The term "emotion regulation" is being introduced into our day-to-day language more frequently of late and like with many popular terms and phrases sometimes we don't stop to ask, "what does this actually mean?"
Most of us are guilty of doing this, and as a child who spent many a lunchtime shouting "booyakasha" with no clue what it meant, I can relate. But my friends were doing it, and it sounded cool so... there you go.
It may be helpful for me to begin with explaining what emotion regulation isn't, before delving into what it actually is. Emotion regulation is not, always having the "perfect" response to something and it is definitely not about having no emotional response or suppressing your feelings. Emotions are a bit like an energy and whether you like it or not they are going to come out some way. Imagine a shaken bottle of pop, we can open the lid slowly and the energy comes out in a controlled way, or we can let it all build up until one day the lid comes flying of and pop comes shooting out everywhere and ruining everything.
Emotion regulation is about acknowledging and accepting our emotions even if they are distressing. Even emotions associated with a negative state are valid and often appropriate. By paying attention on purpose to how we are feeling, we can explore whether there is anything amplifying our feelings, such as any assumptions we hold about the situation.
We can then look at whether our emotional response is in keeping with the assumptions or with the facts of what is actually happening.
Usually after doing this, we are able to regulate the intensity of what we are feeling.
Emotion regulation strategies can support us to validate any uncomfortable emotions whilst also holding ourselves accountable if we are playing a part in intensifying those emotions.
We can then choose a way forward that is effective for us and in keeping with our long-term goals, rather than in keeping with the intensity of the emotion.
Ideas for helping with emotion regulation:
Acknowledge and accept uncomfortable or even distressing emotions.
Validate those feelings and reassure yourself that it is normal to feel this way.
Maybe speak to a friend or loved one about how you are feeling.
Check the facts. What do I actually know? Separate facts from any assumptions or judgements. Decatastrophise!
Think about whether there is anything going on at the moment in the environment that might be contributing to the intensity of the emotion e.g. I haven't slept properly in days; I just started a new stressful job.
Think about whether there is anything going on internally at the moment that could be contributing to the intensity of the emotion e.g. I'm not feeling very confident at the moment.
Proceed mindfully and effectively (put your earrings back in and put down the weapon). Think about what your objective is and how you might meet that objective.
Sometimes, we need some support in regulating our emotions and part of that can be sharing our experiences and our feelings during counselling sessions.