Emotional Regulation Skills: 5 Ways To Begin Improving and Managing Your Emotional Experience

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
7/1/2024
4/12/2021

In dialectical behavior therapy, emotional regulation is a key skill used to help individuals feel more capable of coping with and managing their emotional experience. Emotional regulation includes the ability to identify, understand, and accept emotions while also controlling impulsive behaviors and being flexible in different emotional situations.

Emotions are energy experienced in our nervous system that ask to be expressed. Emotions provide information about what is happening and what you may need to do so that you feel able to respond. When we ignore our emotions our body and nervous system responds by creating tension and stress. By shutting down our emotions without exploring them, we create a habit of ignoring our needs and denying ourselves the opportunity to meet those needs.

Brown eggs in a carton with faces drawn on them in sharpie

Signs of Poor Emotional Regulation

Poor emotional regulation is also known as emotional dyregulation. While we often can't help our initial emotional responses to something, but we can ideally bring ourselves back to "baseline" to process that event. Feeling is healthy, but not being able to move past emotions or having disproportionately strong emotions isn't healthy.

Emotional dysregulation can look like:

  • Mood swings
  • Angry outbursts
  • Depressive episodes
  • Negative coping mechanisms

Emotional dyregulation can cause further thoughts and emotions that make it difficult to resolve issues and enjoy life.

Signs of Healthy Emotional Regulation

So, what does emotional regulation look like?

In regulating emotions, first acknowledge the presence of the emotion without judgment. In this nonjudgmental observation of emotions, space is created to become aware of our response to the emotion. This acknowledgement and awareness can lead to feelings of validation as the emotion is honored, rather than shoved down or brushed aside. From this place of validation, it becomes easier to interpret the message and need the emotion is connected to. Then, an emotion regulation skill can be used to decide how to respond and act.

5 Skills for Emotional Regulation

Emotion regulation can be challenging, especially if we have spent lots of time ignoring or invalidating our emotions. But every time emotion regulation skills are practiced it becomes a little bit easier. Here are some skills you can start applying now.

1. Acknowledge Emotions

Acknowledging emotions is an important first step of emotion regulation, but sometimes we do not know how to start doing that. One way to start this intentional practice of emotion regulation is to pay attention to strong emotional experiences. Four experiences to pay attention to can be found by using the acronym HALT.

  • Hungry
  • Angry or anxious
  • Lonely
  • Tired

When we feel these things, there are needs that are being unmet. For example, if you realize you are hungry and acting in a way you do not want to—perhaps the way to meet that need is to have a snack or meal. By acknowledging the experience, we can start to recognize the need and what response would be helpful.

2. Reframe Your Thoughts

Finding silver linings in situations can help you bring your heightened emotions back to a baseline. We need to accept and acknowledge emotions—good and bad. You're allowed to feel bad. However, one way to pull yourself out of those bad emotions is to reframe what's happening. Ask yourself if there are any positive opportunities in anything that you're experiencing? Any reasons to be grateful? While we never want to disregard the negative, we can regulate our emotions by also acknowledging the positive.

3. Decrease Vulnerability with Unwanted Emotions

We can feel particularly vulnerable and anxious when we experience unwanted emotions. ABC PLEASE us feel confident and safe. ABC skills help build up resources that can be drawn on, while the PLEASE skills focus on taking care of your body so you can take care of your mind.

The ABC skills are:

  • Accumulate positive experiences: participate in activities we enjoy and work towards something positive
  • Build Master: consistently work on self-improvement, hobbies, and talents to boost confidence
  • Cope Ahead: if we know about an upcoming situation that will make us uncomfortable, preparing ahead of time can decrease worry or anxiety you may feel in that situation

While the PLEASE skills are:

  • PhysicaL Illness: Take care of your body by seeing a doctor when necessary and taking prescribed medication
  • Balanced Eating: Eat regularly and mindfully throughout the day
  • Avoid Mood-Altering Substances: Do not use illicit drugs and be mindful of alcohol intake
  • Balance Sleep: Aim to get enough consistent sleep to help you feel good throughout the day
  • Get Exercise: Participate in some form of movement every day

A lot of anxious thoughts stem from our nervous system going a bit haywire. When we physically reset and work on our physical well-being, we can calm our nerves and calm our thoughts.

4. Practice Mindfulness

It's easy to lose control of emotions when we think of the future or past. Thoughts of "what if" and "I wish" take us away from the present. Practicing mindfulness brings us back to the here now, and lets us focus on what we can control. Some of the best ways to practice mindfulness and ground yourself include:

  • Mindful breathing
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Crafting

Mindfulness can look different for different people. But the important thing is to consciously and intentionally bring your thoughts back to the present.

5. Identify Emotional Triggers

Knowledge really is half the battle. Often, the same or similar events cause us to react strongly. Look for patterns in your emotional dysregulation. You might find that it all starts with work problems. You might find that you can usually regulate your emotions, but struggle when you're around certain people. Maybe you notice it's hormonal, and you experience emotional dysregulation regularly. Once you know what is triggering you, you can start to work on how to address it in a healthy way.

Some people don't have consistent triggers, and many things cause them to fall into emotional dysregulation. That in itself can bring answers. Some mental health disorders cause emotional dysregulation. No matter what causes you may or may not find, you can talk to a therapist to learn more about how to work on emotional regulation.

Learn Emotional Regulation at Inner Balance Counseling

When you can regulate what you're feeling, it can feel like your life is out of control. Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are connected. When one is off-kilter, the rest will follow.

Inner Balance Counseling can help you find your center. We'll work with you to create a treatment plan for your emotional regulation, no matter what may cause it. Learning how to regulate your emotions can help you feel more at peace, more confident, and more in tune with yourself.

Reach out today to get started at Inner Balance.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
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