During a crisis - domestic row, depression or serious work overload - there seems no way out. "I will never make this person understand ... I'm a failure ... This deadline is impossible." This is because anger or panic stop us thinking straight. Our minds only have so much working memory and messages from the emotional brain swamp the rational planning part. To get back in control you need a few minutes' calm. Then start to make your emotions work for you instead of being at their mercy. The trick is to notice there are two things going on - strong emotions and some pretty negative thoughts. In a row concentrate on the emotions, when you are depressed focus on the thoughts. Here's how to do it:

Make relationships work

How to have a pointless row:

1 Your partner really annoys you by telling totally inappropriate stories at dinner.

2 Once alone you explode: "You become such a ridiculous show off after a few drinks"

3 Your partner defends :"At least I'm amusing, the guy next to you looked like he was watching paint dry." And it all goes downhill from there, as you move onto old favourites like previous girlfriends, mother, the washing up.

Row with a purpose:

1 Starting point is the same - something annoys you. 2 Here's the big difference. Don't attack/criticise/blame, instead say how it made you feel - "I felt really embarrassed and silly when you told that story". This leaves no room for argument - you are the authority on your feelings - and it's more likely to trigger some apology than an attack.

3 So instead of getting bogged down in mutual slagging off, you can now move from your feelings to what you want to happen - certain topics off- limits, more signs of affection.

Now you are negotiating.

Sometimes it's easy - "I didn't realise you got so anxious when I'm late, next time I'll phone." Often a bit of ordinary give-and-take does the trick - "I'll come to your mum's if you'll come to a club next week." If you are getting stuck, try reversing roles. That can be an eye-opener.

Look on the bright side

It's been a bad day - project fell through, you lost a sale. As you brood on it you start beating yourself up - "I should have checked ... I always get panicked at the last minute." And the more you parade your failings, the worse you feel. Soon you are sliding down a negative spiral. Punishing thoughts make you feel worse, and the worse you feel the more your internal critic twists the knife. Nothing positive is going to come out of this state.

Change the way you feel

The link between thoughts and feelings works the other way too. To reverse the process, notice when you start spiralling down. Do this by keeping a negative diary. For a few days, just practice noticing your negative feelings and then summarise the thoughts that go with them - "Worried ... I don't think I can handle this. Panicking ... I'm going to balls this up."

A counsel for the defence:

Once you can spot a spiral forming, you are halfway there.

1 Begin a positive diary and start to challenge your critic. "There is a lot of pressure, but I'd be bored stiff without it .... It's no tougher than the project that went brilliantly last year."

2 Notice how words like - "ought, must, have to" fuel resentment and limit your options. Extremist words like "always, never" are easy to counter, they are invariably unfair.

You are not looking for a right way a seeing things - there isn't one - or one that is totally unrealistic - "I'm the best" - just one that makes you feel better and gives you more possibilities.

Manage your time

You never have enough time, right? You could have 50 per cent more just by organising yourself more effectively

What are trying to achieve? The key is to set out your goals. First in broad terms - write a book, move house, set up a new business - then break them down into short, mid and long term targets

Be clear about what you want to achieve each day. As well as attending to immediate tasks, always fit in some linked to the longer term. Make time for leisure.

Handle interruptions. Set aside a time for phone calls. Limit visitors' times.

Arrange your working environment so you know where everything is. Make the most of dead time.

Know your abilities; set realistic deadlines. Learn to say no.

Don't leave tasks unfinished, procrastinating makes for added stress. If a job is too big, break it into more manageable parts. Be proactive, deal with problems quickly. Check that there isn't anything that regularly wastes your time.

Jerome Burne