How Can You Improve Emotional Regulation?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated November 11, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Emotional regulation refers to managing challenging emotions effectively. Being able to regulate your emotions may help you form healthy relationships, communicate, and care for yourself in times of solitude. However, many individuals may struggle to regulate emotions healthily. In these cases, therapy may be an effective tool.

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Do You Find Emotional Regulation Difficult?

What Is Emotional Regulation? 

Emotional regulation is the ability to identify and problem-solve emotional difficulties. When you emotionally regulate successfully, you may be able to identify and utilize skills that can help you reduce an emotion's intensity or feel better over time. You might also accept and ignore unhealthy urges without partaking in them. 

Difficulty regulating emotions can be a cause or symptom of several psychological conditions. When someone struggles to regulate emotionally, they might lack emotional awareness skills or struggle with inappropriate expressions of their emotions. They may have learned maladaptive coping strategies to tolerate distress. 

The above study demonstrated that difficulties in emotional regulation have a significant relationship with challenging emotions like sadness and fear. One solution for emotional dysregulation is the practice of mindfulness. 

Mindfulness And Emotional Regulation

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a medical professor who popularized mindfulness in the United States during the 1970s, defines mindfulness as the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose to the present moment. It can involve non-judgment of the unfolding of experience moment by moment.

Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been utilized since the late 1970s to provide individuals with the skills for emotional well-being. Kabat-Zinn's mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) are short-term group-based therapies that incorporate mindfulness with other stress relief and cognitive reprocessing approaches.

Many studies have proven the effectiveness of MBIs in improving life satisfaction and increasing positive emotion to reduce psychological symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Recent studies have found MBCT to be as effective as some medications in preventing depressive relapse.

One study found that practicing mindfulness, whether through breathwork or self-compassion, can decrease negative emotional experiences, reduce amygdala activity, and increase brain activity in regions related to focus and attention.

Mindfulness training can potentially strengthen individuals' ability to tune in to their internal reactions in emotion-eliciting situations, leading to an enhanced ability to think before reacting. A non-judgmental view of the self may allow individuals to view their emotional experiences more objectively. 

Additionally, the self-compassion often involved in mindfulness can aid in disrupting maladaptive and ingrained reactions to negative feelings.

What Is Online Mindfulness Therapy For Regulation?

Mindfulness-based therapy programs are prevalent and often effective. They may provide the same benefits and improvements in emotion control as traditional therapy. Several studies have demonstrated its efficacy for various groups. For example, one study found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) reduced emotional distress in college students.

The first review and meta-analysis study on the effectiveness of online mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) found that online MBIs positively reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. While it is established that online MBI can effectively improve emotional distress, less research has demonstrated online MBI's effects on feelings. Below is one study that addressed this topic. 

Online Mindfulness-Based Intervention (MBI): A Case Study

To better understand online mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs), emotional distress, and emotional regulation, you can look at a 2018 study examining the effects of online mindfulness-based programs on depression and anxiety while observing emotional regulation as a possible mediating role.

Researchers proposed three hypotheses in their study. First, group-based and individual mindfulness therapy participants had significant reductions in emotional regulation difficulties and psychological distress and significant improvements in mindfulness.

In addition, participants in MBI discussion groups showed significant decreases in psychological distress. Finally, changes in emotional regulation difficulties could mediate the effects of online MBIs on psychological distress.

Mindfulness-Based Intervention (MBI) Intervention Process

The randomized study consisted of four groups, including: 

  • Group mindfulness-based interventions (GMBI)

  • An individual, self-direct mindfulness-based intervention group (SDMBI)

  • A discussion group (DG) 

  • A blank control group (BCG)

The program lasted eight weeks, and 76 participants completed a pre and post-test.

The therapy implemented in the study was a revision of MBCT. In the group mindfulness-based intervention (GMBI) group, the intervention consisted of eight weekly sessions, each lasting two hours. Forty minutes of each two-hour session were devoted to a mindfulness-based practice. 

Therapeutic guidance included formal mindfulness practices such as body scanning, mindful sitting, mindful stretching, and breathing exercises. Cognitive therapy elements included recognizing unhelpful thoughts and learning to take a healthier approach to experiences.

Participants in the SDMBI group received therapy materials and practice guidance without group discussion sessions. The materials were the same as the GMBI group's, including mindfulness-related reading material and practice audio. These self-directed materials were distributed to participants every week, and each week, participants were asked to report the amount of time they spent practicing.

Participants in the DG engaged in a supervised online discussion forum. Their topics were associated with emotional events, including positive and negative events, stress, and interpersonal communications. Participants discussed their views of emotional events and how they coped with them. 

These conversations were supervised and recorded by an instructor who did not actively participate in the conversations. Lastly, the participants in the BCG received no intervention.


Online Mindfulness-Based Intervention (MBI): Study Questionnaires

Several questionnaires were used to track participants' progress throughout the study. The questionnaires were administered before and after the study period.

Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ): This 39-question test measured the five facets of mindfulness: observing, describing, acting with awareness, non-judgment of inner experiences, and non-reactivity to inner experiences. Higher scores on this test indicated higher levels of mindfulness.

Difficulties in Emotional Regulation Scale (DERS): This scale involved 36 questions in which participants answered how frequently each item applied to themselves. The scale was graded with six factors, including: 

  • A lack of emotional awareness

  • A lack of emotional clarity

  • An inability to act in a way that suits personal goals

  • An inability to use impulse control in negative situations

  • A lack of strategies for emotional regulation 

  • A non-acceptance of emotional responses

The total score for DERS indicated the level of emotional dysregulation.

Self-Rating Anxiety Scale (SAS): This test is often used to assess anxiety symptoms. Participants answered on a four-point scale with one meaning "never (I never feel anxious)" and four meaning "always (I always feel anxious)." Participants with higher scores indicated higher levels of anxiety.

Self-Rating Depression Scale (SDS): Like the SAS, this scale utilized a four-point scale with one meaning "never" and four meaning "always." Higher total scores indicated higher levels of depression.

Online Mindfulness-Based Intervention (MBI): Study Results

Individuals in the group mindfulness-based intervention (GMBI) and self-direct mindfulness-based intervention (SDMBI) groups had significant differences in mindfulness, emotion regulation difficulties, and psychological distress. In addition, results indicated significant effects of group membership on post-test scores of mindfulness, depression, and anxiety when controlling the pretest scores, meaning group mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) was the most effective form of online MBI. 

Additionally, each group's emotion regulation difficulties related to the relationship between changes in mindfulness and psychological distress. As the five-facet mindfulness questionnaire (FFMQ) scores went up, the difficulties in emotional regulation scale (DERS) scores went down, indicating higher mindfulness correlated to lower levels of difficulties with emotional regulation. 

This finding reflects the results of earlier studies that demonstrated the ability of mindfulness to help regulate emotions and lessen emotional reactivity. Consistent with the researchers' hypotheses, online MBIs reduce anxiety and depression. The results also emphasized the role of group support in online MBI; participants of online MBI within a group situation seemed to reap the most benefits.

The Future Of Online Mindfulness-Based Intervention (MBI) 

This case study provided encouraging evidence for the effectiveness of online mindfulness-based interventions in reducing psychological distress and suggested that mindfulness could be a component of emotional regulation. It also revealed the benefits of group discussion in online MBI.

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Do You Find Emotional Regulation Difficult?

Study Summary 

This study suggests that combining mindfulness intervention and group discussions may be a beneficial way to reduce psychological distress and improve emotional regulation. However, individual MBI therapy can also offer benefits. Many studies have shown its efficacy in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, individual online MBI may allow for more schedule flexibility than group sessions. 

This study illuminated the importance of group support in MBI, even in an online medium. Further work in this area would benefit from larger sample sizes to determine whether the results could be generalized. 

Participants in this study did not display severe psychological symptoms, which could have influenced participation rates and motivation to practice mindfulness techniques at home. These factors might have reduced the sensitivity of changes in the outcome.

Future research could benefit from comprehensive follow-up questionnaires to examine if changes in mindfulness, emotion regulation, depression, and anxiety are maintained. 

Therapy Options 

You can partake in mindfulness-based therapy in various forms, including online. Online therapy can be an effective option for those who face barriers to in-person therapy, such as scheduling conflicts, or financial difficulties. Through an online platform, you can partake in mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with a licensed therapist through phone, video, or live chat sessions. You can also reach out to your therapist anytime and structure your schedule around your needs. 

A recent study on online mindfulness-based CBT found it as effective as in-person therapy and in treating symptoms of depression and anxiety. If you're interested in learning more about how this form of therapy can benefit you, consider reaching out to a licensed mental health professional through a platform like BetterHelp, which provides a vast database of providers specializing in various mental health treatments and symptoms. 


As evidenced by the above studies, online and in-person mindfulness-based therapy can improve skills in those seeking support. If you're interested in learning more or want to discuss your needs with a professional, reach out to a therapist for further guidance.

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