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Emotional Regulation: How To Be In Control Of Your Feelings

Emotional regulation is a crucial process in our lives, and it’s a very commonly discussed term in therapy. This post is the first of an educational series on this very important topic. So let’s start with the basics:

Defining Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is one’s ability to interpret, manage, and respond to an emotional experience. In simpler terms, it’s being able to control your emotional state. There are three components to emotional regulation:

  • Initiating actions/behaviour triggered by an emotion
  • Inhibiting actions/behaviour triggered by an emotion
  • Adjusting our responses triggered by an emotion

A person who self-regulates effectively can pause and take a moment after a feeling, evaluating the situation so they can respond appropriately. They have better judgment over their feelings and actions, and can carefully figure out which actions (responses to the emotion) to choose, and which actions to avoid. Emotional regulation isn’t about ignoring or suppressing your emotions. Rather, it’s about managing them effectively.

For example, if a child threw a book at their peer, someone with better emotional regulation may take a few breaths to calm down, then ask for help from a teacher. One who couldn’t regulate well might just immediately throw the book back at them and start a fight.

Emotional Dysregulation

On the flip side, emotional dysregulation is when someone is unable to use healthy or appropriate strategies to respond to negative emotions.

Studies have shown that emotional regulation is positively associated with managing depression, anxiety, and overall mental health and wellbeing. However, individuals who can’t regulate their emotions well may have more temper tantrums or behavioural concerns, and use unhealthy coping strategies such as excessive alcohol use. There are also many long-term risks to emotional dysregulation, such as increased anxiety, interpersonal relationship issues, and extreme emotional distress.

Learning to Self-Regulate

We experience so many emotions on any given day, both negative and positive, and regulating them can be difficult. It’s also something that develops with age, learning, and experience, which is why children often need some guidance and skill-building in regulating their emotions. There can also barriers to emotional regulation, such as anxiety, trauma, or ADHD.

Here are some general tips to get started:

  • Learn to name your emotions
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Identify and reduce triggers of negative emotions
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Seek additional support

The Takeaway Message: Emotional regulation takes time, practice, and commitment. However, it’s an important skill at any age, with countless benefits to a person’s life and overall wellbeing, so don’t ignore it.

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