Our emotions fluctuate every day. They can bring us joy, happiness, distress, and sadness, changing multiple times a day. Learning to regulate our emotions is an essential skill that can aid in developing emotional intelligence and managing trauma and mental health conditions.
This blog will cover the benefits and challenges of emotional regulation and practical tips and techniques to develop this essential skill.
What Is Emotional Regulation?
Emotional regulation is the ability to recognise, manage, and appropriately respond to emotions. Children begin to develop emotional regulation in childhood, learning to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and controlling their impulses.
People are bombarded with emotion-provoking stimuli every day. With good emotional regulation skills, they can react accordingly and appropriately to the situation. For example, if angry, they will step away from the situation to calm themselves instead of lashing out at others.
One study found that those who are better at self-regulating tend to be better at:
- Persisting through adversity
- Seeing challenges as opportunities to grow
- Communicating with their loved ones and peers
- Calming themselves when upset
Emotional dysregulation refers to difficulties managing and controlling one’s emotions healthily. It involves a range of emotional responses that are excessive or inappropriate given the situation and can include intense mood swings, impulsivity, and difficulty calming down or recovering from emotional arousal.
Children exposed to childhood abuse, neglect, and trauma may not develop emotional regulation skills, contributing to difficulties with emotions in the future. Trauma can change the fundamental elements of the brain, significantly impacting emotional development that can cause lasting effects through adulthood.
Research has shown those with a history of trauma have significantly heightened activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain responsible for processing emotions, fear and danger signals.
Emotional dysregulation is associated with various mental health conditions, including depression and bipolar disorder, anxiety, personality disorders, and trauma. People can struggle with abrupt mood changes, being unable to calm themselves down when distressed, and challenges coping with stress. They may turn to substance abuse in an attempt to manage these symptoms, which can make them much worse.
How to Improve Emotional Regulation
Emotional regulation is a skill that can be strengthened with practice, time, and effort. There are several strategies that can improve regulation and enhance mental health.
Emotional regulation is closely associated with mindfulness. When people can face their problems and emotions in a non-judgemental, thoughtful pattern, they become more aware of their reactions to them without being overwhelmed.
There are multiple ways to practice mindfulness, including:
- Yoga – Yoga and other forms of mindful movement, such as tai chi, involve moving the body slowly and deliberately while focusing on the present moment.
- Meditation – Meditation involves focusing on the present moment and can take many forms, from body scans to visualisation techniques to simply sitting and being present. Incorporating meditation into a daily routine can reduce anxiety, improve symptoms of depression, and improve negative thoughts.
- Breathing exercises – Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which shifts the body into a state of rest-and-digest rather than fight-or-flight. In times of stress, anger, or anxiety, taking a few moments to practice breathing exercises can help improve emotional regulation.
Our thought patterns shape our lives. However, they can be changed for the better. Cognitive reappraisal involves reinterpreting a situation to change the emotional response to it.
For example, if someone has an important presentation at work coming up, they may be anxious and worry about all of the things that can go wrong. Cognitive reappraisal shifts the focus from a negative approach to a positive one, helping people focus on the opportunity to showcase skills and knowledge to their coworkers.
Studies have shown that cognitive reappraisal is linked to more positive emotions, happiness, and life satisfaction. Combined with a mindful approach to being aware of specific thoughts and feelings, it can vastly improve emotional regulation and help people self-soothe when distressed.
Stress is present in everyday life, from encountering a bad traffic jam on the way to work to dealing with significant personal problems. It can trigger the fight-or-flight response, and the body can respond by releasing hormones such as cortisol that make people feel more irritable or on edge.
When stress goes unmanaged, it can lead to heightened emotional responses, making it challenging for people to manage their emotions. For example, someone might snap at their friend for being late to dinner after a stressful day when ordinarily, they would not.
Reducing stress can improve emotional regulation and allow people to deal with emotions and problems proportionally. Although it cannot be eliminated, people can effectively manage their stress through:
- Regular exercise
- Socialising with loved ones
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting eight hours of sleep per night
Problems with emotional regulation can be symptomatic of a larger problem, such as past trauma. If this is not addressed, these issues can persist long into the future. However, professional help can treat the root causes of trauma and aid with the symptoms, supporting people struggling to regulate their emotions alone.
While learning emotional regulation can be challenging, the benefits are well worth the effort. Improving our emotional intelligence and developing healthy coping mechanisms can reduce the risk of developing mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Additionally, it can help strengthen relationships with others by communicating our emotions effectively and responding constructively to those around us.
Learning emotional regulation is a lifelong process that requires commitment and practice. However, with the right tools and support, anyone can develop the skills needed to regulate their emotions healthily and positively.
If you have a client or know of someone struggling with anything you have read in this blog, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).
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