So You Don’t Lose It: The Simple Tweak to Gain More Control of Your Emotions

Warning: It's effective — but also kind of embarrassing.

Trying to calm down is no easy feat when you are feeling anything but calm. But per Futurity, new research published in Scientific Reports suggests that there’s a pretty simple way to gain control of your emotions when you’re feeling upset. It’s all about how you talk to yourself.

Two new experiments out of the University of Michigan seem to back up the claim that talking to yourself can help you gain control of your emotions. But there’s a catch: You have to talk to yourself in the third person.

Study participants were prompted with both neutral images and images designed to derive emotion (think: an image of someone holding a gun to their head). As they saw these images, researchers monitored the participants’ brains, in respect to both emotional activity and effort. The findings? When participants reacted by talking to themselves in the third person, their emotional brain activity reduced really quickly. For the second experiment, the researchers asked participants to reflect on a painful experience from their past in both the first person and third person. And you guessed it: When talking to themselves in the third person, participants exhibited lower emotional activity in an area of the brain that usual lights up in relation to painful emotional experiences.

So, what’s the deal? Are we all supposed to go around talking to ourselves now? Before you scoff at the thought of verbally referring to yourself in the third person, note that the study participants talked to themselves silently — thought to themselves, if you will. Per Futurity, one of the lead researchers Professor Ethan Kross says, “What’s really exciting here is that the brain data from these two complimentary experiments suggest that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of emotion regulation. If this ends up being true — we won’t know until more research is done — there are lots of important implications these findings have for our basic understanding of how self-control works, and for how to help people control their emotions in daily life.”

So, really, who cares if you sound like a tool in your own head if it helps you from going nuts?

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