To be able to feel emotion is a real gift. And while it's pleasant to feel positive emotions, negative emotions can sometimes get the better of you. This makes you do things you regret, or what's worse, it keeps you from acting at all. It's a difficult way to live, but you can bring more balance into your life by using emotion regulation skills. Keep reading to learn what these are, and how you can use them in your day-to-day life.
What Are Emotions?
Emotions and feelings are two terms we often use interchangeably. However, they are not the same. So, what comes first - emotions or feelings? When you know the difference, it will be easier to use emotion regulation skills.
An emotion is how your subcortical brain regions respond to whatever's happening around you. Though they begin as a response in the brain, emotions are physical experiences felt throughout the body. You can think of them as somewhat primal and instinctual. And they're incredibly fast. It takes 100 milliseconds for the brain to react.
Feelings follow emotions. A good way to remember this is that "F" comes after "E" in the alphabet. Feelings occur in the neocortical brain regions, and they are a mental reaction to emotion. They assign meaning to the emotion itself.
Therefore, feelings tend to be subjective since how you feel depends on you and your experiences, along with your beliefs and memories. Compared to superfast emotions, feelings take 600 milliseconds to occur.
So, here's a quick recap. Your body reacts to external stimuli, giving you a bodily experience, or an emotion. Then, your mind gives meaning to your emotion with a feeling.
Emotions and feelings are something that people may resist talking about. After all, some associate them with wishy-washy, fluffy things. But if they automatically begin in the brain, this suggests that you need emotions. And knowing how to cope with them is where emotion regulation skills come in.
Why Are Emotions Important?
Emotions aren't just touchy-feely topics. Instead, they're incredibly useful. When an emotion pops up, and you feel it throughout your body, it's a signal, trying to tell you something in the present moment. According to author Mary Lamia Ph.D., emotions "attempt to tell you if a situation is optimal, or not aligned with your goal."
And when you know whether something is good, bad or anything in between, it informs your decisions with emotional responses. As leading researcher and neurologist, Antonio Damasio, puts it, "feelings are not just the shady side of reason…they help us reach decisions as well."
You can think of your emotions as the cabinet members, advising you on the pros and cons of a given situation. This way, you can make an executive decision, and move through life with greater certainty.
If Emotions Are So Important, Why Should We Regulate Them?
We've just explored how emotions play a crucial role in our everyday life. They're bodily messengers that inform the thinking, rational mind. So, is it a good idea to regulate them?
The answer is an emphatic, Yes! You see, even though emotions are useful and necessary, that doesn't mean they're only and always useful and necessary. Like any other aspect of health and wellness, it's all about balance.
For example, hormones play a huge role in your physical, emotional and psychological well-being. But if they're disrupted or imbalanced, a slew of symptoms follows. Here's a simpler example: milk is a healthy source of calcium. But if your diet consists primarily of milk, it's safe to say that your diet is out of hand, imbalanced, and your body will suffer without adequate nutrition.
Emotions are no different. When an emotion gives us a signal, whether negative or positive feelings, we can acknowledge them and move on with the rest of our life. But when unpleasant emotions overtake us, like unruly weeds in a garden we can become servants to our emotions, always at their mercy.
Therefore, emotion regulation skills are incredibly useful to make the most of emotions without letting them make the most of us.
Regulating Emotions Is Not The Same As Suppressing Emotions
Usually, when you're suppressing emotions, it's because you believe you shouldn't be feeling them. Maybe instead of unhappiness, you think you should have a stiff upper lip. Maybe instead of anger, you want to be peaceful and serene.
There's nothing wrong with not liking negative emotions. And in a way, our attempt to suppress them is a misguided way to feel better.
The only problem is that suppressing emotions doesn't help you feel better. Remember that emotions are signals, and they act like a fire alarm, warning you that something's not quite right. But if you mute the alarm, you won't get to the root of the problem, and it will probably pop up again.
That's because suppressed emotions don't just disappear simply because we don't want to deal with them. Instead, they find a place within the body and reside there, causing problems as time goes on. This can include weight gain, stress, mental and physical illness, digestive problems, and much more.
Emotions show up at specific times and for very specific reasons. If we choose not to acknowledge them and suppress them instead, we only make matters worse. So, it's not a good idea to suppress emotions.
But how is this different from regulating emotions?
When you regulate emotions and build emotional regulation skills, you never ignore them. In fact, you do just the opposite. When you regulate emotions, 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.
In a way, regulating emotions is how you take an empowered position in relationship to your emotions. So, let's find out exactly what emotion regulation skills are and how you can start using them to cultivate balance and equanimity in your life.
What Are Emotion Regulation Skills?
Emotion regulation skills are one of the four therapeutic skills that make up dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT consists of mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. These therapeutic skills were created in the 1980's to help individuals with borderline personality disorder.
Since then, research has found that the four skills of DBT can successfully treat individuals with depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, as well as eating disorders, including bulimia and binge-eating.
However, even if you don't struggle with the illnesses mentioned above, you can still reap the benefits of emotion regulation skills. Everyone experiences emotions, and as you'll remember, they happen instantaneously and can be very strong.
If left unchecked, emotions can lead us to act and react in ways that aren't healthy. But with emotion regulation skills, individuals learned to manage and even change their emotions - especially negative ones - in a responsible, respectful way.
These skills also help individuals make better decisions, change their behavior and ultimately increase positive emotions.
Top emotion regulation skills
Once you experience an emotion, you act or react - sometimes immediately and without thinking about it. But learning the following emotion regulation skills can give you more choices. So, instead of being a victim of whatever emotion you feel, you can step back, observe it and choose how you want to act.
Feeling negative emotions, like anger and sadness, can lead people to fight or withdraw, respectively. These are common actions that follow these two emotions.
But it's possible to trade these actions with opposite ones. For example, Instead of fighting, or arguing, consider the opposite action: talking quietly and behaving with greater respect.
If you experience sadness, you may want to withdraw and close yourself off. But the opposite action is to visit friends, or at least communicate with them.
Doing opposite actions like these can help to change the original emotion, but that doesn't mean you're ignoring how you feel. It just gives you an opportunity to feel a different emotion. That can lead to different actions, which can also provide a healthy solution to the original problem.
Think back to a time when you overreacted. In retrospect, it's easy to see how your reaction didn't match the situation. That's because you no longer feel that intense emotion. At the moment though, it's more difficult to be level-headed.
However, with fact checking, you give yourself a moment to observe and analyze the situation right when you're feeling the intense emotion, rather than when it's all over with.
Useful questions to ask when your fact checking your emotion are:
When you fact check the situation, you're also putting a gentle check on your emotions. And that's not because emotions are bad. It's just that due to our life situation and personal histories, the intensity of our emotions might not always match the situation.
In fact checking, you're not saying that you shouldn't feel a certain way. It's just asking whether the emotion needs to be so strong.
The mind-body connection greatly impacts how-how we manage and cope with life. Unhealthy thinking patterns can lead 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
For better or for worse, we tend to focus on the negative things that happen to us, rather than all the positive moments we experience. But this is a thought pattern and habit that we can intercept and change.
When you notice that you're thinking about something negative, acknowledge it, but then actively search through your memory to find the positive things that happened, too.
In addition to focusing on positive thoughts and memories, you can also cultivate positivity in your life. If you enjoy cooking, try to make more yummy homemade meals for yourself. If you enjoy visiting your favorite cafe, make it a point to go there regularly. If there's something on your bucket list that you keep putting off, perhaps now is a great time to give it a try.
As you can see, emotions are so important to a balanced, healthy life. And it's a good idea to welcome them into your life. But sometimes, they get the better of us and make us do things that aren't good for us in the long run. But instead of shunning and suppressing emotion, consider trying these emotion regulation skills. It's a respectful, powerful way to manage and make the most out of every emotion.
Commonly Asked Questions:
What are emotional regulation strategies?
Some skills or strategies of emotional regulation include:
Opposite actions might mean allowing yourself the opportunity to feel a different way. For instance, instead of acting out in anger, perhaps give your partner or whoever you have conflict with a gentle approach. Also, instead of being upset and sad, give yourself the chance to enjoy time with friends or experience other positive emotions.
Fact checking, or going through and identifying why you feel a certain way can be helpful. It can keep someone from acting on impulse or triggers, and can put a check on your emotional state.
P.E.A.S.E includes taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing in order to such as adequate sleep, and taking care of your body in order to improve the body brain connection. You can look up certain categories body brain to learn more.
Pay attention to positive things to cultivate positivity in your life by adapting an ‘awesome’ life positive mindset and practice self compassion. When someone focuses only on the bad things that happen, they are unable to move past these emotions and enjoy things that are good for them.
Why is emotion regulation important?
Emotional regulation can increase our long term wellbeing and help us develop healthier communication in relationships. When someone is able to build their emotional regulation skills, they can better anticipate problems, react in ways that are appropriate, and refrain from escalating issues or overreacting to the point of regret. It helps people to understand their emotions and bad feelings, and communicate in healthier ways.
Also, emotional regulation is especially important for children and adolescents on the autism spectrum. Certain emotional regulation based exercises can help a child’s emotional understanding and is important for child development.
What causes poor emotional regulation?
Many people who have poor emotional self regulation, otherwise known as dysregulation, have a past of trauma or either from childhood or other negative experiences with loved ones. This is often coupled with issues of attachment that may be related to child development. If a child grows up without proper care or endures abuse, they may develop poor emotion regulation strategies or unhealthy self soothing practices.
People who have borderline personality disorder tend to struggle to regulate emotions and they might act on impulse and destructive behaviors when stressed.
Some American psychologists highlight something referred to as affective forecasting. This means that we tend to overestimate or underestimate how we will be feeling at a future moment about something. Sometimes people misjudge what will make them happy.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is emotional regulation skills?
Emotional regulation skills are part of four skills of behavior therapy dbt used in modern day psychotherapy. They are skills people learn in order to regulate emotions and build self-awareness. It focuses on the ability to understand our emotions and feelings– both positive and negative– and be more intentional with their emotional response.
Difficult emotionsand negative feelings can trigger certain emotional reactions or behaviors. When we have the ability to understand where our emotions come from, we have the ability to regulate our emotions and react in healthier more conducive ways to form positive relationships.
What are DBT emotion regulation skills?
Emotion regulation skills in DBT include those listed above as well as some others used by therapists to support people who suffer from anxiety disorders and borderline personality disorder.
Other regulation skills include cognitive reappraisal, which uses behavior therapy skills such as CBT or DBT therapies to help someone change their thought patterns. Therapists might use a behavior therapy skills workbook to help teach replacing a negative thought with a positive one, or trying role reversal to incorporate another perspective.
Also, self-awareness means exploring your emotional state and assessing what you're feeling before reacting can be a helpful tool. Writing or reflecting at this stage can help you better understand yourself and also communicate your needs better.
What does emotional regulation look like?
Emotional regulation is when someone takes time to understand their emotional triggers before reacting. Accepting your own emotions, identifying them, and understanding the best way to react is emotional regulation. In the moment, taking time to think through a problem and identify the appropriate reaction is a skill that you can work on developing. When someone has an emotional regulation disorder or experiences emotional dysregulation, they may be quick to have an emotional response that doesn’t match the situation.
What are good coping skills?
Some good coping skills include talking with friends, writing, therapy, exercise or other healthy outlets may help someone process their emotions. Coping with negative or difficult emotions in positive ways can help you create new
What are coping skills for stress?
Adequate sleep, eating well, breathing exercises, yoga, and generally taking care of your health can help reduce stress. Other things include giving yourself breaks, surrounding yourself with supportive people, and doing things you enjoy. Many do creative projects or personal writing to improve their health and reduce stress.
What are 5 emotional signs of stress?
Five signs of emotional stress include:
How can I reduce stress hormones?
You can reduce stress hormones such as cortisol by sleeping well, improving eating habits, relax and take breaks, do things for fun to unwind, tend to pets, and prioritizing your mental health by practicing more self-care and self compassion.
What foods help with stress?
Eating a diet of whole grains and more fruits and vegetables help reduce stress. You can try substituting drinking teas like matcha green tea instead of coffee. Herbal teas are also known to help promote relaxation and warmth. Healthy fats are often considered good brain food, such as fish or avocados. Foods that are high in fiber and nutritious can also help. You might consider speaking to a nutritionist or nutrition therapist if you’d like help with your diet.
What is the best medicine for stress?
There are a number of medications that may help deal with stress, in addition to working on coping and regulation skills. You should consider speaking to a mental health professional if you need help managing stress related to depression or anxiety. There are natural supplements that may be able to help manage stress for those who do not necessarily need medications.
How can I calm myself quickly?
Many people use deep breathing techniques to calm down in the moment and may be incredibly helpful for those experiencing an emotional regulation disorder. You can practice mindful meditation, taking a walk or doing a relaxing activity may help in times of peak stress. Many people at their jobs want to feel calm under pressure. Some business healthcare packages include things such as yoga or mental health services in their benefits. You might ask your employer about their business healthcare benefits.
You may want to speak to a professional if you are experiencing high stress related to mental illnesses such as borderline personality disorder bpd.
How can I relax my stressed mind?
There are many ways to relax a stressed mind by practicing self soothing. Finding what works best for you might take trying different coping mechanisms. These might include activities that prioritize your mental health including relaxing activities, breathing exercises, practicing meditation, exercise, or going on a walk. You can also write or try other therapeutic methods such as art or creative projects.
How do I stop my brain from overthinking?
Sometimes taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture can help some people reduce overthinking. Having an objective view can be helpful when regulating emotions in a particular situation. You might also try to find a distraction, do something relating, practice deep breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation.