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10 ways to handle negative emotions

By Neelima Chimnani
Last updated on: January 18, 2007 09:50 IST
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Part I: 10 ways to stay emotionally stable at work

I am the managing director of a pharmaceutical company. My life is fairly comfortable -- I earn good money and am settled in my personal life too with my wife, and two children," says 32-year-old Kolkata based Ravi Khanna. 

"But things are not as peaceful as they may seem. My family constantly complains about my irritability and lack of patience at home. I seem to react strongly to the children making a noise. Also, my wife thinks I often lose patience when I take her out shopping. What is surprising is that I was not like this a few years ago." he adds.

Does Ravi's story sound familiar? Is this the scene in your home as well?

You are probably facing emotional volatility -- a state where you feel extremely positive one day and extremely negative on other days. In the down phase you tend to lose patience with those you interact with.

When does this happen? How can you overcome it? Prachi Vaish, a clinical psychologist offers help on both counts.

First, its probable causes: 

Inability to find 'me' time

Ravi is troubled by the demands on his time -- either by bosses and customers or wife and children. Maintaining the balance is becoming increasingly difficult for him. Ravi feels he was fairly stable a few years ago and these bouts of annoyance are new. He feels, that for all his accomplishments, he is at the moment missing peace in his life.

Ragini Sharma, a Pune-based interior designer, has similar issues. She comes home after a long day at work to a round of cooking and children's homework. Her children no longer enjoy studying with her because she tends to scold them more than help them learn.

Personal life issues

Issues in your relationships with your spouse, friends and relatives, over a period of time, create stress within you and bring about emotional volatility. 

Aditi Pariyani, a housewife, has been raising her two children in India, practically as a single parent. Her husband, who runs an electronics goods store in Hong Kong, seldom comes back to India to spend time with his family. Aditi is facing  severe depression. She is irritable and has, over a period of time, lost her friends too, because of her emotional volatility.

Any kind of dissatisfaction from your current love relationship takes a toll on your well-being and the anxiety leads to a constantly volatile temper.

Post-retirement depression

Prachi, who often deals with cases of severe depression and anxiety, rates retirement as a common cause of emotional volatility. "Women come to our clinics, wondering what has gone wrong with their husbands after retirement."

"He used to be fine earlier. But ever since he stopped working, he seems to have a problem with anything and everything at home. It's become impossible to even clean the room, as he will fret and fume about why his glasses were kept in a different place."

Prachi also deals with patients who behave nasty during phases when they are between jobs and have nothing to do. These people feel as though life is quickly passing them by, and others are growing in their careers.

Unforeseen circumstances

Some of us undergo long periods of emotional volatility when an unexpected tragedy occurs in our lives. Like the death of a loved one, betrayal in relationships, etc often throw us into a depression. And that brings about extreme patterns of behaviour. One minute you feel you will be able to pick up the pieces and walk again. But the very next moment you find yourself snapping at even your near and dear ones.

Inability to express yourself

Are you unable to articulate your thoughts about difficult/unpleasant situations? A shortage of communication skills is frustrating and can make you ill-humoured and oversensitive.

Rajesh Gupta hails from a small town in Madhya Pradesh. He has achieved success, thanks to a lot of hard work. But he has a complex about his English skills and lack of grooming. It makes him unapproachable and ill-tempered. This works as a defence mechanism and has gradually alienated him.

How to prevent emotional volatility

~ Meditate

"The age-old science of meditation has helped one and all overcome the severest of anxiety disorders," says Prachi.

~ Try not to carry work home

When the work day ends, end it there. Do not carry work troubles home. "Easier said than done", you will say. True, but "practice makes perfect", says Prachi.

~ Join a social cause

When you shift focus from your own problems to bigger problems that people are facing in the world, it makes your pain tolerable. It also serves as a healthy cure for the issues responsible for your emotional volatility.

~ Be aware of your behaviour

Observe yourself. This will help check negative behaviour.

~ Be aware of others

You feel the need to be understood. But so do others. Be compassionate in your dealings with those around you and try to understand their situations. That will ultimately help you.

~ Enjoy nature

Try going to the nearest garden in the evening. The grass and the plants may not be as green as they used to be when you were a kid, but you will feel a distinct change in the quality of air you breathe out there. The oxygen level is higher close to trees and plants before dusk.

~ Use transactional analysis

Nearly all of us have witnessed behaviour patterns between parents and children. Transactional analysis or TA, developed by Canadian psychiatrist Eric Berne, classifies human behaviour as three ego states: 

  • Parent (aggressive, controlling, nurturing)
  • Child (passive/submissive, defiant, impulsive)
  • Adult (assertive, balanced, real)

Each ego state is different for each person, as a perception of the parent, the child and the adult comes from your own parents, your own childhood and your own experiences in life, respectively.

The analysis establishes that all of us tend to use one or more patterns of behaviour from this set and encourages adult behaviour in situations of conflict. An adult looks at the situation objectively and instead of reacting in an impulsive way, asserts himself firmly but politely.

~ Read psychology

Reading on psychology helps you understand not only why people behave the way they do with you but also why you react the way you do. It is therapeutic.

According to Prachi, "We use behavioural modification therapy under which, we recommend self-help books. I'm OK, You're OK by Thomas A Harris and Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Golman are two such books."

~ Express yourself

"We ask our patients to join art, music or dance classes, as these allow free expression and hence are de-stressing in nature," says Prachi.

"For those who are not interested in these, we encourage diary writing. It is better to blurt (your feelings) on paper rather than to people. Not only does it allow a vent to the person's feeling, but also lets him/her go back to it later and analyse his/her feelings" she adds.

~ Organise

Keep your home neat and tidy and your papers organised. Clean surroundings keeps your mind free from clutter. It negates the feeling of being overwhelmed and disorganised.

Part I: 10 ways to stay emotionally stable at work

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Neelima Chimnani