Emotional regulation is important because emotions are a regular part of the human experience. We feel a wide range of things every day, from excitement when we take a surprise trip to frustration when we are late to an event. These emotions can be strong or mild, and different people feel them at different intensities. The same event that barely phases you can make someone else angry, and vice versa. This range of emotions can be hard to predict, and even harder to control sometimes, and that’s why emotional regulation is necessary. Emotional regulation helps you judge these triggers and whether or not to act on them, helping you in the long run with performance, relationships, and even your own wellbeing.
- Emotional regulation is the process of controlling your emotions and how you respond to them.
- Emotional regulation is an extremely important trait, especially when it comes to the workplace.
- Emotional dysregulation is the inability to properly control and process your emotions. It can be caused by childhood trauma, the negative behaviour of parents, brain injury, and chronic invalidation of emotions.
- 4 emotional regulation skills you should master are taking a step back, self-awareness, self-compassion, and adaptability
- Emotional regulation strategies fall into two categories: antecedent-focused and response-focused
- 6 strategies to help you with emotional regulation include reappraisal, self-soothing, attentional control, trigger identification, looking for positive emotions, making conscious decisions, and seeking professional help such as therapy.
What does emotional regulation mean?
Emotional regulation is the process of controlling your emotional state and how you express these states. Essentially, this refers to any action, whether conscious or unconscious, that manages your emotional responses to things that happen. This applies to both positive and negative emotions, but emotional regulation tends to be more important when it comes to negative emotions.
The ability to regulate your emotions is affected by several factors. Your upbringing, behavioural guidance, relationships with others, and relationship with yourself are all things that can influence your emotional regulation. While some are better at it than others, emotional regulation is a trait that can be learned and improved upon with the right intentions.
Why is emotional regulation important?
Emotional regulation is an extremely important trait, especially when it comes to the workplace. This is because of several reasons.
Short term effects
First, emotional regulation helps you feel better in the moment. When you are facing extreme emotions, knowing how to control your response to them helps you cope with these feelings better. This prevents you from having emotional outbursts that have a negative effect on your mood.
Strengthening your relationships
Emotional regulation also helps your relationships with others. By tuning into your feelings, you’ll have more positive interactions with others, without letting things like anger or annoyance get the best of you.
Being able to regulate your emotions will guide you through tough situations as well, ensuring you have a clearer head when it comes to things like problem-solving. By doing so, you’ll be able to better assess situations and come up with solutions objectively.
In the workplace
Building off of the previous points, overall, emotional regulation will benefit you in the workplace when it comes to performance, building connections, and your wellbeing as a whole. Having control of your emotions allows you to enhance performance in other aspects of work-life and be a better employee.
What is emotional dysregulation?
On the opposite end, emotional dysregulation is characterized by a weak ability to manage your emotions. It can also mean you have difficulty recognizing the emotions you’re experiencing. In more medical terms, it can be known as emotional regulation disorder, a condition where someone has an inability or an impaired ability to manage and regulate emotions. Symptoms of emotional regulation disorder are as follows:
- Sudden and/or frequent outbursts or meltdowns
- Self-destruction or self-harming behaviour
- Difficulty cultivating healthy personal relationships
- Inability to focus
- Displacement of emotional response onto unrelated parties
What causes emotional dysregulation?
Emotional dysregulation can be caused by a number of reasons, including childhood trauma, relationship with parents or guardians, brain injury, and chronic invalidation of emotions.
Childhood is the most critical time period for development in a person’s life. If you have experienced traumatic events during your early years, they could still be impacting you today. In this context, childhood trauma is linked to a reduced ability to understand and regulate emotions, causing emotional dysregulation.
Relationship with parents and/or caregivers
Parents and caregivers typically have the largest influence on you as you’re growing up. Thus, if you weren’t taught or exposed to healthy ways of responding to emotions by your parents, especially as a child, it is likely that emotional regulation is more difficult for you. When you learn these unhealthy methods of coping with emotions in your developmental years, it can be harder to start practising healthy methods.
Brain or head injury
After a brain or head injury, it’s common that a lot of emotions, especially negative ones like sadness and frustration, are heightened. These emotions during and after the process of recovery can be overwhelming and hard to manage, resulting in emotional dysregulation.
Chronic invalidation of emotions
Chronic invalidation happens when you are expressing your feelings or experiences and they are constantly rejected, ignored, or judged. This can look like people telling you “It could be worse”, “You’re being too sensitive”, or “Stop making a big deal out of everything”. When you feel like you can’t share without being invalidated, it causes problems in managing emotions. You may feel confused and distrusting of your own emotions, negatively affecting your ability to regulate them.
How do you emotionally regulate yourself?
Now that you know what emotional regulation is, you may be wondering how you can put it into practice. Thankfully, emotional regulation is a learned behaviour, not something set in stone. That means it can be continually improved upon and worked on. Using various emotional regulation skills and strategies, you’ll find that your ability to manage your emotions will progress in a positive direction.
4 emotional regulation skills one should master
1. Taking a step back
It’s natural to react when emotions happen quickly. You can go from calm to angry in just seconds without a second thought. That’s why the first skill is to remind yourself to pause and take a step back from the situation. By taking the time to breathe and slow down before reacting, it helps you control your reactions, giving you space to think.
Being self-aware of your feelings is the next skill you should master when it comes to emotional regulation. Understand the range of emotions you may feel – when you are feeling down, is it sadness, disappointment, or frustration? Take notice of how your body reacts when you experience different emotions: the tension you feel, the racing of your heart, all of these are indicators of what you are feeling. By self-evaluating and being aware of these emotions, it helps you explore these feelings and the reactions that follow.
Along with self-awareness, self-compassion is a helpful emotional regulation skill. Being compassionate towards yourself helps you when dealing with negative emotions as it allows you to see yourself more positively.
Emotional regulation and adaptability go hand in hand when it comes to changes, especially major ones. Being able to build adaptability is important because it helps you become more resilient to intense situations. When it comes to these situations, try to think of them objectively, what would you suggest someone else do in the same situation?
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What are the 2 types of emotional regulation strategies?
Generally, emotional regulation strategies fall within two categories: antecedent-focused and response-focused.
Antecedent-focused strategies happen before the emotional response fully occurs. These are mental or physical things that you do when you know that an emotional response will happen or is happening. An example of this type of strategy is choosing to avoid a situation that you know will cause you a strong emotional response. Another example would be distracting yourself from an emotionally charged situation (i.e., when there is something disturbing on the television screen, and you distract yourself by checking your phone).
On the other hand, response-focused strategies happen after an emotional response occurs. This encompasses the things you do that help you deal with emotions after you feel them. Coping strategies are an example of this category. For example, if you just had a frustrating situation at work, and you decide to go on a walk to calm down your negative emotions, this is a response-focused strategy. Similarly, if you are feeling extremely sad, and you decide to get yourself some dessert, this is also a response-focused strategy.
6 Proven tips to help you regulate your emotions
Within the two categories of antecedent-focused and response-focused emotional regulation, there are proven strategies that can help you regulate your emotions. These consist of reappraisal, self-soothing, attentional control, identifying and reducing triggers, making conscious response decisions, and seeking professional guidance.
Reappraisal is a strategy that focuses on reframing the meaning and impact of the situation that is causing strong emotions. This consists of reassessing the situation to think about the positive outcomes from the situation: Did you learn something from it? How did you grow from it? Is there something you’re grateful for? For example, if you got a negative performance review at work, you can look at it as something to learn from rather than getting down on yourself about it.
When tensions are high, you tend to feel out of control. Self-soothing helps you relax when you feel overwhelmed, aiding with emotional regulation. It’s important to practice healthy self-soothing techniques versus quick fixes. Examples of this include:
- Playing soothing music
- Thinking about your favourite things
- Taking a walk or going outside for a few minutes
- Saying positive affirmations
- Practising deep breathing
3. Attentional control
Attentional control refers to the ability to focus and shift attention with flexibility. The reason that this is an emotional regulation strategy is that it helps you essentially choose what to pay attention to in different situations. For example, if you are facing an emotionally charged circumstance, you can shift your attention towards what will benefit the situation rather than cause more damage.
4. Identify and reduce triggers
Negative emotions aren’t always bad, but you shouldn’t always have to put yourself through them. Being able to identify and reduce triggers helps you both internally and externally to regulate your emotions. You’ll be better at understanding why these triggers lead to certain emotions and whether you can change them. You’ll also be able to gain control of these triggers when it comes to unpleasant situations.
5. Make a conscious choice about how to respond
It may seem like a no-brainer that we can choose how we respond to situations, but it’s always helpful to be reminded. Next time emotions arise that feel overwhelming, remind yourself that you can decide how you want to react. Taking a step back and acknowledging the power you have will help you regulate the emotions further.
6. Seek professional help
As strong as we may be, sometimes emotions are difficult and can seem out of your control. When you’re having a hard time, it is even harder to practise emotional regulation. Sometimes you need some extra help to get through it. Professional help in the form of therapy or counselling will guide you towards the right path when you are feeling this way.
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