is bad for you.

You can also work with them, but you don’t have time for that until after! You can also ruminate on them, but that’s probably only going to make it worse.

What do you do right now, in the moment, to get yourself back on track?

Here are three easy things you can start doing right away. 

  1. Name It

When you start feeling the emotion come up, this is a great, quick way to get things back on track. The first step is to observe what you’re feeling, name it, and move on.

It’s very simple and works because of how the different sections of our brain function. When we’re on top of things and thinking clearly, that’s happening in the front of the brain in the prefrontal cortex.

To oversimplify, our prefrontal cortex is kind of on a seesaw with our amygdala, which is our brain’s emotional center. When we’re thinking clearly, the prefrontal cortex is well in control.

But when we start getting really emotional, our amygdala starts taking over and the seesaw goes the other way, and we can’t think as clearly.

Again: notice your emotional state, name the emotion, and move on.

If you’re having difficulty thinking of the name for an emotion, here’s a list to help you.


  1. Make it Normal

What’s making you frustrated or angry or nervous?

If you’re in an interview and feeling nervous, you must be the only person in the entirety of history who’s ever felt that way!

Wait, you’re not? And other people have felt that way, too?

This might seem obvious, but with our own emotions, we rarely frame it like that. Sometimes we think we’re weird, or that no one could feel the way we do right now, but that’s not true.

Whatever you’re feeling for this situation, is normal.

After you name the emotion, take a second to realize that it’s a normal response. It’s nothing world-shattering or life-ruining. People all throughout history have had this emotion, and they’ve somehow kept pressing forward in the face of it.

You can, too.

  1. Laugh at it.

Often if we start feeling something we don’t want to, we may suppress it or ignore it. For example, let’s take public speaking.

You may be incredibly nervous speaking in front of others. I know I was – I was so nervous my legs and arms would shake like crazy!

If I thought, “Stop shaking,” or “Stop being so nervous,” it would just get worse!

So instead of suppressing it, what if you tried to purposefully make it worse?

This is called Paradoxical Intent and comes from Logotherapy, but I learned it from a drama teacher in college.

Instead of trying to stop being nervous and stop shaking, I tried to make myself even more nervous. The effect?


This has worked well with my own nervousness, anxiety, fear, and even anger. Because what happens when you try and will yourself to become even more nervous or fearful?

It becomes funny, even ridiculous, and then it can go away.

What all three of these things do is allow us to accept the emotion without getting caught up in it. This is great, because when you’re feeling a negative emotion, it can spread to others in what’s called “emotional contagion.”

Spreading a negative emotion can ruin that job interview, or put your friends in a bad mood when you meet up with them. So get those emotions under control, and then later when you have more time, you can take the time to work with them.


Mark Reagan helps people overcome their fears and anxieties. If you enjoyed this, check out his blog at BreakMyLimits.com and sign up for your free report, “101 Things Holding You Back From Being Your Best Self.”


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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