How to manage your emotions and improving the quality of your life and relationships.
In psychology, emotional regulation “Is the process by which we influence what we feel, how we feel, and when we feel them. management can be automatic or controlled and may affect one or more aspects in the emotion-producing process” (Gross et al., 1998).
Like a compass that tells us the right direction, emotional regulation guides us to the right actions and signals threats. It encompasses both positive and negative feelings and revolves around three aspects:
- Initiating actions triggered by emotions.
- Inhibiting actions triggered by emotions.
- Modulating responses triggered by emotions.
This article will discuss the basics of emotional regulation and discuss what methods we can choose to implement emotional management in real life.
The Benefits of Emotional Regulation
Emotional self-regulation is about pausing between feelings and reactions – it drives us to slow down, zoom out, and act after objectively evaluating a situation. Some benefits of cultivating and practising emotional self-regulation are listed below.
Being aware of our emotions makes us aware of ourselves. It helps us name our emotions and explore feelings in a way that facilitates catharsis. Emotional management is more about understanding and acknowledging; it protects against impulsive actions.
2. Mindful awareness
In addition to gaining thought awareness, emotional regulation lets us explore our external and internal worlds, including our bodies. Mindful hacks like controlled breath management or sensory relaxation help calm the storm inside and guide our actions correctly.
3. Thought replacement
It includes altering our thinking and is a by-product of being emotionally self-regulated. Being an essential counterpart of therapies like DBT and CBT, this method calls for greater acceptance and flexibility. With thought replacement, we can alter thoughts like ‘My partner no longer loves me or needs me‘ with positive alternatives such as, ‘Maybe he/she is upset at the moment, I am sure I can make up for this‘.
4. Better adaptability
Emotional regulation increases our innate sense of resilience and how we cope with life changes. We become naturally more prone to avoid distractions and implement our coping mechanisms before we break down emotionally. This is one of the reasons why emotionally well-managed people do not resist change.
5. Increased self-compassion
Self-love and self-compassion are essential potions for a healthy and happy life. With emotional regulation, we learn how to prioritise our feelings and remind ourselves how crucial we are for our well-being.
6. Developing An Emotional Support System
Having a robust emotional support system saves us from getting emotionally invested in negativity. Being emotionally well-balanced allows us to seek emotional support within ourselves or seek help outside by engaging in positive communication with others. It is also a good idea to seek professional help to channel our emotions to bring out the best.
Simple self-compassion hacks for daily life –
- Daily positive self-affirmations
- Relaxation and breath control
- Compassion meditation
- Regular self-care
- Gratitude journaling
Understanding Emotional Triggers
Emotional triggers are stimuli that evoke intense emotional responses or reactions. Emotional triggers can be activated through one of our five senses and have the power to reignite a trauma or memory of a painful experience. These triggers are unique to each person, and what triggers one person may not have the same effect on another. Nevertheless, awareness of our emotional triggers is critical to emotional regulation and can help us improve our overall well-being. The chart below highlights some of the common emotional triggers.
Using Emotional Triggers To Regulate Emotions
We can use our emotional triggers to manage our emotions and control our actions. One way to do this is through cognitive reappraisal, where we intentionally reinterpret the meaning of a trigger to alter their emotional response to it. For example, if we fear criticism, we might reframe our thoughts about it and take it up either as an opportunity to improve our skills or as a challenge to not give them a chance to criticize us in future.
Reappraisal ensures long-term well-being and offers a permanent solution to emotional distress (McRae, Tamir, 2013). Cognitive reappraisal also shifts our focus from distress. It reduces the impact of the negative emotion for a while (Troy, Shallcross, and Mauss, 2013).
5 steps to emotional regulation through cognitive reappraisal.
Practical Techniques for Regulating Your Emotions
Deep Belly Breathing
Take a deep breath in. Fill your lungs as much as you can. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly exhale through your mouth, letting your belly sink back down. Repeat for several cycles.
2. Square Breathing or Box Breathing
This involves inhaling to a count of four, holding for another count of four, and finally exhaling for a count of four. Box breathing has been shown to improve heart rate variability and decrease anxiety (Russo et al., 2015).
3. 3-5-7 breathing
Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight. This technique increases parasympathetic activity and decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels (Zaccaro et al., 2018).
Mindfulness allows us to become more aware of our inner and outer selves. It reconnects us to what we are experiencing now and lets us analyse our emotions more objectively and neutrally. There are different mindfulness-based techniques that promote emotional self-regulation, Naming Thoughts being one of them. In this simple daily task, we list the thoughts that rule our mind at present, try to think of who or what led to the thoughts and finally name what emotions we are experiencing as a result of these thoughts. An example is illustrated below.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
PMR involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body. It helps to reduce muscle tension and promote deep relaxation and effectively reduces stress and anxiety, as well as improves sleep and overall well-being. Click here to view a short video on guided PMR that can be part of our daily relaxation routine.
Emotional Regulation In Relationships
Relationships are deeply affected by how well we regulate and express our emotions. If we find adapting to our partner’s emotional responses challenging or vice versa, the relationship will suffer and go downhill. On the other hand, with well-managed emotions, partners can avoid overreacting, becoming defensive, or shutting down, which are all toxins for any relationship. Instead, it lets us stay calm, present and engaged during difficult conversations, conflicts, and disagreements.
5 Common Emotional Triggers In A Relationship:
- Insecurity: Feeling insecure about oneself or the relationship can lead to jealousy, possessiveness, and mistrust.
- Abandonment: The fear of being left or rejected can cause anxiety, neediness, and clinginess in a relationship.
- Criticism: Constant criticism, blame, or judgment can make a person feel defensive, attacked, or inadequate.
- Betrayal: Infidelity, lying, or broken promises can cause deep emotional wounds and lead to feelings of anger, resentment, and mistrust.
- Control: Trying to control or manipulate one’s partner’s behaviour, thoughts, or feelings can lead to power struggles, conflict, and resentment.
Techniques For Managing Emotions Like Anger and Frustration
The Emotion Regulation Worksheet is adapted from Linehan’s manual for treating Borderline Personality Disorder and helps to deeply analyse the causes and consequences of an intense emotional response. The worksheet has some simple questions indicating our emotions’ functionality.
This exercise aims to measure how powerful our emotions can be. We have illustrated the worksheet below.
Adapting To Stress And Anxiety In Relationships
- Practice communication: Open, honest communication can help ease tension and prevent misunderstandings.
- Take breaks: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, taking a break from the situation can help you calm down and gain perspective.
- Practice self-care: Taking care of your physical and mental health can help you better manage stress and anxiety.
- Set boundaries: Setting healthy boundaries can help you feel more in control and protect your well-being.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques like deep breathing or meditation can help you stay present and calm at the moment.
- Seek support: Reaching out to friends, family, or a therapist can provide emotional support and help you cope with stress and anxiety.
- Be flexible: Being willing to compromise and adapt can help reduce conflict and improve relationships.
- Practice gratitude: Focusing on what you’re grateful for can help shift your perspective and reduce stress and anxiety.
- Identify triggers: Understanding what triggers your stress and anxiety can help you develop strategies to manage it better.
- Focus on solutions: Instead of dwelling on problems, focus on finding solutions together with your partner. This can help you work together and reduce stress and anxiety in your relationship.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) And Emotional Regulation
How to Use DBT Skills for Emotional Regulation
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is cognitive and behaviour-oriented psychotherapy that uses one-on-one conversation to address mental health issues. DBT is widely used for treating personality disorders like BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), where individuals lose track of their emotional control mechanisms.
The core principle of DBT is that stress and reaction to stress are highly individualised. DBT takes into account individual differences and uses interventions that are individualised and suited to each person’s unique circumstances. Below is a list of some DBT-based techniques that enhance emotional regulation
The S-T-O-P Technique
The STOP technique is an anagram that uses the following four steps –
- Stop – pause before you react.
- Take a step back – And analyse what is the best way to respond.
- Observe – Your emotions and how they are influencing you.
- Proceed – mindfully after evaluating the consequences of your response.
The Please Worksheet is standard in DBT interventions for emotional management and self-expression. PLEASE is an anagram using five key concepts –
- Physical illness
- Balanced eating
- Avoiding mood-changing substances
- Sleeping well
- Exercise and Fitness
Through managing these aspects of life, the PLEASE Worksheet fosters emotional management and promotes healthy living. Since it is usually a therapy counterpart, the PLEASE Worksheet is recommended to be used under professional supervision. You can find the worksheet here.
Sometimes all we have to do is some positive self-talk. It helps us identify our Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs) and consciously reminds us to replace them with something we prefer to believe.
This technique prepares us to rehearse a coping plan before the crisis occurs, so we can avoid being overwhelmed and focus on getting ourselves out of the situation as skilfully as possible.
“Feelings are visitors. We should let them come and go.“
Our interpretation of emotions influences our actions and reactions. Emotional regulation does not mean being happy always; neither does it guarantee to shield us from getting hurt. With emotional management, we can accept and manage our feelings effectively.
- Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 271-299.
- Ochsner, K. N., Bunge, S. A., Gross, J. J., & Gabrieli, J. D. (2002). Rethinking feelings: An FMRI study of the cognitive regulation of emotion. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(8), 1215-1229.
- Jerath, R., Crawford, M. W., Barnes, V. A., & Harden, K. (2015). Self-regulation of breathing as a primary treatment for anxiety. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 40(2), 107-115.
- Russo, M. A., Santarelli, D. M., & O’Rourke, D. (2015). The physiological effects of slow breathing in a healthy human. Breathe (Sheffield, England), 11(4), 298-309.
- Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., … & Gemignani, A. (2018). How breath-control can change your life: A systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, 353.