Tools for Emotional Regulation
Regulation is about thinking before acting. Regulation stops us from being impulsive.
We react to what happens to us emotionally, and we do so in different ways. We have a repertoire of emotions and this variety gives our brain signals that make us able to decipher the impact of different triggers and how to respond accordingly. Emotions are very important and often we divide them into those that give us pleasure and those that give us pain. As we grow in experience, we learn and develop defences that mediate the impact of situations. If our defences are not strong enough for one reason or another, we can get overwhelmed by life circumstances and the emotions generated in us tend to debilitate us.
Thus, we need to learn how to regulate. Regulation is about modulation. Regulation helps a lot with depression – pain, anguish, loneliness; anxiety – fear, panic; and also, with anger, frustration, aggression, shame and guilt, or euphoria.
Self-regulation is about stopping, acknowledging and naming the emotion, then thinking before acting. Thinking slows you from being impulsive, and consider your values; possibly the repercussions. It is about grabbing yourself in that moment and taking yourself by the side and speaking to yourself. You do to yourself what you would do for a friend.
The following are some skills that you can start using and cultivating so that in times of need they would come more naturally to you.
Noticing what we feel and naming it is a great step toward emotional regulation. For example, when you feel bad, ask yourself – Am I feeling sad, hopeless, ashamed, or anxious? Write what you come up with including in which parts of the body do you feel such emotions, what are the body sensations, what thoughts come up. All of this gives you time to quiet yourself.
Simple mindfulness exercises that can be done in the moment of challenge and practiced regularly anytime include: breath control or sensory relaxation or sitting and with eyes close imagine your body relaxing one part at a time. These can calm the storm inside and guide our actions in the right way.
- Cognitive reappraisal
This is about changing how we understand a situation, by replacing thoughts or looking at a situation from the shoes of the other person. For example, we can replace thoughts like ‘My boss thinks I am a problem’, ‘I am going to lose my job’, with alternatives such as, ‘My boss is upset at this moment, I am sure I can make up for this, or ‘I know I am hardworking and honest, let me have a conversation to understand better’. By doing so, we gain a broader and better perception of our problems and react to them with more positivity.
Emotional dysregulation lowers our adaptability to life changes including our ways of coping and our self-esteem and efficacy. Instead of adapting to new situations, we start resisting. A great exercise to build adaptability is objective evaluation.
For example, when you are experiencing stressful emotions, instead of denying or avoiding or minimizing those emotions or even react destructively, take a moment to think: what if your best friend was experiencing the same thing? What would you suggest to her/him to do? This is about taking a step back and looking at a situation from a distance instead of getting lost in it.
Setting aside self-care time is a great way to build emotional regulation skills. We can speak to ourselves about our talents, our good qualities, our achievements and take ourselves even if for a few moments, to a place of calm and safety, which is very helpful to shift the energy of the difficult moment.
Some simple self-compassion may involve:
- Daily positive self-affirmations
- Relaxation and breath control
- Compassion meditation
- Regular self-care
- Gratitude journaling
Self-soothing reduces the toxic effects of anger, sadness, and agony that negative experiences bring. Self-soothing, as opposed to self-confrontation, is better and quicker when it comes to managing thoughts and emotions.
Self-soothing exercises, include:
- Self-compassion and loving-kindness meditation.
- Music meditation, where we set aside some minutes to listen to music and unwind ourselves with the relaxing sound.
- Reminiscence therapy, which works great for resolving emotional conflicts involving other people. The practice involves merely sitting and trying to recollect all the good memories we have once had with the person we are now struggling with.
- Breathing exercises, including breath control, breath counting, and simple breath relaxation.
- Simple self-care such as a hot bath, a relaxing massage, cooking for yourself, soaking in the ocean, and many other activities that bring you joy and comfort.
- Emotional support
Finally, it is okay to seek the support of trust others when we cannot do it alone, or to see a therapist or professional when we cannot cope and feel that we are failing. We need not do it alone. What is important is to live life to the best of our abilities for our benefit and that of others especially our loved ones.