Emotional regulation is a term generally used to describe a person's ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience.
Experiencing positive and negative emotions each and every day is a healthy fact of life and unconsciously, we already utilise coping strategies many times through the day.
For some of us, we cannot identify what emotion we are feeling or they can feel overwhelming and out of control and we may lean toward unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with our emotions such as abusing alcohol or other substances; avoiding or withdrawing from difficult situations, self-harm, physical or verbal aggression; excessive social media use. Obtaining some good support with a therapist that you connect with is a healthy way to understand how these strategies have formed and to work through what is underlying these behaviours.
Some of us attempt to regulate our emotions by acting out or suppressing them. When we act out with strong emotion, like anger, it can cause undesirable consequences for our relationships and undesirable ripple effects that exacerbate things and do not resolve resolve anything. When we suppress our emotions by inhibiting the outward signs of what we are feeling inside, the internal experience of the emotion does not go away and, in fact, can make it worse or linger for longer.
The fact is that emotions can be uncomfortable. They have been described as being like waves - waves of energy that build up and fade away. Left to do this naturally they occur quite quickly. However, if we try to interrupt this process they are quite likely to linger and cause distress. Have you ever noticed that trying to "talk yourself out" of an emotion makes it worse or you continue to think about it over and over?
Some healthy ways in which we can regulate our emotions include:
Practice breathing and slowing down: The importance of this cannot be stated enough. We need to calm our physiological responses to our thoughts first. You can find many clips on YouTube on different techniques for breathing to reduce stress like this one:
Mindfulness: Slow down, breath, bring your awareness to what you are presently experiencing via your senses or state of mind via thoughts and emotions. Notice this without judgement. Be curious about what has led you to feel this way.
Reappraise the situation - Is there a way that you can change how you think about the situation in order to change our behavioural response.
Shifting our attention: One way to bring about temporary relief is by shifting our attention away from what is bothering us. Keep in mind that this is not an effective strategy in the long term as it provides temporary relief.
Look forward: Anticipate how you will feel in a particular situation and devising a plan to reduce the impact of the emotional reaction. Sometimes avoidance of a situation or person can be a good thing. However, although this is a good strategy for people and situations that we do not have long-term relationships with, avoidance can intensify how we feel with those that we do have long-term relationships with. These situations will require addressing the issue up front in a calm, problem-solving manner. Another way that we can help ourselves is to reward ourselves when we have accomplished something that we felt uncomfortable about - planning to do something pleasant right after doing something that is unpleasant.
Positive self-talk: When your inner critic raises its head, weaken it by challenging it. Be empathetic toward yourself. Using your first name when doing this has been shown to increase it's effectiveness. When we feel others are attacking up or treating us unfairly, be curious with what might be going on for them and why they have acted in this way.
Other ways that can help us regulate our emotions include:
Getting out of the house at least once a day and doing something that you enjoy. Notice your surroundings.
Engaging in an activity that gives you a sense of achievement.
Talking with supportive, understanding family or friends.
Writing in a journal.
Being curious about any negative thoughts or self-talk that occur before or after a strong emotion - write these down.
Making sure you get adequate sleep.