No matter our age and life circumstances, emotions are a vital aspect of our everyday lives. They influence how we experience the world and play a large role in our behavior and motivation.
Unfortunately, not all of them are positive.
When life puts us in situations which evoke anger, sadness, or fear, we may feel as if we have no choice but to experience these emotions.
But we do have a choice in how we respond and react to them. This is called self-regulation, and it is an essential trait for anyone who wishes to gain control of their emotional impulses and lead a more balanced and successful life.
What Is The Self-Regulation Definition?
So, what is self-regulation? It’s a rather broad term, and we can look at it from a few different angles.
From a behavioral standpoint, self-regulation is knowing how to act in a way that benefits your long term interests.
And from an emotional aspect, self-regulation is knowing how to monitor and manage your emotional responses to avoid the downfall of negative emotions.
In other words, when you self-regulate, you learn to manage the effects of negative emotions. You take control of your actions by either initiating a positive response or refraining from a negative one.
What do you actually mean by self-regulation?
Self-discipline is your ability to get yourself to do what you know you should do, when you should do it, whether you like to or not.
– Jon Butcher, Author of Mindvalley’s Lifebook Quest
This was one way to define self-regulation, but what does it actually mean in practice? Well, as you would expect, it can take many forms.
For example, imagine a perfect stranger was rude to you in line at the supermarket.
In a situation like this, you’ll probably get angry– that’s normal. But if you give in to your first impulse and respond in kind, what good will that bring?
You could yell or swear at the person, and things may escalate. It could even lead to a physical altercation. And regardless of the outcome, that unpleasant feeling will linger on.
In this case, self-regulation would mean you learn to keep your cool instead of lashing out. You remain polite, defuse the situation, and, most importantly, move past those negative emotions.
Another way to look at self-regulation? As a method of getting yourself to do the things, you don’t feel motivated to do.
For instance, you think you should go to the gym, but don’t feel like it. Maybe the weather’s bad, or there’s something good on TV.
Here, self-regulation is moving past the emotions that are linked to short-term benefits and focusing on the big picture.
In this sense, self-regulation is very close to self-discipline.
What Is An Emotional Response?
When we feel an emotion, it’s natural to respond to it in some way. But how would we define “respond” in this sense?
Simply put, emotional responses are how our bodies react to emotionally charged situations. And there is a notable physiological aspect to this. Fear will, among other things, make your heart race. Anger will raise your blood pressure.
This physiological aspect can lead to a behavioral response. Happiness may cause us to laugh, sadness can bring us to tears, and anger can drive us to lash out.
A crucial aspect of self-regulation is managing these emotional responses. We can’t do anything about the physiological changes that take place, but we can influence how we exhibit them in our behavior. It’s about emphasizing the responses which are appropriate and productive and avoiding that which doesn’t serve us.
What about emotional reactivity?
It’s not at all unusual for people to struggle with unbalanced emotional responses. This is what experts call emotional reactivity – the inclination to experience strong emotional arousal.
Emotional reactivity refers to how easy it is for someone to become overcome with their emotions and the intensity of those experiences. Although this trait can also be linked to positive emotions, we primarily think of emotional reactivity in relation to the bad ones, like anger and fear.
Why Am I So Emotional?
We’ve talked about emotional responses and emotional reactivity. In everyday terms, this is what people are referring to when they say they are emotional.
But have you ever found yourself asking: why am I so emotional?
Several factors contribute to the state of emotional arousal, but the big one is a lack of self-regulation. Without the proper development of this trait, people may feel unable to prevent their emotions from getting the better of them.
If you feel like you’re constantly at the mercy of your emotions, you may want to work on your self-regulation. Fortunately, it’s a skill you can hone and practice.
What are self-regulation strategies and skills?
There are a number of ways to practice self-regulation. Here are four self-regulation skills to get you started:
It’s impossible to deal with emotion without identifying it first. By asking yourself the right questions, you can get to the root of what you’re feeling.
Examine your emotions and ask whether they are actually masking something deeper.
2. Cognitive reappraisal
Cognitive reappraisal is a method of changing how you view an event. Instead of thinking about it in a way that’s likely to cause negative emotions, be adaptive.
Instead of assuming a friend didn’t call back because they don’t want to talk, reappraise the situation and consider how busy your friend might be.
In a state of mindfulness, you are completely aware of your present but you don’t negatively judge or respond to it. This can help you center yourself and resist emotional impulses.
4. Exposing yourself to positive emotions
Make an effort to introduce as many positive emotions into your daily routine as possible. Find activities which uplift you – then get out there and do them!
This will create an emotional armor for the times when negative emotions come around.
What is self-regulation in child development?
We’ve mainly focused on adults so far, but self-regulation is important for children as well. A tantrum is a textbook example of a child being unable to regulate their emotions.
A child will begin to develop self-regulation early on, and it’s important for adults to encourage this.
This could mean creating a comforting routine for the child, role-playing certain situations, and openly discussing emotional responses.
The final takeaway
Essentially, self-regulation is knowing how to control your emotions, thoughts, and behavior.
Your emotional responses don’t need to run the show. How you react to what’s happening around you is in your hands!
Do your best to develop self-awareness and strengthen your self-regulation in everyday practice.
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How good are you at self-regulation and what techniques help you stay in control of your emotions? Share your thoughts in the comments.