What is emotion regulation and why is it important?

Emotion regulation is crucial for our mental well-being. Having problems with adequately and appropriately regulating emotions can lead to reduced well-being and, thus, increase the risk of a mental health disorder. Research has shown that disturbed emotion regulation is common in people with mood, anxiety and trauma issues.

Emotion regulation involves a number of important processes:

  • Selecting the situation: It might sound obvious, but this is the first step in influencing your emotions. For example, when you know that your ex is at a party, you may wonder if you should stay at home or if you are strong enough to go there.
  • Influencing the situation: If you do go to that party, you still have the option to talk to your ex or not. In this way, you can maintain a certain amount of control.
  • Attention: If you decide to get close to your ex, you can still have an influence on what you pay attention to. Do you focus on the other people dancing or do you watch your ex flirt with someone else?
  • Meaning: If your ex’s flirty behaviour attracts your attention, the next question is ‘how are you going to interpret it?’ What cognitive meaning do you give it? Does it mean the person your ex is flirting with is better than you, or is it good to see your ex seemingly happy?
  • Response: The meaning you just associated with the situation arouses a certain emotion. If you choose the first meaning in the example, you may feel jealous or angry. This can lead to a certain reaction, such as drinking more alcohol or suppressing your emotions.

 

Emotion regulation strategies

Emotion regulation can be done in many different ways. The effectiveness of the strategy you choose depends on the consequences. If the strategy you choose causes an increase in emotions or, on the contrary, causes negative secondary emotions or physical complaints in the long term, you may wonder whether it is a suitable strategy. Consider, for example, avoiding situations and thus perpetuating your fear, avoiding confrontations that force you to push your limits, or consuming alcohol to hide your emotions. Someone who structurally avoids situations may eventually be prone to developing, for example, an anxiety disorder.

Via this link you can find an overview of commonly used emotion regulation strategies.

Practice

Think about the strategies you regularly use to cope with your emotions. It can differ per situation! Often, our bad habits occur automatically. In order to use emotion regulation more effectively, it can help to write down your emotions for each situation in your diary and then think about how you can manage these emotions. Do you need social support? Do you want to be alone for a while and cry really hard? Or would you rather go for a walk to think carefully about your emotions and give them a place? Try to ask yourself what would help you to be strong enough to withstand that intense wave of emotions!

 

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