Balancing your life with emotional regulation skills

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated March 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Emotions can be complicated, and emotional regulation is one the most fundamental skills that psychologists address in therapy. Rollo May is a well-known psychologist who has made significant contributions to the study of emotional regulation. One of the most common methods psychologists use to help their patients cope with difficult emotions and emotional dysregulation is teaching emotional regulation techniques. To better understand emotional regulation, it helps to know what emotions are, why we react to them, and how to develop emotional regulation skills.

Learn to express your emotions productively

Emotions vs. feelings vs. mood

Emotions, feelings, and mood are terms we often use interchangeably in everyday life. There are real differences between them and our relationships with them differ as well. Understanding these differences can help us develop emotional control, improve distress tolerance, and employ coping strategies to manage intense emotions and their impact on our mental health issues.

Emotions arise before feelings and mood, involving the autonomic nervous system, the part of the body responsible for stress, negative emotions, and positive emotions. Emotion is influenced and regulated by chemicals released in our brains as a response to a trigger. Once the brain has encountered the trigger, chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin activate and travel throughout the body impacting the autonomic and parasympathetic nervous system and producing emotional reactions.

As our minds process our emotions, negative or positive feelings follow, requiring us to improve emotional regulation and manage emotions effectively. Feelings tend to be subjective since how you feel depends on your experiences, along with your beliefs and memories. Feelings are often more complicated in nature than emotions, and they may manifest as the result of a mix of triggered emotions. Feelings usually last longer than emotions. 

Mood is influenced by our emotions and feelings, including positive emotions and negative feelings. It isn’t necessarily related directly to a trigger but to a variety of stimuli, such as a person’s physiology, environment, and mental state. Moods can fluctuate in intensity and can last for days, requiring self awareness to manage them effectively. 

Why emotional self-regulation is sometimes necessary

Emotions are incredibly useful to us physiologically, acting as a signal to communicate something in the present moment. They can inform us about whether a situation, relationship, trigger, etc., is beneficial or harmful to our goals or to us as individuals. 

When we have received information from our emotions about whether a trigger is good, bad, or in between, it influences the choices we make. That’s why paying attention to your emotions can be so important. Since emotions act as bodily messengers that inform the thinking and rational mind, one may assume that it’s not beneficial to regulate your emotions. However, emotional self-regulation can be incredibly important. 

Emotional regulation is the ability to effectively manage your emotional reaction to an experience. Emotional self-regulation is a skill set that can allow people to stay calm in the face of stress or emotional challenges. Emotion regulation strategies, like cognitive reappraisal, often require individuals to change their perspective on a situation to alter their emotional response. By employing self-regulation skills, like radical self-acceptance, people may be able to reduce unnecessary suffering, improve stress management, and build healthy relationships. 

Evaluating different situations

Emotions can be useful and necessary in some situations, but they can be a detriment for others, leading to emotion dysregulation and the need to practice mindfulness to maintain emotional balance.

When an emotion gives us a signal, whether negative or positive, ideally, we can acknowledge them, use them appropriately, and move forward. But when strong emotions overtake us, it is sometimes difficult to put them into perspective. Those unpleasant emotions can become disruptive to our daily lives and lead to serious disorders such as depression and anxiety, indicating other mental health issues that may require self-compassion and positive self-talk to cope.

Situations like this demonstrate how emotion regulation strategies can be beneficial for keeping our emotions balanced, proportionate to our experience, and manageable.   

Emotional regulation vs. emotional suppression with positive emotions and negative emotions

Often, when someone attempts to suppress their emotions, it's because they believe they shouldn't be feeling them. It’s normal to dislike negative emotions, and in a way, the attempt to suppress them may be a sort of coping device. 

But suppressing emotions doesn’t quell them, especially not in the long run. Remember that emotions are signals that warn us that something's not quite right. But if you mute the signal, you won't get to the root of the problem, and it will likely pop up again, potentially causing you to feel more difficult emotions the next time. 

That's because suppressed emotions don't disappear simply because we don't want them. Instead, they find a place within the body and reside there, causing problems , including physical symptoms, as time goes on. This can include weight gain, stress, mental and physical illness, digestive problems, and much more. Learning to identify multiple emotions and use healthy coping strategies, like practicing mindfulness, can lead to a better stress response and overall emotional well-being.

But how is this different from regulating emotions? When you regulate emotions and build emotional regulation skills, you don’t ignore them; you acknowledge both their presence and their validity in your emotional experience. Then, you listen to what the emotional message is and decide the best way to incorporate this message into your actions.


P.E.A.S.E. for self-care and balance

The mind-body connection greatly impacts how we manage and cope with life. Unhealthy thinking patterns can lead to physical problems and vice versa. So, taking good care of your physical health is an important emotion regulation skill.

The acronym P.E.A.S.E. can help you apply this skill to your life.

P = treat physical illness

E = eat healthy

A = avoid mood-altering drugs

S = sleep well

E = exercise

Online therapy for emotional balance & skills

If you think you need assistance managing your emotional responses, speaking with a therapist is a great way to begin. A therapist experienced with using dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) can develop a treatment plan specific to your needs and teach you skills that you can carry forward to use daily. 

Many people find barriers to treatment that keep them from getting help. Limited availability to attend sessions, difficulty commuting to and from the therapist’s office, and discomfort around encountering other individuals in the psychologist’s office are a few things that deter people from speaking to a therapist. 

One of the most successful ways to overcome these barriers and others is to speak to a therapist online. Online therapy is as effective as in-person therapy for treating disorders like anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, emotional regulation disorder, and others where dialectical behavior therapy is a potential course of treatment. 


Platforms like BetterHelp allow patients to speak with licensed mental health professionals online anytime, anywhere with an internet connection. And online therapy is often more affordable and convenient than in-person therapy sessions.

Learn to express your emotions productively


Emotions and emotional intelligence are so important to a balanced, healthy life. And while it’s healthy to listen to them carefully, they can sometimes make us behave in ways that aren't beneficial for us in the long run. Instead of shunning and suppressing difficult emotions, many therapists recommend that patients practice self-compassion and try emotion regulation skills, like mindfulness meditation, to process them and cope with them productively. 

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