Control your emotions after 90 seconds

You have the choice to control emotions after 90 seconds….

The 90 second concept for emotions was developed by Neuroscientist Dr Jill Bolte Taylor and describes when we experience an emotion like anger, sadness, anxiety or worry a chemical (cortisol) is released by the brain and the chemical surges throughout the body which creates a physiological experience.  It then takes up to 90 seconds for the chemical component of the emotion to be dispelled from the blood stream and the automated response is over.    

Taylor explains that once the physiological response is over our thoughts take over and we can choose to have thoughts that cause us to hold onto the emotion or we can move on to a more helpful thought and emotion. When you continue to feel an emotion it’s because we replay the memory that is attached to the thought or repeat the triggered situation over and over to try to resolve or make sense of it.   Each time you think about the trigger you then trigger a physiological response again.  If we chose to the fight the emotion this can also cause the emotion to last longer, happen more frequently and the emotion is stimulated.  In other words, it is the memory of the emotion not the emotion itself that lasts longer than 90 seconds.   When we are aware and conscious that it takes 90 seconds for an emotion to surge through our blood stream, we can let the emotion surge through our system and naturally flush out. 

How awareness can help us understand and control emotions.

This sounds too easy doesn’t it however this technique isn’t supposed to be a magic wand that instantly gets rid of unhelpful emotions after 90 seconds, but it does help us see emotions for what they are, bodily sensations charged by our thoughts and waiting the 90  seconds gives us time to adjust our thoughts and response to the situation.  The more you acknowledge, feel and move through feelings in the moment the less they will linger on.

One way to help you ‘read’ your emotional reactions better is to be aware, acknowledge and experience emotions rather than deny your bodily sensations.  By tolerating the waves of feelings and fully experiencing them you get better at tolerating the waves of feelings tied to the biochemical response.  As you become better at tolerating feelings you can use them more effectively and make better choices to how you respond which will build your emotional strength and confidence to be able to work through and experience both pleasant and unpleasant emotions. 

The next time you experience an emotion take a moment to bring your awareness to the emotion, breathe and really notice what is taking place inside of you and on a physiological level. 

Practice to become aware and control your emotions.

Here is an awareness exercise to help you become more in tune with your emotions and how you respond to them.  

  1. When an emotion arises tune into it, name it, accept it and experience the feeling without interference.
  2. While you are experience the emotion notice the intensity of the emotion, what sensations are you having, and where about in the body are you feeling the emotion. Most people experience unpleasant feelings as tighter, heavier or restricted whilst pleasant emotions are more relaxed, calmer, warmer, lighter or expansive, there is no right or wrong answer. 
  3. After experiencing the emotions for 90 seconds, bring your attention to your thoughts and be aware that you can manage what happens next.
  4. Chose a thought that is more helpful and relaxes you so you can respond to the situation in a calmer manner.
  5. Take a deep clearing breath in and exhale out before moving onto the next emotion.


NOTE: Intense emotional feelings such as profound fear, grief, terror or rage are complex and although this technique may give some benefit and relief, more intensive and structured interventions may be required. 


Written by:

Kimberley Aguet – Counsellor at Virtual Psychologist

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