Emotions are powerful. They signal threats and rewards. For example, when we experience fear, our emotions are telling us that the current situation we are in might be dangerous to us. When we experience positive emotions such as elation, it indicates to us that the situation we are in is worth celebrating. Emotions are not permanent or absolute. However, the way we feel and interpret them affect how we think, decide, and coordinate our actions in day-to-day lives. Hence, it is important that we know how to manage, express and cope with emotions in a healthy way.
What is Emotional Regulation?
Emotional regulation is defined as the ability to enhance or reduce your emotions as needed. It acts as a modifier; it helps us filter the most important pieces of information and motivates us to attend to it in a way that doesn't evoke stress or fear. A well-regulated person has a good balance and judgement of his feelings and actions.
On the other hand, a person with poor emotion regulation strategies is more likely to have his emotions "controlling" his actions and behavioral patterns. Ever witness parents flying off the handle at the slightest mistake their child makes? That is a quick example of a lack of emotion regulation strategy.
A huge aspect of emotional regulation is self-regulation. Self-regulation refers to pausing between feeling and reacting. It encourages us to slow down for a bit and objectively evaluate a situation before taking any action.
Another aspect is called value engagement. When we react impulsively without paying attention to what is going on inside, we might often deviate from our core values and act the way that we do not normally do. With proper regulation and self-control, we gain back the power to stay calm even under pressure. This prevents us from acting against our core values and ethics.
6 Strategies to Cultivate Emotional Regulation
Self-awareness is the first step towards emotional regulation. Ask yourself what you are feeling whenever there is a negative emotion. Am I feeling angry, guilty, or anxious? Explore your feelings and try to name the specific emotions that you are feeling intensely at that very moment.
The best way is to jot them down every time you feel negative emotions. With this, you can identify patterns and your emotions easier. For example, you noticed that whenever you start feeling breathless, it indicates that you are feeling anxious. That way, you become aware of what you are feeling whenever there is a bodily response triggered by your emotions.
2. Mindful awareness
After gaining awareness of how you feel, the next step is to gain mindfulness. Mindfulness lets us explore and identify all aspects of the physical world, including our body. It helps brings focus from our internal world, to the external world. Deep breathing is a simple mindful exercise that you can do to calm your intense feelings and guide your actions in the right away. Whenever you catch yourself feeling angry, take deep breaths and take control of the situation by being mindful.
3. Cognitive reappraisal
After taking control of the situation, use cognitive reappraisal to alter the way that you think. Cognitive reappraisal includes practices like situational role reversals, where we try to look into at a stressful situation from a new perspective. For example, if your boss has just scolded you for your work, instead of thinking "My boss hates me", you can replace it with alternatives such as "My boss is upset at this moment, I am sure I can make up for this". Doing so helps us gain a wider perception of our problems and react to them with more positivity.
4. Objective Evaluation
Another strategy to help with emotional regulation is to engage in objective evaluation. For instance, when you feel stressed out and you think you might end up destructively exploding your stress onto someone else, take a moment to think about it objectively. What would you suggest your best friend to do if he was experiencing the same thing in the same situation? Write down your answers and try to apply these suggestions for yourself as a coping mechanism.
It is essential to set time for yourself every day to build emotional regulation skills. Start by having daily positive self-affirmations, such as reminding yourself of your talents and virtues. You can also indulge in regular self-care, compassion meditation, and gratitude journaling. When you take the time to focus on the good things in life, you naturally become more positive.
6. Emotional support
We all have bad days in our lives, and sometimes, an emotional support goes a long way in saving us from getting invested in negativity. We can seek help by engaging in positive communication with others. With that being said, it is perfectly okay to seek a therapist or professional when our inner coping mechanism fails. Emotional support helps us to channel our emotions to bring out the best in us, such that we can gain back control in our lives.