What Is Emotional Regulation

Published on 4 October 2023 at 09:00

According to James Madison University’s counseling center, there are 8 categories of primary emotions which are anger, sadness, fear, joy, interest, surprise, disgust, and shame. Yet there are lists containing upwards of 34,000 words used as emotional descriptors. Obviously, emotions play a major role in all our daily lives, or we wouldn’t go through such trouble to describe the experience.

Considering that, it is no wonder that emotional regulation affects each of our lives as well. Emotional regulation is the ability to recognize and understand your emotions and being able to manage and control those emotions as they present themselves throughout your day.

This is a skill, and like all skills, everyone has a varying degree of how well they can perform emotional regulation. If you practice this skill, you will become more adept and competent over time.

Why is emotional regulation important?

There are many reasons that emotional regulation is important, the most significant being that regulating our emotions helps maintain good mental health and positive social interaction and capability. It also impacts our ability to calm ourselves down and act upon our emotions in socially acceptable manners. Often when one acts upon negative emotions in extreme ways, such as an outburst or aggression, they will regret it. 

Not only are our social relationships impacted, but our internal relationships can be damaged by poor regulation. Failing to prevent strong negative emotions creates low well-being and can cause dangerous internal conditions such as aggression, difficulty adjusting to new emotions, and depression. 

What factors might cause poor regulation?

The causes of poor emotional regulation include:

  • Poor attachment as a child
  • Never being taught emotion regulation skills
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Lack of adult modeling of appropriate responses to emotions as a child

How can I improve my emotional regulation?

Fortunately, emotion regulation is a skill, which means you can put forth concise effort and learn to have better control. As with most things, practice is imperative to help you gain positive emotion regulation and help improve your mental and social health.

When you are actively experiencing emotions:

  • Take time to pause when you experience an intense emotion. Take a breath and allow yourself a few moments to slow down and gain composure.
  • Check in with yourself. Focus on your sensations. Is your neck stiff or your heart rate elevated? This helps redirect your focus.
  • Name your emotion. The sensations you identified may help you label the emotion. It is not uncommon to experience more than one emotion at a time, so don’t limit yourself.
  • Acceptance. We all experience emotions in varying degrees at some point, so try to not be hard on yourself. Accept the emotion as valid and move on.
  • Mindfulness has been proven to help you stay calm and in the moment.

When you are not actively experiencing emotions:

  • Look for patterns about when you experience strong emotions. There may be a specific trigger that can help you understand why you are reacting. Try a journal.
  • Pay attention to your physical state. Maybe you lose regulation capability whenever you are tired or hungry?
  • Positive self-talk will affect your outlook. When you struggle, avoid beating yourself up. Practice positive thinking such as “I am doing the best I can” and you will feel better about yourself.
  • Remember that you can choose your reactions. When you take a moment to pause, think about how you should react. Try thinking about how your reaction would make you feel if the roles were reversed.
  • Acknowledge positivity. Negative bias is a real concept. Humans place more weight on negativity. Make a conscious effort to acknowledge positivity in your life.
  • Reach out for help. Talking it over with someone else with give you perspective. Sometimes when your struggle becomes overwhelming, professional help from a therapist is the proper choice. 

What is emotional dysregulation?

While everyone experiences negative emotions at varying points throughout their lives, and we all will struggle to maintain them occasionally, some people may have a condition known as emotional dysregulation.

This means that they are unable to sufficiently regulate their emotions and tend to react disproportionately, sometimes even explosively. They may not be able to appropriately cope with stressful situations and may even turn to self-destructive behavior. It is helpful to seek out the support of a professional if you believe you are affected by this condition.

Becoming emotionally competent and strengthening your emotion regulation is something that should be implemented universally. The better developed these skills are, the better overall mental health we can achieve.

You will find a positive impact on your social life, feel more in control of yourself, and find greater success in your life when you recognize and expand your abilities of positive emotion regulation.




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