Three Steps to Regulating Your Emotions

regulating emotions

Despite being part of daily life, emotions are not easy to regulate for some people. Emotions involve experiential, behavioral, and physiological elements as complex reactions to an event. It may exist in a continuum form, ranging from positive to negative.

Andrea Scarantino and Ronald de Sousa (2021) stated that emotion can be classified into dimensions, such as occurrences (e.g., panic) and dispositions (e.g., hostility), short-lived (e.g., anger) and long-lived (e.g., grief), and conscious (e.g., embarrassed about being unemployed) and unconscious (e.g., unconscious fear of failing in a relationship).

Emotions can fluctuate due to the significance of the event, whereas the latter is influenced by external and internal factors, including stress, side effects of medication, and lack of sleep. At times, when the emotion is too intense or when these influencing factors are unknown, regulating emotions can be a challenge. Labeling, acknowledging, and letting go of the emotion can help you manage it appropriately.

Label the emotion

The first step to regulating emotions is by labeling them. Many people have a hard time identifying their emotions, either due to a lack of emotional vocabulary or awareness. If you are experiencing a strong emotion, hold on for a moment before giving immediate reactions and try to find the most suitable word to label your feelings.

Managing your breathing would help reduce the intensity of your emotions. While short and shallow breaths intensify your already strong emotion, slow and deep breathing promotes a state of calmness by increasing the supply of oxygen to your brain. Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth while counting steadily from one to five in a comfortable position. Repeat the process without pausing for three to five minutes.

Once you have calmed down, try to describe what you were feeling and estimate the intensity of that specific emotion. As the range of emotional intensity differs for each person, what you call “sadness” might be labeled as “grief” by others. However, the difference in the label might also be due to the lack of vocabulary, hence the need for a more detailed description. Having this insight may change your perception of your emotions and perhaps help you discover other emotions covered by the more obvious ones.

Accept the emotion

The second step would be to accept your emotions. Rejecting emotion is a frequent reaction when facing uncomfortable feelings, such as sadness, fear, or shame. This might lead to engaging in using drugs, binge drinking, and unprotected sexual activities to feel better. However, the destructive power of these uncomfortable emotions will be weakened by accepting them instead of avoiding them.

Stephanie Boehme et al. (2019) found that compared to other emotional regulation strategies (e.g. rumination and thought suppression), acceptance can be considered an effective strategy. Accepting emotions means that you acknowledge your emotion without judging them as positive or negative and experience it as it is. Experiencing various emotions could help you learn how to manage them better in the future.

Practicing self-compassion can help you achieve a greater understanding of your emotional experiences and move on from them. In applying this strategy, you would need to imagine a scenario where your friends are having a hard time. Say what you would say to them to yourself: “You are not okay, and it’s normal since you are experiencing a challenging situation.” This would create a space to open yourself up to your emotions.

Let go of the emotion

The last step of emotional regulation is to let emotions go by expressing them. Once the body and mind are integrated, the emotional expression would be authentic and embodied. It will move the energy through and out of the body instead of pressuring it against the body.

In his book When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, Gabor Maté explained that emotional repression is a major cause of stress and a significant contributor to illness. For example, repressing anger would increase stress hormones, such as cortisol, that suppress the immune system. Thereafter, it could result in inflammatory autoimmune diseases of the joints, blood vessels, and internal organs, followed by other diseases, such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Therefore, to be fully processed, emotions need to be expressed. This can be done through words, body language, or facial expressions. Many therapists also suggest expressing emotions through art known as confessional art. For example, when you are sad, you can express it by listening to sad music, writing a poem, or painting.

In conclusion

As complex as emotions are, it is necessary to regulate them to become resilient. Emotional regulation is about moving forward through any setbacks until reaching the goals. To mindfully deal with emotions, you need to implement these three steps: calmly label the emotion, accept it compassionately, and let it go by expressing it.

If you would like to take learning about self-regulation further, the Personal Resilience Science Labs produces courses, certifications, videos, podcasts, and other learning materials on the topic. These resources are based on research by the Institute for Life Management Science (ILMS). Find out more and visit the Personal Resilience Science Labs today.personal resilience science labsPhoto by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

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