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Experiencing emotions is part of our human nature. Everyone feels a range of them but some people experience them more strongly than others. The way you think and react when you’re emotional depends on what you’ve learned growing up and your experiences as an adult. If you didn’t manage to appropriately learn how to manage your emotions, especially in social situations, then that’s where emotional self-regulation comes in.

Emotional self-regulation is defined as “a term generally used to describe a person’s ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience” (Rolston & Lloyd-Richardson, n.d.). Thus, we have the ability to monitor and control our emotions depending on the situation that we’re in. With the constant ups and downs that we experience throughout our life, being able to do this can help improve our quality of life. Emotional self-regulation helps us to think through our emotional response which leads us to making more positive and healthy reactions rather than making impulsive decisions which we might regret later on.

It’s important to note that making use of emotional self-regulation doesn’t mean we never show when something has upset us. Rather, it means that we become aware when it’s the right moment to show it. An example to help distinguish this would be, if you’re driving at the right speed limit and a driver starts honking their horn to drive faster, it would be best to ignore them rather than freak out. However, if then your sister steals the clothes you planned to wear that day then it’s appropriate for you to show your anger and claim your clothes back. We are constantly regulating our emotions throughout the day. It happens with every social interaction we encounter and every decision we need to make.

Here are 3 tips help you self-regulate your emotions;

  1. Think before you speak – When making a decision or reacting to someone, it’s important to take a few seconds to think before speaking or reacting. By speaking from a place of calm and consideration, we can handle the situation better. For example, when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and a work colleague gives you something else to do, instead of lashing out at them, stop yourself from reacting. Breathe in and out, then explain to them that right now you’re overwhelmed with work but you will do it once you have the chance unless someone else can do it.
  2. Mindfulness – Mindfulness means being fully present in the here and now; you’re aware of where you are and what you’re doing in that moment. You need to observe what is happening inside of you with your thoughts and feelings as well as to what is happening around you. According to the American Psychological Association, by integrating mindfulness into your life, it helps to reduce stress and make you less emotionally reactive to your situations.
  3. Seek the help of a professional – You don’t need to be alone when trying to understand and manage your emotions. If you’re finding it difficult to self-regulate your emotions, then think about seeking a therapist to help you with this.

Self-regulating skills tend to start in childhood, but we can continue working to develop them as we become increasing challenged with what life throws at us. Developing these skills will help you improve your relationships in life, make you feel more connected with others, and even help you to cope with everyday struggles.

Mandy is a Gestalt psychotherapist who enjoys working therapeutically with adults on various issues. These include general mental health and wellbeing. She also has experience working with anxiety, victims of domestic violence and eating disorders.

References:

  1. Davis, D., & Hayes, J. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness. American Psychological Association43(7), 64.
  2. Rolston, A., & Lloyd-Richardson, E. What is emotion regulation and how do we do it? [PDF] (pp. 1-5). Retrieved from http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/perch/resources/what-is-emotion-regulationsinfo-brief.pdf