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You and your partner are in an argument about whether you should spend Thanksgiving with your family or hers. How do you react?

A. Get really angry and demand that she spend the holiday with your family.

B. Keep your cool and work out a compromise. Maybe spending Thanksgiving with her family and New Year's with yours.

Manage Your Emotions   

Try the question at the right.

Option B?  You and your partner express how you each feel, talk through the issue, and work out a solution that's acceptable to both of you? Definitely the best choice if you want to stay in the relationship and be happy!   

But in order to do option B you need to be able to manage your emotions and channel that energy into working out a good solution.

How do you do that, especially if your anger or fear or desire sometimes seem to overwhelm you when you're in a difficult situation?

In the heat of the moment, try: Stop, Drop & Process

You can develop a set of skills to help you better manage your emotions when the going gets rough. We call it the Stop, Drop and Process technique or SDP for short. 

The next time you're feeling strong emotions and you feel "hijacked" by those emotions, no longer cool and collected try SDP.  It's especially important if you are concerned you might act in ways you'll later regret, or if you're not sure the best way to act in the situation. 

With repeated practice, SDP can become a healthy habit for dealing with emotionally challenging situations. 

STOP - Stop and think before you act!

Woman holding stop sign

If you're in a situation where your emotions are building to a point where you may have trouble maintaining control - stop!

  • Sometimes when we're feeling a strong emotion we act automatically (for example lashing out and insulting our partner when we feel hurt by him), without truly thinking about the consequences or the best way to approach the situation. 
  • Learn how to identify the signs that you may be getting to this place.
    • Make note of the physical feelings and thoughts that are associated with this emotional place for you. It may be the tension in your jaw when you start to get really angry. Or maybe you notice yourself feeling like you want to break up with your partner when you feel confused about her feelings for you.
    • That way, next time you notice these signs, it can be a cue to start thinking more consciously about these feelings and your response, and start working through the next steps so you can effectively manage them. 

DROP - Reduce the intensity of your emotions.

Dial with different emotions

When we're feeling extremely strong emotions, it becomes very difficult for us to think clearly and rationally. Our bodies are in a "fight or flight" mode at that point (fight our way through the situation or run away), and neither of these options are very good in most relationship situations. Before you can begin to think through the situation rationally you're going to need to calm down. There are a lot of ways that we can do this:

  • Go outside - being outdoors decreases anxiety and increases mental clarity and focus.
  • Spend time with a pet - just petting Fido or Fluffy can significantly reduce the stress you're feeling.
  • Engage in a repetitive action like knitting, painting, or walking - any repetitive action can help you focus your attention calmly on the present.
  • Think about something that triggers a positive feeling - that could be the memory of being on your favorite beach, your grandmother's homemade bread, or that sense of accomplishment you feel after you've run 3 miles.
  • Breathe deeply -  Concentrating on your abdomen, breathe in through your nose for a count of 5. Hold it briefly and then let the breathe out slowly and gently, focusing on the feeling of the air leaving your body. Repeat for 1-5 minutes.

PROCESS - Think about it.

Woman sitting on floor thinking

  • Identify the specific emotions you are feeling. To manage emotions effectively you first need to be able to accurately identify those feelings. For help with this, try the exercise on our Boost Your Emotional Self-Awareness page.  You can also review a list of emotion words and identify all that you are feeling at a given point in time.
  • Sometimes the surface emotions that we're feeling are masking other deeper, underlying emotions that are more difficult for us to deal with. So this step might involve some careful thought, in an environment where you feel safe working through these feelings.  Know how to understand your emotions.
  • Identify the source of those feelings - Why are you feeling the way you are? What is the underlying issue that needs to be addressed? You can increase your emotional self-awareness by "going inside". 
  • Once you know what it is you are feeling, you need to figure out why.   Are you unhappy that you aren't spending more time with your partner? Has past experience led you to worry in your relationships that your partner is going to leave you? Do you find some of your partner's behaviors towards you disrespectful?
  • Figure out the best way to proceed, given your ultimate goals and your values.  With your feelings under control, consult your head.

Are you glad you stopped yourself from impulsively acting on your feelings?

If you want to continue to be in a relationship with your partner, it's probably best not to say that you want to break up every time you feel insecure in the relationship, right?  Threats are usually based on emotions out of control. 

Once you work through the Stop, Drop and Process steps, you are going to be better able to figure out a healthy way to deal with the challenging emotions that you're feeling.


Move On!