Emotions are normal part of our everyday life and play an important role in how we perceive and interact with people around us. Each one of us experiences moments when our emotions become beyond control and we might regret our inability to keep our feelings in check. Having an emotional reaction to certain events is a natural part of life, but if your emotions control and run most part of your life, you can’t control your behaviour and risk being your best in certain situations. If you feel that your emotions cause you to frequently behave in inappropriate ways then you may have a problem with emotional regulation.
We cannot get rid of our emotions. We can however manage them by changing our perception of them.Lennox CornwallTweet
What is Emotional Regulation?
Emotional regulation is taking any action that alters the intensity of an emotional experience either positive or negative. Emotional regulation is different than suppressing or avoiding emotions. It refers to the ability to allow your own natural response without letting it get out of control. People with no or less emotional regulation lose control when they experience triggers for negative situations.
Negative coping mechanisms make the problem worse and are not effective in managing your poor emotional states. Whereas through right approaches of emotional regulation, one can learn healthy coping mechanisms which allow you to channel your emotions in right way.
Related: How to improve your positivity ratio
Why is emotional regulation important
Most of us do use emotional regulation strategies unconsciously to cope with difficult situations many times, but not all of them are healthy. For instance, avoiding or withdrawing from difficult situations, indulging in self-destructive behaviours, aggression, or exclusion of other responsibilities and so on. Emotional dysregularion further,
- Limits your potential. Living with unregulated emotions either positive or negative can get in the way of your ability to take risks and have new life experiences. And it’s not only negative emotions that have the ability to harm, even positive emotions can be bad in the wrong context unless those emotions are regulated. For instance, happiness can make you feel overconfident. Overconfidence might lead you to underestimate the risks in a situation. Similarly, being sad can make you see things more negatively, therefore leads to overestimating risks and underestimating opportunities.
- Create overwhelm and stress. Our emotions are volatile and fluctuate throughout the day and inability to control them leads to overwhelm or stress. Unchecked emotions lead to regret for things said and done in the heat of the moment. Also, the experience of an emotion per se is not what causes the harm always. It is sometimes the interpretation of certain emotions or events that tie into earlier negative experiences and tends to spin up intense negative feelings. More often, this becomes a go-to pattern overtime while experiencing negative emotions if one cannot regulate their emotions.
- Leads to self-destructive habits. When a person experiences frequent negative emotions like anger, anxiety or stress, in an effort to reduce the unwanted feeling, he or she indulges in self-sabotaging or self- destructive behaviours to fix the roller coaster of emotions. Those who have difficulty in regulating their emotions often turn to coping behaviours to help them handle their feelings and engage in destructive habits like develop an addiction or engage in self-harm. But indulging oneself in such behaviours only perpetuates more sense of negative emotions.
- Emotional volatility impacts our decision making. Emotions shape our decisions and can change the value or probabilities we attach to things. Because emotions create thoughts that lead us into making certain choices that result in certain actions or behaviours, it can be especially hard to think positive when unhelpful emotions are running high. Hence negative emotions limit the options that seem available to you in making effective decisions. However, when you learn how to better regulate them, you become aware of more choices and possibilities around to make better decisions.
How to improve your emotional regulation
People who regularly experience intense emotions are much more likely to rely on unhealthy strategies to cope with their emotions. There are many helpful emotional regulation strategies that can be effective in improving your ability to self-regulate your feelings and your emotional responses. Through making some conscious decisions to react appropriately, setting some goals to delay the urge to express a potentially harmful opinion, you can change the intensity of the emotional experiences. Here are some helpful strategies to up-regulate positive emotions and down-regulate negative experiences or behaviour.
Become aware of what you are feeling.
Emotional regulation depends on emotional awareness. You need to understand how you feel before figuring out what you can do about it. This is important for directing your behaviour in a positive manner. When you are aware of your emotions, you can better identify what is triggering your emotional state. Sometimes certain physical states like tiredness or stress also tend to exacerbate your emotions where you are more likely to act impulsively or react negatively.
In order to regulate your emotions, you should make it a habit to analyse the situation you are in. Which emotion you want to down-regulate and what your desired goal is. Ask yourself, What am I experiencing in this moment? What is triggering my emotional experience? Does my current situation fit my desired emotion? Do I want to experience more of this emotion? If not, what goal do I set in order to decrease my negative emotion?
Modify the situation you are in
Another place where you can try and regulate negative emotions is by choosing which situation you want to be in. Modifying your current situation will help you reach your goal of feeling better. Let us say you want to down-regulate anxiety, if you think remaining in a particular situation might increase your anxiousness, you can consider choosing a different situation, where you can increase positive emotions.
Or you can modify a situation by avoiding or approaching certain people or things that you think will cause you anxiety. Similarly you can choose to talk to a friend or people around you about what is upsetting you to help modify the situation. To assess your current situation, ask yourself, How does my situation fit the emotion I want to regulate? Is it possible to change my situation? How will changing my situation help me feel better than what I am feeling now? What situations can help me change to more positive feeling?
Shift your attention
Shift your attention towards other aspects of the situation that help you reduce your unwanted emotions. If deploying attention towards something might increase your negative emotion, you can try and divert your attention away from what’s bothering to reduce the impact of the emotional situation that’s causing you distress. Ask yourself, Will it help me if I shift my attention on to something else? Is there something in my situation that I can focus to distract myself from my emotion? Is there something around me that will increase my desired emotion? Is there a wiser, more enlightened way of looking at this seemingly negative situation?
Also, you can limit the resources that are available for consciously processing the negative aspects of the situation. This doesn’t mean you suppress or deny your emotions, you are only distracting yourself to shift your attention towards a particular aspect of the situation or choose to focus on something else that increases a certain of your positive emotions.
Change your thinking
The best way to down regulate your negative experiences is to reevaluate potential negative emotions in order to decrease the emotional impact. Since there is a relationship between thought, action and our feeling, thoughts play an important role in how you experience a situation. Your ability to regulate your thoughts around the emotional situations can help you self-regulate better. Changing the personal meaning that is assigned to an experience can directly influence the response towards the emotions that you are experiencing.
When you notice yourself experiencing negative emotions, evaluate which of your thoughts are causing that emotion. For instance, what is it that’s really making me feel like this? What am I reacting to ? What’s the worst that could happen? How important will this be next week or next month? Instead of suppressing your negative emotions, you could try to change your thinking to something that elicits positive emotions or attach a different meaning instead of thinking and ruminating on your negative emotional experiences.
Choose to respond differently
Sometimes, our subconscious reaction to an event can be harmful. Changing the way how you respond is part of emotional regulation as well. Instead of simply letting your impulses get to you, or reacting violently to every irksome situation, you can choose to respond in healthy ways. Changing how you think can provide an alternative perspective to create more options to view the emotional situation in different ways and creates more choices about how can respond.
In most situations, we have a choice about how to respond. Get curious about what will happen if you choose to respond differently. To respond better, ask yourself, How will my response improve my situation? Will it be beneficial to respond differently? Can I try a different response? Is it possible to look at the situation from another perspective? Will it help me change my response if I were to change how I think about the situation?
Questions for self-reflection
What are some of your coping strategies when it comes to difficult emotions?
What behaviours do you resort to in negative emotional situations and why?
Which emotions are hardest for your to cope or tolerate?
What specific thoughts trigger some of your negative emotions?
What are your most go-to or preferred positive emotions?
Which of your thoughts and beliefs about yourself that perpetuate negative emotional cycles?
How often do you try to modify the situation, your thoughts or responses in emotional situations?
Individuals often self-sabotage and indulge in self-destructive behaviours and habits to get relief from intense and negative emotions. The inability to regularly use healthy strategies to diffuse or moderate intense emotions will often lead to poor decisions, poor communication and broken relationships. Also indulging in short-term fixes tends to weaken long-term sense of well-being and does not create space for better choices.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to managing one’s emotions, one can always learn to manage and regulate their emotions in constructive ways to benefit their physical and psychological health. Though it can take time and practice, it is important to develop an ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience. Regulating your emotions through above strategies help you diffuse intense emotions, often allowing for a greater understanding of what led to such experience to live a more emotionally balanced life.
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