Managing Stressful Emotions with One Simple Language Tweak

Robyn Eckersley
3 min readOct 12, 2020

Band-Aid Self-Empowerment (just the “what”):

Change your statements from “I am angry/frustrated, etc.” to “I’m noticing anger/frustration, etc. coming up.”

Self-Mastery (the “what,” the “why,” the “how,” and more):

One of the hardest times to feel in control of ourselves and of our world around us is when life doesn’t go according to how we would prefer it went.

Ecosia search autocomplete for “why is 2020…”
Ecosia’s’ autocomplete feature is on point.

There are PLENTY of things we can point at as triggers for stressful emotional responses these days, and it can feel like we’re all just 2020’s punching bag.

It can be easy to forget, or perhaps you’re just hearing for the first time now, that in fact, our thoughts control our emotions, our emotions do not control our thoughts. In other words, it’s not what’s happening around us that’s causing a stressful emotional experience, it’s how we are interpreting what’s happening around us.

Now, I completely get that this statement can feel like a teeth-grinding “just turn that frown upside down, pal!” quip from someone who’s been living under a rock, but when we can realize that it’s Truth, we can channel our efforts toward getting to the root of HOW and WHAT thoughts we are thinking, so we can then change the course of the domino effect of our entire experience of day-to-day life.

It’s very common to express an emotional experience by saying something along the lines of “I’m angry” or “I’m scared,” for example. We say “I am” and we fill in the blank with various descriptions as declarative statements.

Now, you recognize that words matter, and it’s vital to know that there is no exception for the words we choose to describe ourselves and our circumstances. In this case, we’re not talking about the words we choose to fill in the rest of the statement “I am…,” we’re talking about the nature of the statement itself. Saying that you ARE something or some way is a plant-your-flag declaration of the choice you have made to describe your current experience. I melds your being with your emotional reaction, it equates you to a stressful, reactive existence in that moment.

So where’s the opportunity for self-empowerment? We find it in the words we choose to describe our experience.

Instead of identifying ourselves with our emotion, we want to create some space, some breathing room, so to speak, between our Self and the emotional reaction that’s happening because of how we are mentally interpreting our situation. We can create some of that breathing room with the words we choose.

Instead of saying “I am [emotional reaction,]” choose to create space in the style of “I’m noticing some [emotional reaction] coming up,” or “I’m noticing that I’m feeling some [emotional reaction] here.”

This tiny tweak has multiple benefits:

  • It’s more accurate (you aren’t anger, you aren’t fear, you’re experiencing those things),
  • it mentally distances you from your emotional response, slowing down the moment, and
  • it creates an opportunity to look more objectively at what you are feeling, not as an involuntary reflex, but as a reaction resulting from how you are interpreting your circumstances.

Choosing to interact with our emotional state as something to be noticed, into of to assimilate our entire being to, treats our emotional state as something like an experiment or an event to observe, instead of a situation we have no control over. It’s more empowering to consider our emotions as what they are, output resulting from input, and therefore are adjustable depending on different input.

It’s called self-mastery for a reason: mastery takes dedicated, constant effort, and emotional management is right in there as well. The challenge is in the mastery of how we move through our lives as we experience a multitude of contexts, not just the simple and happy ones. The true opportunity for growth lies in our commitment to the transformation of our default settings, proactively living as conscious, capable individuals, so that we are empowered to intentionally shape our emotional experience of life.

I encourage you to try this language tweak and see what happens or what you notice in the breathing room you create for yourself!

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Robyn Eckersley

Impact & Empowerment Coach, Founder of Own This Life Coaching