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Maintaining Effective Strategies for Healthy Emotional Self-Regulation

Maintaining Effective Strategies for Healthy Emotional Self-Regulation

Emotions are a normal part of everyday life. We feel frustrated when we’re stuck in traffic. We feel sad when we miss our loved ones. We can get angry when someone lets us down or does something to hurt us. 


While we expect to feel these emotions regularly, some people start to experience emotions that are more volatile. They feel higher highs and lower lows, and these peaks and valleys begin to impact their lives. Individuals who experience intense emotions may find themselves calm one moment and then sad or angry the next. 

While any of us can have times when our emotions spin out of control, for some people it happens regularly. Their rapidly changing emotions can cause them to do and say things they later regret. They may damage relationships or hurt their credibility with others. 

There can be a number of reasons that someone loses control of their emotions. They may be genetically predisposed to these rapid changes. They may never have seen healthy emotional regulation modeled or learned the skills. They may lose control when they experience triggers for negative situations that happened in the past. There can also be physical changes that cause a person to lose control of their emotions, such as exhaustion or a drop in blood sugar. 

No matter the reason for the emotional volatility, the good news is that we can learn better self-regulation. We can all benefit from learning strategies to control our emotions. Emotional regulation is the ability to effectively interact with our emotional state.

There are a number of emotion regulation strategies that people can master to build their coping skills. It is important to consider which strategies are most useful and which ones to omit. 

There are two broad categories of emotional regulation. The first is reappraisal: changing how we think about something in order to change our response. The second is suppression, which is linked to more adverse, unhealthy outcomes.

Research indicates that ignoring our emotions is associated with dissatisfaction and poor well-being.

Creating psychological space - emotions happen fast. Taking time to slow down the need to react, rather than responding.

Noticing what you feel - an equally important skill involves the ability to become aware of what you’re feeling. Become more curious about your own physical reactions. Tune in to yourself and consider: in what parts of your body are you noticing sensations? Is your stomach upset? Is your heart racing? Do you feel tension in your neck or head?

Identifying and naming any present emotions - After noticing what you feel, the ability to name it can help you interact with what is happening. Ask yourself: what would you call the emotions you’re feeling? Is it anger, sadness, disappointment, or resentment? What else is it? One strong primary emotion that often hides beneath other, secondary emotions - is fear.

Accepting the emotion - emotions are a normal and natural part of how we respond to situations. Rather than beating yourself up for feeling angry or scared, recognize that your emotional reactions are valid. Try to practice self-compassion and give yourself grace. Recognize that experiencing emotions is a core human interaction.

Practicing mindfulnes - mindfulness helps us “live in the moment” by paying attention to what is inside us. Use your senses to notice what is happening around you in nonjudgmental ways. These skills can help you stay calm and overt engaging in ruminating thought patterns when you are in the midst of emotional pain.


Let’s look at 7 strategies that can help to manage emotions in a healthy and helpful way. 


1. Identify and reduce triggers 

You shouldn’t try to avoid uncomfortable emotions — or be afraid of them. But you also don’t have to keep putting yourself in a situation that brings on unpleasant emotions by establishing healthy boundaries. Start to look for recurring patterns or factors that are present when you start to feel strong emotions.


2. Tune into physical symptoms 

Pay attention to how you are feeling, including whether you are feeling hungry or tired. These factors can exacerbate your emotions and cause you to interpret your emotions more strongly. If you can address the underlying issue (e.g. hunger, exhaustion), you can shift your emotional response.


3. Consider how you are framing your perspective

In the absence of information, we fill in the blanks with details of our own. Perhaps you are feeling rejected after you haven’t heard from a family member; you believe it is because they no longer care about you.

Before you make these attributions, ask yourself: what other explanations might be possible? In the example of the family member, what else could be going on with them that would stop them from reaching out to you? Could they be busy or sick? Are they a well-intentioned person who often forgets to follow through on commitments? 


4. Engage in positive self-talk

When our emotions feel overwhelming, our self-talk can become negative: “I messed up again” or “everyone else is so awful.” If you treat yourself with empathy, you can replace some of this diminishing talk with reinforcing comments.

Try encouraging yourself by saying “I always try so hard” or “People are doing the best they can.” This shift can help mitigate the emotions we’re feeling. You can still be frustrated with a situation that isn’t working but no longer have to assign blame or generalize it beyond the situation.


5. Make a choice about how to respond

In most situations, we have a choice about how to respond. If you tend to respond to feelings of anger by lashing out at people, you likely notice the adverse, unhealthy impact it is having on your relationships. You might also notice that it doesn’t feel good. Or, it feels good at the moment, but the consequences are painful.


6. Look for reinforcing primary emotions

Human beings naturally attribute more weight to secondary, reactive emotions than reinforcing, primary ones. The attentional bias describes our tendency to focus on certain emotional elements while ignoring others.

Triggering emotions, like disgust, anger, and sadness tend to carry a lot of weight. Reinforcing feelings, like contentment, interest, and gratitude are quieter. Making a habit of noticing these reinforcing experiences can boost resilience and well-being.


7. Seek out healthy support

Regulating our own emotions can be difficult. It requires a significant degree of self-awareness. When we're having a hard time, our emotional self-regulation begins to suffer. Sometimes we need a partner, like a therapist or coach who can help us learn effective self-regulation skills.


On a deeper level - Recognizing any adaptive coping mechanisms that arise as suppression.