There are two broad categories of emotional regulation. The first is reappraisal: changing how we think about something in order to change our response. The second is suppression, which is linked to more negative outcomes.
1. Identify and reduce triggers
You shouldn’t try to avoid negative emotions — or be afraid of them. But you also don’t have to keep putting yourself in a situation that brings on unpleasant emotions. Start to look for patterns or factors that are present when you start to feel strong emotions. This requires some curiosity and honesty. Did something make you feel small? Strong emotions often spring up out of our deep-seated insecurities, especially the ones we hide. What is happening around you and what past experiences does it bring up for you?
When you identify these triggers, you can start to explore why they carry so much weight and whether you can reduce their importance. For example, a CEO might be embarrassed to admit that he gets angry when discussing numbers because he struggled in math class. Understanding this trigger might be enough. Or, the CEO might choose to preview the monthly charts in private to avoid the trigger of feeling like everyone else is waiting for him.
2. Tune into physical symptoms
Pay attention to how you are feeling, including whether you are feeling hungry or tired. These factors can exacerbate your emotions and cause you to interpret your emotions more strongly. If you can address the underlying issue (e.g. hunger, exhaustion), you can change your emotional response.
3. Consider the story you are telling yourself
In the absence of information, we fill in the blanks with details of our own. Perhaps you are feeling rejected after you haven’t heard from a family member; you believe it is because they no longer care about you.
Before you make these attributions, ask yourself: what other explanations might be possible? In the example of the family member, what else could be going on with them that would stop them from reaching out to you? Could they be busy or sick? Are they a well-intentioned person who often forgets to follow through on commitments?
Shonna Waters recommends the :”just like me technique.” Whatever motive or action you are assigning to the other person (there’s almost always another person involved), add “just like me” to the end. It is a way of reminding yourself that they are also an imperfect human being.
4. Engage in positive self-talk
When our emotions feel overwhelming, our self-talk can become negative: “I messed up again” or “everyone else is so awful.” If you treat yourself with empathy, you can replace some of this negative talk with positive comments. Try encouraging yourself by saying “I always try so hard” or “People are doing the best they can.” This shift can help mitigate the emotions we’re feeling. You can still be frustrated with a situation that isn’t working but no longer have to assign blame or generalize it beyond the situation.
5. Make a choice about how to respond
In most situations, we have a choice about how to respond. If you tend to respond to feelings of anger by lashing out at people, you likely notice the negative impact it is having on your relationships. You might also notice that it doesn’t feel good. Or, it feels good at the moment, but the consequences are painful.
Next time you feel anger or fear, recognize that you get to choose how you want to respond. That recognition is powerful. Rather than lashing out, can you try a different response? Is it possible for you to tell someone that you’re feeling angry rather than speaking harshly to them? Get curious about what will happen if you switch up your responses. How did you feel? How did the other person respond?
6. Look for positive emotions
Human beings naturally attribute more weight to negative emotions than positive ones. This is known as negativity bias. Negative emotions, like disgust, anger, and sadness tend to carry a lot of weight. Positive feelings, like contentment, interest, and gratitude are quieter. Making a habit of noticing these positive experiences can boost resilience and well-being.
7. Seek out a therapist
Managing our own emotions can be difficult. It requires a high degree of self-awareness. When we’re having a hard time, our emotional self-regulation begins to suffer. Sometimes we need a partner like a therapist who can help us learn better self-regulation skills. Fortunately, there are a number of therapeutic solutions that can help us learn to better regulate our emotions.
By Bethany Klynn