Emotional regulation is the ability to manage our emotions, particularly our difficult ones. While it would seem ideal – no program, course of therapy, relationship, or self-help book will ever totally rid our life of challenges. Ultimately this is a positive thing, because the only way to grow into our God given potential is through our rising to meet life’s challenges. However, this doesn’t make the ride any smoother emotionally. Fortunately we can learn to effectively manage our emotions when things aren’t going our way.
What am I feeling?
The inner climate can seem murky and unknown. We may feel that our relationships and life would go smoother if we simply didn’t acknowledge our feelings, but ultimately this is an abandonment of the self. With this in mind, take some time each day to listen to your inner voice. What are you noticing? Tension in your stomach may reveal anxiety, irritability may reveal anger, and the sensation that you are moving in slow motion can indicate depression. An excellent book on this topic is Chip Dodd’s The Voice of the Heart. Learning to name your subjective states is in itself a way to regulate feelings.
What need is not being met?
It can be helpful to think of the emotional self as a kind of compass. While it is often unwise to base any decision off of purely an emotional state, our emotions show us where our heart is located in any given situation. Perhaps the need underneath sadness is a longing to connect meaningfully with others. Beneath anger could be a passion that we’ve let wither away. There is often vital information for us to be found in our lingering feeling states. When we identify the need we are prepared to take steps to satisfy it, thus regulating the emotion.
God grant me the serenity…
Life does not have a reputation for being fair or easy. Often we cannot control events directly, and even when we are in communication with our heart and the needs that are revealed in it, we still may not be able to control the outcome of a situation. This is where emotional regulation can come in. What are some pleasant activities that you enjoyed as a child? What are those things, specific to you, that soothe and calm you? These things could be daydreaming, bike-riding, laying in the grass, painting, taking a bath, cooking, or even organizing a desk drawer – as long as it doesn’t harm yourself or another, there isn’t a wrong answer here. The key is to pick an activity that you can totally focus on and get lost in. Another good activity for emotional regulation is exercise , which has been shown in research to reduce stress, treat depression, and assist with the regulation of emotional states
If you would like to learn more about emotional regulation and put it into practice within the context of therapy, please contact The Refuge Center at 615-771-1155.