How to stay cool under pressure

Most people try to regulate their emotions by suppressing them. That doesn’t work. Even more so, if you suppress your emotions, you take up valuable resources from your prefrontal cortex that you could use otherwise. 

What can you do instead? Try emotional labeling.

This simple practice of “putting feelings into words” has been studied extensively and proven to help people regulate their emotions. 

When you feel overwhelmed by a strong negative emotion like anger, it can be difficult to think clearly, right? That’s because your body is being flooded with stress hormones, kicked off by a distress signal from the amygdala to the hypothalamus and adrenal glands. Emotions that trigger this physical reaction include fear, anger, anxiety and aggression.

Emotional labeling shifts your processing of a stressful emotion from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex, your brain’s seat of reason and mood regulation. This rapidly calms your body’s reaction. Brain imaging studies reveal that simply naming your emotions immediately makes sadness, anger and pain less intense. 

Start by saying, “I feel ____”. Get very specific about this emotion. Is it anger, or resentment? Sadness, or disappointment? Loneliness? Grief? 

Notice how labeling the emotion brings your reaction under control. Your heart rate comes back down and you’re able to take a few deep calming breaths. Next, if possible, share your emotions with a friend. Notice how even texting “I’m so bored!” during a boring meeting can make you smile. Next time an upset friend calls you for support, now you know how to help–by encouraging your friend to “name that emotion!” 

The more you practice emotional labeling, the better you’ll get at it. Human beings need to label, express and share our emotions. But in the business world, it’s considered unprofessional to show any emotion. When we bottle up our feelings, though, we are more likely to explode. In fact, I have counseled many leaders that when they have to let people go, it’s very important that, after delivering the news, they allow them to express their emotions verbally–before moving on to offering services like counseling or job placement. 

What is your best technique to regulate your emotions?