If the past year and a half with the lockdowns that many of us experienced and the naturally stressful life conditions, many of us have become aware that the very experience and expression of emotions are vital to our well-being and socialisation. If tuned finely, you can efficiently manage your responses to certain situations and handle various relations. Emotions, therefore, are a vital element of your everyday life and give the world around you a simpler look.
However, at the same time, these very emotions can take a heavy toll on you if not dealt with effectively and can negatively impact your relationships with colleagues, friends and loved ones. It’s worth keeping in mind that this is applicable not only to negative emotions! No, emotions you may categorise as positive; if not handled properly, they can sometimes have a similar effect as negative emotions. According to the therapist, Vicki Botnick, any emotion – even positive emotions – can become impossible to control if they tend to become too intense and we become dysregulated. Many of us that are parents often see this in our children and may not believe or consider that the same is often displayed by us adults.
What are Emotions?
In psychological terms, emotion refers to a complex state of feeling, resulting in various physical and psychological responses, which then impact our cognitive and behavioral capacity.
Elizabeth Gilbert so beautifully put it when she said, “…You are after all, what you think. Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts and you are the slave to your emotions.”
What is Emotional Regulation?
According to the Cornell Research Program on Injury and Self-Recovery, “…Emotional Regulation is a term used to describe a person’s to effectively manage and respond to a emotional experience. People unconsciously use emotion regulation strategies to cope with difficult situations many times throughout the day.”
Many of you may not know this, but Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is considered an important predictor of your mental well-being. For those of you not familiar with the concept of ‘Emotional Intelligence’, EQ refers to our ability to acknowledge, regulate and express our emotions. This emotional intelligence and thus the ability to efficiently regulate our emotions may not always be found naturally. It can, however, be developed over time through various research backed strategies.
You can definitely take back control of your emotions and life with just a little bit of practise. It has been suggested that good emotional regulation ability is linked to well-being and also, in fact, to greater success in a variety of areas in life.
How to Better Regulate Your Emotions?
Here are ten ways in which you can learn to process, manage and communicate your emotions better. Here’s to a healthy mind and a healthier lifestyle!
1. Weigh the Consequences of Your Emotions!
Overwhelming emotions are not an unusual experience. You can rightfully experience these when something wonderful happens, something terrible falls upon you or when you feel like you are not being included in that particular friend group. Emotions are definitely a normal part of life. And intense emotions do not always come with disastrous consequences.
But it can be important to consider the responses to your emotional reactions. Sometimes an excessive and frequent expression of intense emotions (be they positive or negative) might lead to an adverse reaction from those who experience you and your emotions. Moreover, continued unregulated emotions could lead to problems at work (or school) for example. Even though your emotions may be positive, your inability to regulate emotions can still lead to negativity. Also, unregulated emotional expression may not only result in emotional outbursts but also physical outbursts of varying kinds.
So, it’s recommend that you reflect whenever possible (during intense emotions it is very difficult to do so, the logical part of your brain is shut off) and sit down and keep track of when and how your emotions were unregulated and even seek to identify any patterns or typical problem areas. Once identified, we can look forward to working with them, sometimes being able to nip them in the bud or seek to regulate in a healthy, useful way.
2. Aim: Regulate, Not Repress!!!
I want to highlight here that your aim is to REGULATE emotions, not SUPPRESS them. You can’t simply just brush them under the rug, and unfortunately, the tactic “Talk yourself out of it” sometimes doesn’t work here either. Emotions are often natural states and learned automatic responses, which tend to come and go. Intercepting this process by trying to suppress them is only going to worsen things. Suppression typically tends to magnify according to the latest research on emotional regulation.
Remember, emotional regulation and healthy emotional expression don’t involve brushing the emotions aside. It usually means finding a positive balance in the way you express emotions.
3. Identify the Feeling
This involves questioning yourself to see what emotions you are feeling right now and what you can do about them. It is more of a reality check. Remember to think before you act (buy yourself some time with breathing or counting if you are able to do so before you respond).
For example, you plan a day out with a close friend, but they suddenly cancel the plan saying they can’t go out that day. You remain calm about this and then reschedule the plan for another day. However, the response from the other person stays the same, and they reply with “Won’t be possible. I’m busy”.
Now, if you do not regulate your emotions in this particular scenario, your disappointed or frustrated or even angry reaction may lead to negative responses and even projecting meaning onto the situation that you have no real evidence to support e.g. assuming that the other individual doesn’t like you. Too much negativity and exhaustion, right?
Instead, take a deep breath and ask yourself questions like
- “What am I feeling right now?
- “Why do I feel this way?”
- “What could another possible explanation be (for your friend’s behaviour)?”
- “How do I want to express this emotion?”
- “What other way can I express it?”
The bottom line is that you simply do not know the reality and you are only guessing and trying to work it out as is the human tendency. These few questions can really intercept the extreme rush of emotions and help you alter your behaviour. With repeated practise, this tactic will become easier and more effective to implement.
4. Acknowledge Your Feelings
Have you realised that the more you wish to get rid of that one embarrassing thought and experience, the more you seem to be affected by it every now and then?
Well, one reason for this is that you don’t need to invalidate your emotions by stressing that what you’re feeling is not important and that it isn’t a big deal. Maybe it is a big deal for you.
Confronting your thoughts and emotions prevents you from resorting to extreme expression later on. Simply acknowledge them openly like “College applications really stress me out. I can’t seem to cope with my studies and manage my sleep schedule either. It is really taking a toll on me”.
There, easier, no? Consider accepting your experience for what it is rather than fighting or denying it!
5. Keep a Journal for Yourself
You can use an app on your phone or buy a journal for yourself. Whenever you feel a strong surge of emotion, jot them down. Keep a log of your onbgoing emotional experience. Write long paragraphs from the heart or shorter ones where you are succinct when you want to; getting it out in writing is a proven psychological tactic in and of itself. Writing things down can very much interrupt the intense emotion and modify it. Moreover, reading through your journals can really help you identify the specific trigger points and patterns that will serve you to be aware of in the future.
To further emphasise the importance of journal keeping, here is what Martina Navratilova says about it: “Keeping a journal of what’s going on in your life is a good way to help you distil what’s important and what’s not!”
6. Inhale Deeply
Whenever you feel a strong surge of emotions, remember to stop and take in a deep breath. Now pausing and deep breathing won’t make your emotions go away completely. But there are several breathing exercises you can turn to and can perform that can intercept that sudden wave of intense positive or negative emotions and can help you take a step back from acting out.
Therefore, whenever you face an exciting or frustrating incident that is bound to stimulate unregulated emotions in you, remember to take in a deep breath and hold it in there. At times, repeating a mantra such as “Everything is alright” constantly can really help too!
7. Give Yourself Some Time
It may be important for you to learn to distance yourself from intense feelings. This distancing can be both physical and mental as well. Some examples of distancing yourself may include leaving the intense emotion-provoking scene or mentally rehearsing differing responses in your mind.
Other forms of distancing yourself may include distracting yourself from your normal lifestyle. This may include taking out some time to go for an evening or morning walk in the park, simply sitting out on a pleasant winter night listening to soulful music as you stargaze, spending some time with your pet dog or cat and something as simple as watching a funny video online which can really help you forget the intense emotions you were going through a few minutes ago.
Meditation can help you stimulate your awareness of your feelings and other soulful experiences. When you sit and do meditation, you tend to become more aware of your feelings, and you tend to focus on them without judging yourself or without trying to alter them. It has also proven useful in helping one relax and also aids in improving your sleep pattern.
It should also be noted that meditation really helps you accept your emotions and as mentioned in one of the earlier points above, accepting your emotions (be they positive or negative) really is the first step towards regulating your emotions.
9. Try and Reduce Stress
Another very important and easy way to regulate your emotions is to reduce stress. Stress is experienced by all, and no matter how strong and well-held the person is, it tends to derail everyone. Even the strongest among you who seem to hold their emotions well may experience difficulty in controlling their emotions when under high stress and tension.
Therefore, one easy way to finally regulate your intense emotions maybe by reducing stress. Reducing stress can help you gain better control of yourself in tense situations and thus can really help modify your emotional expression.
There are several ways you can reduce stress. One of them is meditation, which has already been listed as an option in the points above. Have a look at self-hypnosis too. Other ways to manage stress and anxiety may include getting enough sleep, exercising, relaxing or spending time on hobbies, and hanging out with friends.
10. Seek Professional Help
If all else fails to work, and your intense emotions seem to be taking the better of you, the last and the most helpful advice we can give you is to seek professional help!
Constant emotional dysregulation stemming from several family issues and trauma can lead to serious health issues both physically and mentally in the form of varying mental health issues.
A therapist can help you in exploring factors that could contribute to dysregulated emotions and thus help address any mood swings. They can also help you in challenging and reframing emotions that cause stress and thus dysregulated emotions. Moreover, they can down-regulate emotions or up-regulate expressions in accordance with your situation.
Regulating emotions may be more important than you realise. Every day, we tend to face situations that require a response or reaction on our end. It is natural for our nervous system to be bombarded with a number of intense positive and negative emotions. The process of regulating emotions acts as a modifier: It intercepts the emotional comprehending process and motivates us to act in a balanced manner.
Remember, there is a positive relation between emotion regulation and depression management, leading to better social-emotional intelligence. It is all about moving on and letting personal fears and setbacks get in the way of progress. With emotional regulation, we get the ability to accept and overpower our feelings.
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