Emotional Regulation

It’s very normal for your emotions to go up and down, depending on what’s going on in your life. While it’s unrealistic to be happy all the time, developing ways to handle the lows leads to an inclination towards staying within a typical range of emotions.

What is emotional regulation?

Emotional regulation describes the set of skills that lets us handle the tough feelings when they undoubtedly arrive. There are moments in daily life where it’s natural to feel stressed, angry, frustrated, sad, or anxious. These moments could arise after missing your train, getting cut off in traffic, listening to a grumpy coworker complain, or spilling sauce all over your pants. Inconveniences happen, and it’s important to not let the negative emotions that result from these situations overwhelm you.

When someone has healthy emotional regulation skills, they’re able to cope with feelings of distress. When something upsetting happens, their emotions don’t get the best of them and they maintain control over how they react. Without emotion regulation skills – often called emotion dysregulation – people may cry excessively, become angry to the point of fighting with friends or loved ones, resort to self-harm or unhealthy behaviors, and more.

Origins of emotional dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation may happen for many reasons, as everyone handles difficult situations differently. It’s in some people’s personalities to be more or less emotional in their daily lives, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, many people develop issues controlling their emotions because of a mental health condition. This could include:

Many mental health conditions include emotional dysregulation in their list of symptoms. These symptoms are especially common after someone experiences trauma or a major life transition.

Symptoms of emotional dysregulation

When someone has difficulty controlling their emotions – both the positive ones and the negative ones – across a variety of settings and situations, it may be a sign of emotional dysregulation. Often, these intense and unpredictable emotions negatively impact daily life, including at the workplace, in friendships, in relationships, and even with hobbies.

Some examples of emotional dysregulation include:

  • Crying uncontrollably
  • Shouting at other people over small inconveniences
  • Laughing at inappropriate times
  • Resorting to drugs or alcohol when feeling an intense emotion
  • Going from one emotion to the opposite emotion (and back!) within a few minutes

Therapy for emotional regulation

Many therapists specialize in helping clients develop strong emotional regulation. There are many types of therapy that are helpful for people who would like to grow their emotional regulation skills, and it is a key component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Some clients learn how to alter their thought patterns to maintain a positive emotional state, others find ways of expressing their emotions such as journaling, painting, or exercising. Therapists who specialize in emotional regulation will help you find what works best for you when it comes to intense, overwhelming emotions.