What is Emotional Regulation?

Suppose you and your friends decide to go to an amusement park. While you are waiting in line to buy a ticket, a random person from afar comes and stands in the front row. Your group of friends all react differently, each reaction listed below:

      • One of your friends gets upset and starts shouting at them

      • Another gets visibly furious but does not verbally express it

      • One of your friends decides to leave

      • One of them tries to calm everyone down by offering an alternative response by saying that maybe the family was already standing in line and this person just joined them

      • And another one says that it is just one person extra; it should not matter.

    How do you think you would react?

    Emotional regulation refers to the ability to manage and control one’s emotions in a healthy and constructive way. It involves being able to understand, express, and regulate a wide range of emotions, including both positive and negative feelings, in appropriate and effective ways.

    Emotional regulation is an essential aspect of mental and emotional health, and it can have a significant impact on our relationships, work, and overall well-being. People who struggle with emotional regulation may experience intense emotions that are difficult to control or may have difficulty expressing their feelings in a healthy and productive way. Effective emotional regulation involves several key skills, including being able to recognize and label one’s emotions, understanding the triggers that lead to emotional responses, and developing strategies to manage and cope with challenging emotions. These skills can be learned and practiced through various techniques such as mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and other forms of mental health treatment.

    There are various techniques that can help us regulate negative emotions; some of these include:

    1. Catharsis: Talking about your feelings and emotion to someone close to you can help you feel calm. Discussing a problematic event or memory in detail helps in emotional release; sometimes, while telling, you would find yourself expressing anger, frustration, fear, or even may cry a little. After this, you feel a sense of relief and may feel calmer. You may express emotions and memories that were unknown to you or accidentally say something you have never mentioned to anyone before. Catharsis helps you to recharge yourself and reset the triggered mind. One way this can be done is by calling or visiting someone close and confiding in them about what you are feeling and why you are feeling it.
    2. Exercise: Physical activities naturally release chemicals that improve mood, including endorphin and serotonin, which acts as mood stabilizer. Our muscles often store trauma and negative emotions. When we indulge in activities that mobilize different muscles, the stiffness caused by muscle memory is released, and the body feels more relaxed. Examples of somatic therapy exercise includes stretching, jumping, running, or even dancing while deep breathing to release trauma.
    1. Mindfulness: Feeling sad or anxious is often caused when our brain focuses on the past or future. Often our emotional reactions are in response to resurfacing of a negative memory. We may react to gain a sense of control and not feel helpless. The five senses can help you ground yourself by bringing you to the present environment. This is done by observing and identifying the five things you can see, hear, feel, smell, or taste in the present situation. One other way is through a butterfly hug. This is done by wrapping one’s arms around themselves and then moving the hands like wings to touch the opposite side of the upper body to calm the nervous system and to feel less alone during an adverse event. To do this exercise, pause what you are doing, and take a deep breath by inhaling from the nose and exhaling from the mouth. After this, think of the five things you can see, four things you feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
    1. Art therapy:Using colors to create something is another strategy to help you calm your emotions. Often, our mind is not ready to recall a memory. However, through art therapy, our mind may express the unthought known ambiguously without feeling threatened by the emotionally arousing memory. Color depicts different emotions, e.g., red for anger or love and blue for sadness. This helps you release these emotions without expressing or dealing with them directly. Take a page. Without planning what you will draw beforehand, grab some pencils or colors and let your mind navigate your hands to draw something, do not question or think about why you are drawing something, even if you are scribbling and releasing your anger by putting pressure on your pencil. Once you have completed it, ask yourself what the picture is trying to depict to you and how you feel after this.
    1. Empathy:People may react due to different reasons that are not related to us. Maybe they feel exhausted, overwhelmed, or stressed. Everyone responds differently due to varying perceptions of the same event. We must try to understand the reason behind someone’s action by considering various alternative reasons behind someone’s reaction. Every time you find someone responding in a way that is contradicting to your value system, ask yourself what the reason behind this reaction. Once your mind has listed all these reasons, ask yourself whether these reasons involve you. Reassure yourself that you do not cause the actions or responses of others.
    1. Identify What Your Emotions Are Trying to Tell You: Our emotions often reflect our inner child’s unwanted needs. Do you feel unwanted, unheard, rejected, misunderstood, abandoned, loved, or secure? Labeling the emotion is the first step toward emotional regulation. Once you realize your present emotion is not due to the current situation, you can choose not to react and learn to calm yourself by validating the inner child.
    2. Journaling: Writing is another way to leave your emotions out without publicly expressing them. Often when we feel overwhelmed, writing acts as an outlet to release emotions; it helps organize our thoughts. The racing thoughts become slower to match the writing speed giving us enough time to reconcile our emotions. One way this can be done is through cognitive journaling. Every time you feel overwhelmed, write about what has happened and how you reacted or behaved to the situation. After this, explain how you felt and then, lastly, what happened afterward.
    1. Watch a comfort show: It gets scary when life becomes uncertain. Unpredictability often makes us feel like we do not have control over the environment this may cause our minds to become fearful or anxious. Watching a show you have watched before and recalling the next scene can help you feel in control with familiarity and predictability. Many people watch easily binge-able comedy shows like friends, modern family, etc., during stressful events.
    1. Reading: When we often feel negative emotions, we do not want to listen to anyone; however, these books allow you to converse with the author without fearing being judged or ridiculed. They can help you to understand, reflect and re-evaluate your emotional reactions. Some self-help books I suggest are, The Happiness Trap: by Russ Harris and Ikigai: by Francesca Mirallas and Hector Garcia. Awaken The Giant Within: by Tony Robbin.

    Call to Action: Therapists can play a crucial role in helping individuals develop and improve their emotional regulation skills. Here are some ways in which a therapist can help:

      • Assessment: A therapist can help assess an individual’s emotional regulation skills and identify areas where improvement is needed.

      • Psychoeducation: A therapist can provide information about emotions and emotional regulation, including how emotions work, common emotional triggers, and strategies for managing difficult emotions.

      • Mindfulness: A therapist can teach mindfulness techniques to help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, and learn to accept and regulate them in a non-judgmental way.

      • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A therapist can use CBT to help individuals identify and change negative thought patterns that may contribute to difficulties with emotional regulation.

      • Relaxation techniques: A therapist can teach relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization to help individuals manage stress and reduce emotional reactivity.

      • Exposure therapy: A therapist can use exposure therapy to help individuals gradually confront and overcome fears and anxieties that may contribute to emotional dysregulation.

    Therapists can provide a safe and supportive environment in which individuals can explore their emotions, learn new skills, and develop strategies for managing and regulating their emotions more effectively. If you are interested in working with a therapist, contact us at hello@serengetiwellness.com or visit our website www.serengetiwellness.co


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