Vero Meets #8: Phuong Pham – How to Hack Your Emotions


Vero Meets #8: Phuong Pham – How to Hack Your Emotions

Vero Meets #8: Phuong Pham

Have you ever left the house and had a nagging feeling that you’ve left the oven on? Or a voice telling you that you didn’t lock the door properly? That feeling is your brain’s fear receptors kicking in.  

Whilst our lives have changed a lot since our early human times when we were cave people running from Sabre-tooth tigers, our emotions haven’t changed that much. Our perception of danger is often misaligned with our current world. But how do we know which emotions we should be listening to? And which emotions should we take a step back from? 

To help us figure all of this out, we invited Mr. Phuong Pham – Counselor/Corporate Consultant at the ICCD (International Center for Cognitive Development) to join us in an internal Vero Session to walk us through the science of our emotions and how we can better manage them. 

On Health 


If you are to remember only one thing from this article, it is sleep.  

Sleep is incredibly important. It plays a big role in your physical and emotional regulation. Poor sleep disrupts your immune system and your hormonal regulations, and it increases the risk of so many types of cancer, as well as dementia and Alzheimer. 

While we are often told that we should have around 6-8 hours of sleep every night, not everyone’s natural sleeping pattern is the same. There are people with certain types of genetics that allow them to feel rested even if they sleep less than 6 hours.  

So, figuring out your own optimal time to sleep is very important. 

How much time is optimal for your sleep? 

The optimal time of your sleep is simply when you go to sleep and wake up feeling rested, without any alarms. Some people go to bed at 9 PM and wake up at 5 AM, some do it later and sleep even less; if you feel rested when you wake up, then that is your optimal sleep time! 

Once you have found your optimal time, it is very important that you go to sleep at a constant time as your circadian rhythm also regulates your emotional rhythm. 

Caffeine and alcohol affect our sleep significantly. Although alcohol may make it easier for you to fall asleep, you won’t have quality sleep (REM sleep) afterward. We will dig deeper into how diet can help you sleep better in the Diet section later in this article. 

The biggest physiological aspect that is affected by sleep deprivation is your prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is responsible for how well you pay attention, your ability to remember, how well you regulate emotions, your critical thinking and long-term planning. 

Vero Meets #8: Phuong Pham – How to Hack Your Emotions

How you structure your day affects your sleep quality 

Task journaling 

Do you get swamped by thoughts right before bedtime? 

One way you can deal with this is to have a journal at your bedside and whatever thoughts you have before you sleep, write them down. It’s an act of “tossing” your thoughts outside your brain and giving it a signal that you will deal with these thoughts later.  

Embrace the darkness  

Having the correct sleeping environment for your sleep is also important.  

In our brain, there is a chemical called melatonin that makes us sleepy. Melatonin drops significantly in the environment of bright lights. So, it is important to keep the environment around you dark before you go to sleep. That means putting your phone on do not disturb, turning off other devices, and resisting the urge to scroll right before you close your eyes!  

Melatonin supplements can help, but do not count on it to fall asleep as it also affects your circadian rhythm. If you really struggle with falling asleep you can try taking a melatonin supplementation at a fixed, constant time so that your body learns that this is the time you are going to sleep. You should not use melatonin for more than 2 weeks at a time without a break. 


Carbs and heavy meals induce sleepiness. So, if you want to stay awake throughout the day, it is suggested that you have low-carb meals with more protein and vegetables instead. If you can, you should also limit sugar intake. Processed sugar was only became widely available in the 1930s, before that, most of the sugar we need came from fruits and vegetables. Therefore, our bodies aren’t used to high amounts of (processed) sugar. Studies have linked high sugar intake to mood disorders. 


It’s suggested that we delay our caffeine intake 90 minutes to 2 hours after we wake up – in fact waiting until you’ve eaten breakfast to have that first cup of coffee is considered the most beneficial time to drink it. This is because the moment you wake up, your brain is clearing out adenosine, which is your ‘sleepy’ neurotransmitter. When you stay awake during the day, your adenosine will build up and when it reaches a certain threshold, you will feel sleepy. 

If you have your coffee too early, you’re disrupting the process of clearing out adenosine and when the caffeine in your body lessens, you will start to feel sleepy again. This leads to the afternoon slump where you often feel sleepy around 12pm – 1pm. 

To fight the morning sleepiness, you can try getting some sunlight and/or a light workout. 

It’s also good to avoid coffee 8-10 hours before bedtime because coffee takes a lot of time to completely leave your body. 

Vero Meets #8: Phuong Pham – How to Hack Your Emotions


Exercising helps a lot with your emotional regulation. It releases endorphins and serotonin (which are both happy chemicals in our brains), increases energy and alertness, and facilitates neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is the creation of new brain cells. This helps with lots of things like learning a new skill, memory, and breaking bad habits. 

Phuong Pham suggested that we take 150-180 minutes of Zone 2 cardio a week (when it’s intense but you can still catch your breath), and some Zone 3 exercises or above (when you start to find it’s difficult to speak and can only respond to single word sentences) to maintain metabolism. 


It’s best to find activities that you love and have fun doing as this will help with motivation and consistency. You don’t necessarily have to go to the gym; it can be a team sport, community-oriented activities like running or biking, or dancing! 

On Negative Emotions 

Negative emotions are not necessarily bad. Most of the time when we feel a negative emotion it is a signal for something. The main thing that decides whether an emotion is good or bad is how you process it.  

There’s an enormous difference between processing an emotion, and rumination. 

To process emotion is to extract the meaning and insight from the emotion/experience and change your behaviors afterward. For example, if you feel disappointed in yourself when you don’t meet a certain standard at work, that is a natural response signaling that you care about what you do. The way for you to process this emotion then is to find ways to improve your work and carry it through. 

Rumination, on the other hand, is when you allow the emotion to ‘bleed’ into other areas of your life by clinging onto the idea that everything you do will just not be good enough. 

Processing is acknowledging that an emotion is a signal. What you need to do is figure out what the signal is pointing to, what areas of your life need attention, what needs changing or fixing, and after that, develop a plan and have enduring proactive actions. 

Vero Meets #8: Phuong Pham – How to Hack Your Emotions

Figuring ‘you’ out 

The way you react emotionally really lies in your beliefs. This will affect how you view certain experiences in your life. So, if you believe conflicts are bad at all costs, this normally comes from the fact that you grew up in a family where your parents argued a lot. Then, fear and avoidance of conflict will be your primary strategy. It makes sense, as it worked for you as a child. But it might not be the best strategy at other times in your life. If this is how you deal will conflict, you could risk becoming a pushover or a people pleaser and lose out on the things that you want certain beliefs, if they are strong enough, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That means if you live by what you believe, it will come true. So, be careful of what you believe in. 

For example, when you are at work, are you afraid of failure or do you want success? Although these two things sound similar, they are quite different. If you are afraid of failure, then you’ll make sure you never fail – and the only way to never fail is to never try to succeed. Making mistakes and getting things wrong is how we learn and fearing that is detrimental to your growth. Do you believe that people get good at things because of their talents, or is it because of their effort? If you believe that mastery comes from natural talents, you will limit yourself to always doing the things that you are already good at. On the other hand, if you believe that it is because of effort, you will likely spend more time doing things and understanding that with time and effort you will eventually achieve your goals. The way you react to your emotions creates your experiences. It is important to ask yourself the question: “Are you your emotions, or you are your emotional reactions?” 


How to Hack Your Emotions  

Emotions themselves are not bad. The important thing is how you relate to them and how you express them. 

Vero Meets #8: Phuong Pham – How to Hack Your Emotions

As we mentioned above, how you process your emotions relates to your beliefs. 

Let’s take Aristotle’s example and look at anger – if you think anger is bad, most of the time you will suppress it to the point where it’s too much and you explode. Which is not healthy or helpful. 

Humans have a massive bias against negativity. Understandably negative experiences are more clearly remembered than positive ones. This stems back to when humans first existed, and our brains were just trying to keep us alive in the face of lots of danger! Remember that sabre-tooth tiger? 

Recent research has shown that the ratio between negative emotion and positive emotion is from 1 to 4, or 1 to 6. That means if 1 negative experience is aroused, you will need 4-6 positive ones with a similar intensity to break it.  

In cases like this, you should have your own collection of things that trigger positive emotions and redirect your attention… It could be a song, a fun video, a photograph, a quote, or a particular memory. It doesn’t matter what the content is, if it can evoke a different emotion (ideally a positive one)! 

To deal with more intense negative emotions, what could be good to snap you out of the situation is sensation. That could be a cold shower, high-intensity exercise, or anything that evokes an intense sensation in you that can redirect your attention away from the negative emotion. 


Managing your thoughts 

Sometimes thoughts are helpful. They spur you on, they inspire you, they encourage you to create.  But sometimes they can be negative and niggling. Sometimes it’s good to try and take a step back from these negative thoughts, to question them, and to challenge them. Here are some useful tips on how to do this.  

Be mindful of triggers – what brings up a negative emotion, and how often does this happen? Be mindful of these things, especially if you find yourself ruminating.  

How the negative thought/trigger argues – this is important. Almost every emotion that you have will compel you to think about certain topic areas in specific ways.  

Anger will direct you to thoughts of blame, or someone being false. Anxiety will hold your attention to the things that are out of your control. Sadness will direct your thoughts to negativity, and hopelessness. All these trains of thought will feed your emotions. The more you engage in these thoughts, the more negative your emotions will become. It is a reinforcing cycle. Thoughts = emotions. So, be wary of those intrusive thoughts!  

Ask yourself, what’s the purpose of this thought?  

Normally, when you experience anxiety and you start having lots of “what if” thoughts, your brain is trying to convince you that thinking about it will lead you to a solution. But that’s not true. Most of the time it’s just a recurring train of thought around certain ideas.  

Evaluate your thought’s purpose  

Ask yourself questions like, why am I thinking this?   Is it useful or helpful? Or are they just creating more anxiety? Analyzing your thoughts will help you to see patterns. Once you are aware of these patterns, you can begin developing new thoughts that will help to break these patterns.  


Vero Meets #8: Phuong Pham – How to Hack Your Emotions

Structuring activities 

Negative emotions will try to monopolize your attention and direct you towards actions that are destructive. When you are dealing with recurring negative emotions, find activities that capture your attention. They should be technically demanding and require deep focus, like hobbies, crafts, or sports. 

Utilize your environment  

Identify the things you want to do and don’t want to do. Structure the space around you to make the things you want to do easier, and the things you do not want to do more difficult. For example, if you want to read more when you get home instead of playing video games, you can put your computer in a separate room and place more books in the living room instead. By doing this, the first thing you see when you come home is your books and it will be easier for you to start doing it. If you want to go to the gym more, you can pack your gym clothes when you go to work and head straight to the gym when work is done. 

Vero Meets #8: Phuong Pham – How to Hack Your Emotions

Create an “accountability button” for the things you want to do but keep putting off. Instead of doing these things alone and ending up losing your motivation, you can always find an accountability partner. Someone you check in with to keep you on track. Most of the time, personal trainers don’t necessarily help you do better, they make sure you show up. Group activities are also great for accountability! Team sports, for example, doing something with others will help you maintain and keep up consistency.  


Short-term coping techniques – Physiological signs. 

When you’re dealing with pressure, say you’re in a meeting and you suddenly feel anxious, but you can’t pause the meeting and go play your favorite playlist, the best and quickest way to soothe anxiety is to breathe. Take two quick inhales and one slow exhale. This is a short-term coping technique, and it will help change your physiological response and ‘tell’ your emotions that you are calm. 

It has been scientifically proved as the quickest, most effective way to calm down. 



Emotions are complicated and they are inextricably linked to your biology, environment, and lifestyle. Identifying your bottlenecks and asking yourself the question ‘What’s the next small thing you can do to make a positive impact on your wellbeing?” sounds simple but can be so effective.  

Do seek help when you need to, but it is important to first be aware of the complexity of your own wellbeing and make small lifestyle changes to better manage your emotions.