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How Can I Get Better at Self-Regulation?

Jessica Pontis, LCSW

I’ve worked with a lot of people who have felt that their emotions were out of control, felt like their anxiety would take over, or were unable to snap themselves out of a funk. Emotions can be tricky because they are both so abstract and so concrete at the same time. We know that they’re there, but we sometimes struggle to connect with them and give them what they need to feel soothed. The tools and skills necessary to be able to self-regulate our emotions take effort to build, but it’s not at all an impossible task.  

What Is Emotional Self-Regulation?

Emotional self-regulation boils down to being able to stay in control of our emotions and our actions related to our emotions, instead of our emotions controlling us. People who are skilled at self-regulation typically can name their emotions and recognize when those emotions start to become larger. When we have good self-regulation, we think before we act, since we’ve learned to be able to take a step back and reflect on our emotions before they can take over. Those who have done work to build or improve self-regulation typically don’t allow themselves to become too angry, aggressive, nervous, and so on.  

Self-regulation can be a very large part of therapy because feeling in control and like we have power over our responses to life is necessary and empowering. Here are some ways in which you can build more effective self-regulation.  

Assess Your Emotional Intelligence:

In order to regulate emotions, we first have to notice when we are feeling an emotion and correctly identify it. Building self-awareness through introspection and cultivating empathy by reflecting on the experiences of others is a really great way to start building better emotional intellect. When it comes to naming and identifying emotions, I would suggest accessing a therapeutic tool called the “Emotion Wheel” which is easy to access via a quick Google search.  

Practice Mindfulness:

Mindfulness is the conscious effort to maintain focus on the present moment or a specific stimulus. As mentioned, self-regulation requires a lot of self-awareness, and mindfulness is a great way to practice self-awareness. I encourage you to take a few minutes a day to be still and observe your thoughts.  Doing so can encourage you to bring active awareness to your own emotional state as well and link you more closely with your decision-making processes.  

Identify Your Triggers:

If a particular situation, person, or trait is known to create a significant response in you, take some time to really sit on that ask yourself, “Why was that bothering me so much”, and, “How would I like to respond to this in the future?” We’ve learned by now that the world is not always the most hospitable place, and some people are just going to rub us the wrong way. It’s okay to make peace with this, and it’s important to assert ourselves in spaces where others are treating us poorly, but doing so in a way where your emotions and actions align with your desires is a good way to encourage self-regulation.

Let Your Body Lead the Conversation:

If you find it particularly difficult to identify emotions in the moment, but know something is feeling off, do a quick check-in with your body. Most emotions have a tangible sensation, anger can feel hot, sadness can feel heavy, and frustration can feel like tension. Make it a practice to touch base with your body before you respond to a negative emotion, try and soothe the physical sensation which may then in term help to soothe the emotional distress.

If you’re interested in developing tools and tricks to build better self-regulation, or would like to connect with someone to walk with you on this journey, reach out to one of the licensed therapists at Symmetry Counseling. You can explore all of our counseling services online, and connect with our intake specialists to set up an appointment for therapy in Chicago.

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