What Exactly Is Emotional Regulation? An Expert Gives Tips on Managing Feelings in a Healthy Way

If you ever feel that you blow up over small things or have intense reactions to regular situations, you may be having some issues with emotional regulation.

It can be tough to deal when everyday events make you feel so strongly, sometimes even seeming like the end of the world, especially because the causes of this are often beyond our control. However, that doesn't mean there isn't anything we can do to better manage how we feel. We wanted to learn more about emotional regulation (and dysregulation), so we turned to Jennifer Kelman, therapist and mental health expert for JustAnswer, for answers. She shared her insights into particularly strong emotions and how to manage them, and here's what she had to say:

Sweety High: What exactly is emotional regulation?

Jennifer Kelman: Emotional regulation is having emotions and reactions to events that fit the circumstances; having control over one's emotional state. In simple terms, not losing it over simple experiences and keeping the intense reactions in check. All of us are prone to having a wide range of feelings and reactions to things that are considered "normal," but when these reactions become intense and often without apparent provocation, then the person may be displaying emotional dysregulation.

Woman stressed out and overwhelmed in front of laptop: Shutterstock. woman sitting down, his face unsettled. At the computer desk she has headaches and stress. Cause of hard work and insufficient rest.

(via Shutterstock)

 

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SH: Are there any types of people that might struggle more with emotional regulation than the average person? Why?

JK: Those suffering from trauma, anxiety, depression, personality disorders, autism or brain injury may be prone to emotional dysregulation as they may have a hard time keeping their intense emotions in check. They may exhibit angry outbursts, mood swings, crying, rage or self-harm as they encounter emotional or triggering experiences. To an outsider looking in, their reactions may seem overblown to the event. This happens because, at that moment, they are overwhelmed with feelings and are not able to process them and respond without a reactive outburst.

 

SH: What are your biggest tips for regulating your emotions during challenging situations?

JK: Try and stay grounded in the present moment. If you feel triggered, take a pause, be mindful with breathing and practice a mantra that can calm you at that moment. When you feel that urge to explode, taking that pause to think about what you are feeling can be helpful to calm the explosive reaction and react in a way that expresses the emotion without it being explosive.

Woman taking deep centered breath outside: Shutterstock. Young woman practicing breathing yoga pranayama outdoors in moss forest on background of waterfall. Unity with nature concept

(via Shutterstock)

 

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SH: What are ways to break cycles of emotional dysregulation?

JK: Therapy is always the best option to get a handle on life events and how they might trigger emotional overwhelm. It also provides a healthy outlet for emotional expression. Keeping things bottled up could lead to explosions later. Having a regular outlet for these emotions may prevent outbursts later. Therapy also provides a safe environment to deal with difficult and painful issues and creates an environment where one can feel less alone with their thoughts and feelings.

 

SH: Are there any habits we can practice every day that might help with emotional regulation?

JK: Exercise is a great outlet to release things bottled up inside and can release endorphins, the happy hormone. Meditation, yoga and mindfulness practice are all things that can calm the mind, which may be put into practice in a stressful event that could prevent dysregulation in the moment.

man and woman exercising and stunning up stairs: shutterstock. fitness, sport, people, exercising and lifestyle concept - couple running upstairs on city stairs

(via Shutterstock)

 

SH: Is there anything else we should know about the topic?

JK: Rather than shame someone for having outbursts or not having great emotional regulation, let's look at the reasons why and what the underlying traumas may be and provide help, comfort and strategies to reduce the outbursts. Anxiety, depression and personality disorders are not the fault of the individual suffering, so empathy can go a long way toward supporting someone that has difficulty regulating their emotions. Providing that safe connection leads to healing.

 

For more from Jennifer Kelman, click HERE to read our interview with her on phobias, and how to learn to overcome them.