Emotions have an enormous role in our lives. At each moment of the day we are experiencing some sort of emotion. They can impact our mood, perception, decision making, relationships, social engagement, and self-care.
Any emotion, even positive ones, can become intense, overwhelming and take an emotional toll, impacting our emotional well-being.
However, with a little practice we can learn to regulate our emotions more effectively, a skill which numerous studies have identified as being strongly linked to well-being. Somewhat surprisingly, emotional regulation has also been linked to financial success, likely due to the ability to regulate emotions effectively while under pressure or in high stress situations.
It is important to acknowledge that not all intense emotional responses are bad. They can often mean that we are allowing ourselves to fully connect with our experiences, not trying to repress our natural responses.
If you experience difficulty regulating your emotions, you might also experience:
conflict in relationships
difficulty at work or school
intense physical or emotional episodes
trouble relating to others
an urge to use substances to regulate or sooth
Aim for regulation
Regulating emotions is about finding the sweet spot. We don't want our emotional responses to be always intense and overwhelming, nor do we want them to be non-existent. It is important to be able to feel, acknowledge, experience, and grow through our emotional responses.
When we don't allow ourselves the opportunity to experience emotions, we increase the likelihood of developing of:
8 tips for improving your ability to regulate emotions
Identify your feelings
Life is busy, we all get that. Unfortunately that often causes us to avoid dealing with our emotions in the moment because the is something else that needs our attention and focus. When this happens, we still need to address those feelings, even if it is later in the day.
Take a moment and ask yourself:
What am I feeling right now?
What happened to make me feel this way?
Does the situation have a different explanation that might make sense?
What do I want to do with these feelings?
Is there a better way of coping with them?
Always try to reframe your thoughts and perspectives, our initial impulse is often an overly intense reaction to how we are feeling.
Accept your emotions
All of your emotions are important. They are not good or bad, they are simply information messengers that are helping you to make sense of a situation or circumstance.
So knowing that they are providing information, take time to understand what they are truly trying to tell you. Emotions can be complex and require some reflection to truly understand why you are experiencing them.
Keep a journal
If you find it challenging to talk to people about how you are feeling, a great place to start is by journaling about your experiences and emotions.
Often it can be challenging to trace back through emotions to fully understand them in context, taking time to write them down can really help to provide clarity and meaning to what you are going through. As you write you will be able to spot trends, triggers, begin to learn from previous experiences, and develop strategies for recurring or similar circumstances.
Practice deep breathing
When you notice certain emotions beginning to intensify, and want to avoid acting impulsively, or perhaps it isn't appropriate to display your authentic emotions in this moment, try some deep breathing.
Deep breathing can help your brain move from a reactionary, flight or fight response, to a rational considered response. It can also help to reduce anxiety, stress, and allow for mental clarity.
Next time you feel emotions starting to take control, try:
Breathing in deeply and slowly, allowing your lungs to fill. Pay attention to the coolness of the air as it moves into your lungs.
Hold your breath for a count of 3
Slowly breathe out, saying to yourself "I am calm".
Understand when to express yourself
As you are well aware, having emotion outbursts at every moment we feel intense emotion is not always beneficial or appropriate. This isn't to say that you should ignore your emotions if the timing doesn't line up, rather to address them fully in a different moment.
It is important to consider what emotions, or degree of emotion is appropriate to display in a particular scenario. If you don't feel like you can fully address how you are feeling in a particular moment, be sure to revisit it later, perhaps in your journal.
Give yourself space
Sometimes we are not equipped to deal with emotions in a particular moment. Allowing yourself some time and space can help to ensure that you are reacting in a reasonable way.
Distance can be physical, removing yourself from a situation, or mental, in the form of a distraction. It is not unhealthy to protect yourself when you don't feel equipped to deal with emotions, just be sure that you don't neglect how you're feeling.
Mindfulness is about turning your focus and attention to only one thing while practicing controlled breathing. Meditation happens to be a method for practicing mindfulness.
By removing distractions and focusing on one thing, we allow our mind the opportunity to reduce clutter, stress, anxiety, confusion, and enhance a sense of calm, relation, rationality, clarity.
When you feel your emotions intensify, try this simple mindfulness exercise:
Breathe deeply in, hold, and exhale completely
As you breathe, turn your attention to your hands
As you breathe, slowly close your hands to make a fist
As you hold your breath, clench your fist tightly
As you breathe out, relax you hand and open your fingers again
Pay attention to the feeling of pressure releasing from your hand with every exhale
If you prefer meditation, simply sitting can allow you to raise your awareness to your emotions and experiences. This awareness and understanding gained through the meditation process can enhance your regulation and acceptance skills. It can also help you to relax and improve sleep quality.
Practice stress reduction techniques
Emotions are often intensified when we are experiencing stress, making them harder to regulate. Therefore, trying to manage your emotions can seem impossible if you don't manage the underlying stress as well.
Try to incorporate stress management practices into your daily routine. This should minimize the effect that stress has on your emotions and ability to manage them. Some basic stress management practices include:
Make time be in positive social environments with friends and family
Making exercise a daily habit
Spending time in nature
Including leisure activities in your schedule
Talk to a therapist
If you emotions continue to be overwhelming, or continue to impact your personal and/or professional life, it is worth seeking professional support.
A therapist can offer a confidential, judgement free, safe space to be able to share your emotions and experiences.
A therapist can also help you identify possible route cause for your emotions, and provide valuable insight for emotional regulation.
If you are experiencing difficulty with your emotions, there are a variety of ways that you can deal with them, but remember they are important, you feel them for a reason, and there is an opportunity for growth hidden in every emotion.