What is Emotional Self-Regulation?

We’ve all said or done something in our lives that we regret. Maybe you lashed out at a significant other for something that wasn’t their fault. Maybe you brought up something private in a public space that wasn’t yours to share. Or perhaps you threw out or ruined something important to someone before you thought it through.

All of these actions are examples of what happens when we act before we think. Learning how to do the opposite (thinking before we act) takes time and hard work, but in the long run, it prevents us from racking up too many of these regrets in our lifetime. This ability to look before leaping, as the saying goes, is called emotional self-regulation, and while this skill absolutely becomes easier as we get older, the beginnings of this skill are formed in childhood. All this means is that it is never too late (or too early) to start working on building this skill for yourself.

Today, we’ll dive into what emotional self-regulation is, as well as some of the most prevalent strategies and tips for helping you to achieve this skill.

What Is Emotional Self-Regulation?

In the simplest terms, emotional self-regulation is the ability to control or modify your feelings, thoughts, words, or actions without reacting immediately to a stimulus. Knowing how to do this, to take a pause between experiencing an input and reacting, can stop you from saying or doing hurtful things that can affect others and yourself. 

While many of us may wish that we were able to be a little more impulsive in certain situations, when it comes to reacting emotionally, impulsivity is typically not where you want to fall. Impulsive behaviors and reactions can harm personal and professional relationships and may leave us feeling alone or avoided.

Why Is It Important?

Because self-regulation allows us to pause between our feelings and the actions we take, it is no surprise that without this skill, a number of problems may arise in our lives. 

When we lack this skill, we may lash out or otherwise have trouble handling frustrating or stressful situations in a way that is appropriate for social situations. This can lead to anxiety over time and avoidance of these situations, and in extreme conditions, the inability to self-regulate emotions may result in a mental health condition. Individuals who do possess this skill, on the other hand, are typically more resilient to stress, happier, and maintain a better overall quality of life.

Strategies for Emotional Self-Regulation

If you don’t know where to begin when it comes to building self-regulation skills, here are three popular strategies that you can experiment with in your own life. There is no right way to build self-regulation skills, and the strategies listed below may not work for you. This said some people find utilizing one or more of the following strategies to be effective in helping them maintain a healthier emotional well-being.

  • Mindfulness — focusing on the present to let go of worry, guilt, and anxiety.
  • Cognitive Reevaluation — changing the way you think about or react to a stressful or triggering situation.
  • Emotion Suppression — taming your emotions in the short term by postponing them to prevent unwanted reactions at the moment. Keep in mind, however, that this strategy is not a long-term solution. It can simply help with de-escalating a challenging situation. But, these emotions are not changed and must be processed once outside of the situation to prevent them from stewing and growing.

Tips for Building Healthy Self-Regulation Skills

While the strategies mentioned above may help you maintain a better overall emotional well-being, you may wonder how you can help strengthen and practice your self-regulation skills in your daily life — especially if the strategies above do not appeal to you.

Here are some of the best techniques you can use to boost your self-regulation through daily practice and becoming more aware of your mind and body.

Check-in with Your Body

Become aware of your emotions and recognize the signs of them so you can more easily notice them when they come up in specific situations. Put words to the feelings you experience in stressful or uncomfortable situations and recognize these emotions as valid, but remind yourself that you do not need to take immediate action because of them.

Conducting frequent check-ins with yourself allows you to build a level of self-awareness that helps you understand yourself and your feelings better. This can help you better learn what you can do in situations that are challenging to regulate the emotions that come up and react productively, not impulsively.

Take Care of Yourself

Becoming more aware of yourself means becoming aware of your mind and body and understanding how they connect and how what you do in life fuels and drains them. This means understanding how your daily life affects you, how it allows you to thrive, or limits your ability to enjoy the things around you.

The three keys to taking care of yourself are:

  • Getting enough sleep at night (on a regular basis!)
  • Eating good, nutritious foods at regular intervals
  • Engaging in regular physical activity and incorporating movement throughout your day

Practice Pausing

The human brain is an incredibly complex and awe-inspiring piece of evolution, but sometimes we need to take a step back and slow down to understand the situation. Our brains respond to inputs extremely quickly, and if we were to react immediately, there is no way that we’d be able to actually process the information. So, try to actively slow down this process and react only after you have taken a breath (or five) and actually understood what has happened. 

Doing this in a situation where someone has done or said something upsetting can be a great way to de-escalate and assess the situation more objectively — rather than with the intent of “winning” an argument.

Make It Hard to Lose Control

Most of us have one or two (or a few more) “bad” behaviors that we find ourselves constantly engaging in. Maybe for you, this is munching on snacks throughout the day when you are bored, hitting the snooze button on your alarm in the morning, “forgetting” or becoming “too busy” to make it to the gym, or even spending hours on your phone instead of doing a hobby or activity you love. 

No matter what it is, it can be easy to “lose control” and abandon the healthy and productive habits we want to build if we do not practice good self-regulation skills in our daily lives. So, one great way to combat these “bad” behaviors and boost our self-regulation skills at the same time is to make it hard for us to lose that self-control. Take active steps to remove the temptations (such as unhealthy snacks in your pantry or distracting phone apps) and set yourself up for success (for example, by placing your gym clothes next to your bed or going with a friend so you’ll feel guilty if you skip).

Talk to a Professional

If you are having trouble figuring out how to cope with your emotions in specific situations or are dealing with intense feelings of anxiety, depression, or loneliness, you may want to talk with a mental health professional like a therapist or a counselor. These individuals can offer personalized guidance based on your specific goals, needs, and challenges to help you overcome these feelings and build good self-regulation skills.

So, if you are struggling with challenging emotions that you cannot control, please do not hesitate to reach out to us today at Love Heal Grow.


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