Emotions can sneak up on us, often with an impulse to act. Some of us avoid them at all costs. Some of us react to them immediately. Some of us make truly important life decisions based on them. Some think they just get in the way.

But negative emotions are like the warning lights on our car dashboard. They’re there for a reason, and it would do us good to check out what’s going on rather than ignoring them. Not paying attention to our emotions can lead to detachment or allowing emotions to rule you. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you identify, value, and deal with your emotions.

What am I feeling?

Naming our emotions brings awareness and is the first component of emotional intelligence. Our four core emotions are contentment (happiness), anger, anxiety (fear), and depression (sadness). Of course there is a broad spectrum of emotions within those categories. Knowing your emotions is necessary to dealing with them in healthy ways.

Why am I feeling this way?

Often there can be physiological explanations for why we are feeling a certain way including medication side effects, changes in diet, caffeine, hormonal changes, or lack of sleep. If this is the case, you may need to consult your doctor to discuss ways to manage or make changes.

Stress can also bring on a change or intensification of emotions. Life transitions like an increase in your work responsibilities, a new baby, financial loss, a move, or lifestyle changes can cause added stress that can lower our tolerance and ability to cope with emotions. Reaching out for support from others can keep us from burnout during temporary periods of stress.

Often there are also core beliefs or self-talk associated with an emotion. For example, if someone speaks to us disrespectfully we may believe we are worthless, which may lead to depression or anger. It’s important to look at the belief behind the emotion and evaluate its reliability. A change in thinking may be in order.

What do I do?

Managing our emotions is an important element of emotional intelligence. Being able to slow down, sooth and calm ourselves is the first step in controlling emotions. Some ideas of ways to do this are by breathing, writing, stretching, or exercising.

The ability to control the impulse to act and express our emotions at the right time and place will keep us from regrettable words and behaviors we can’t take back. Once you’ve calmed yourself down you are better able to determine if you need to say something to someone or let it go. Choosing the right time and place to speak up is nearly impossible in a heightened state of emotion.

Angie Sumrall, LPC is a professional counselor at Thriveworks Counseling Marietta