Emotional Regulation

Table of Contents

What is Emotional Regulation?

Emotional regulation is a term used to describe one’s ability to exert a level of control over their emotions. Often times, our emotions feel so intense that we feel like we cannot control them, which may lead to us acting in ways that are driven by our emotions. When we start to feel emotionally reactive to something, whether it be a situation or our thoughts or feelings or perceptions, we start to move into our emotional mind. The further into our emotional mind we go, the further away from our logical (also termed: rational or reasonable) mind, meaning our decisions, actions, and/or thoughts become driven by our emotions rather than logic or reason. This can also lead to our emotions intensifying even more so.

Research has shown that it is important to acknowledge how we feel and think of logic as well so that we make decisions based off of our WISE MIND. This is where we operate at our best – when we remain in our wise mind. When our emotions are not being regulated, we move away from our wise mind which can impact on our decision making and subsequent thoughts or feelings. The image below highlights the three states of mind and the optimum mind – the wise mind.

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Who can learn emotional regulation?

Anyone can learn to regulate their emotions no matter what age!
Emotional dysregulation is often seen in children as they are still learning to make sense of their emotions and often don’t have the vocabulary or comprehension as adults to be able to communicate how they are feeling. We might often think that children are “acting out”, but often times, their behaviours are a result of their emotions intensifying and them not knowing how to articulate it. Their behaviour is their way of communicating! Therefore, with children, emotional regulation is teaching them the same skills as below but in simpler terms for them to understand and using different examples. It is also important for parents to role model emotional regulation skills in the home environment and to understand that their children might be feeling big emotions and might not be able to articulate it well, so helping them to understand their emotions can be a helpful think to teaching them to regulate.

Emotional dysregulation can also be seen in many adults and older adults and for various reasons. Each person has their own individual experience, however learning to understand our own individual experience with our emotions is key to learning to regulate our emotions.

How to regulate emotions

Regulating our emotions starts with one key step: BE MINDFUL.

In order to regulate our emotions, we need to be mindful and aware that we are beginning to feel emotional. This may feel different for each person, but we can often have little tells. For example, we might walk into a busy shopping centre and might feel your stomach turn and your heart rate pick up. These are signs to let us know that our emotions are rising. When we are aware, we are then able to use emotional regulation skills and tools to regulate our emotions. These skills might look like deep breathing, grounding, imagery and mindfulness. However again, the efficacy and relevance of skills can vary person to person – what works for someone else might not work for you.

Part of being mindful is also recognise what situations increase your emotional response. You might find that every time you go to a busy shopping centre you feel your emotions pick up and that’s okay! It’s helpful to know as builds our awareness to our responses and can teach us to commence regulating our emotions once we are about to enter a situation we know creates an emotional response in us.

Emotional regulation skills can also be used when we are already experiencing heightened emotions. These are known as distress tolerance skills, and they extend upon emotional regulation skills to assist with minimising the intensity of emotions so that we can move back into our wise mind. 

Learning to regulate our emotions can take time, particularly if we are used to reacting more emotionally and making decisions based off our emotions. However, our minds and bodies are always adapting and able to learn new skills. It takes consistency and the understanding that we are learning to be mindful of our emotions and emotional response to situations / thoughts / feelings / perceptions, regulate our emotions to return/remain in the wise mind, and make more balanced and valued decision making guided by both emotion and logic.

If you think you might like help with learning to regulate your emotions, then contact us at our practice to book in with our experienced psychologists.

Authored by Jasmine Mourad

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