The ability to control one’s emotions is one that we all yearn for at one point or another. Falling prey to unpleasant and overwhelming feelings like anger or insecurity is a common situation that most people wish they could avoid or at least postpone – and many of us wish we could identify and manage our sentiments better, before we say or do things that we regret. This is precisely the scope of the field of emotion regulation, a discipline that studies the interaction between an individual and his or her feelings; in other words, how people can affect their own emotions as well as the emotions of those around them.
What Is Emotion Regulation?
Emotion regulation is devoted to understanding the mental and neurological process by which a person can tap into what they are feeling and adjust it according to the desired goals. Although it incorporates elements from other fields within psychology, it really took off as a separate field in the 1980s and has since influenced many other disciplines with which it is connected; it has notably informed a latent tendency of cognitive psychology to better appreciate emotion and has shed light on agency issues, which are a central element in personality psychology, as well as on how individual emotions function in social contexts, thus slightly contributing to social psychology.
Further to its contribution to relevant disciplines, emotion regulation remains extremely important in the framework of self-growth and improving interpersonal relationships, as it helps shape a better understanding of our emotional world. Identifying the emotions that you are feeling is the crucial first step for being able to regulate them – and this is a stage at which many people struggle already. Employing techniques such as journaling and regularly grading your emotions in terms of intensity on a scale from 1 to 10 will help you improve at recognizing your own feelings, which is essential for learning how to control them.
How to Deal with your Feelings in a Productive Way
Yet emotion regulation is about more than that: It is about managing and tweaking your feelings to suit your desired goals. You can use emotion regulation to increase positive or negative feelings according to the job you have to do; for example, a doctor that has performed a difficult procedure can learn to regulate feelings of anxiety or she can learn to suppress irrelevant feelings of excitement when she has to convey bad news to a patient. Research has shown that people employ hundreds of techniques to affect how they feel as well as how other persons feel; these can often include the thinking process, such as trying to approach a situation from a different angle or engaging in a pleasant activity as a distraction from negative feelings.
However, people also often confuse the aim of employing emotion self-regulation and they try to change their external response, e.g. their facial expressions, instead of their internal emotional response. The most common example is faking a smile when trying to hide one’s anger, which is compromising in itself, as it is easily perceived as inauthentic by other people. Emotion regulation is also different from coping, which is specifically aimed at dealing with negative events, but usually includes some elements of emotion regulation.
Techniques to Enhance Emotion Regulation
There are several different strategies that can be used to better understand how to regulate emotions and become better at it. Meditation, which revolves around focusing your attention on one point of reference in order to clear your head from thoughts as well as breathing exercises are a big part of managing feelings; other more simple techniques like counting to 10 before you speak when you are angry are extremely widespread. Physical exercise, like taking a walk around the park or working out, is well-known to help relieve symptoms of stress and focus instead on feelings of being in control and being productive.
But there are also other activities that might help with emotional control even if they do not seem to display a direct correlation. Playing games that incorporate a strong element of self-control is one way to approach this. Flight simulators that allow you to take control of an airplane, or games like blackjack that require patience, effective risk assessment in order to know when to hit or stand and the ability to adapt when a calculation was proven wrong, may provide excellent settings in which you can learn to regulate anxiety, disappointment or impatience. If you want to take it up a notch, taking acting classes is really challenging and productive as it involves deep introspection and it helps you become more aware of your feelings and manage them in order to be able to perform.
Discovering your true feelings might not be the easiest task, but learning how to effectively regulate them can really improve both your self-confidence and your relationships with your loved ones, your co-workers and clients.