Emotional Regulation: What is it and Why is it Important?

At some point in everyone’s life, emotions can spin out of control. Whether provoked by an argument, professional or personal failure, or concern about a loved one, unchecked emotions can lead to regret for things said and done in the heat of the moment. And it’s not even “negative” emotions that have the ability to harm—“positive” emotions like excitement and triumph can be negative in the wrong context, unless those emotions are regulated.

What is emotional regulation?

Although it sounds like a complex psychological technique, emotional regulation is actually a simple mental and behavioral process that many of us already do, consciously and unconsciously. For example, many people take walks or listen to music to calm down, or stifle a laugh when something unintentionally funny happens in a serious setting. Emotional regulation can also involve the emotions of other people, such as soothing an over-excited child or softening criticism of someone known to be sensitive. 

What is the difference between emotions and moods?

Emotions are easier to regulate than moods because they are directed at something specific and they don’t last as long. It only takes our brains about a half a second to identify an emotional trigger and release the chemicals that form an emotional reaction. Moods, on the other hand, are influenced by a collection of inputs in addition to outside factors such as the environment (weather, people), physiology (diet, exercise, sleep, sickness), thinking (where attention is focused), and of course by current emotions as well. While emotions last seconds or minutes, moods can last for days.

How easy is it to regulate emotions?

Emotional regulation is a highly individualized endeavor. Some people were raised with excellent coping skills as children, while others had little to no behavioral guidance growing up. Still, emotional regulation is a skill, and like any skill it can be learned and improved with practice. Meditation is one of several methods that work for certain people, along with breathing techniques and self-awareness strategies. 

Why is emotional regulation so important?

Aside from the more obvious benefits, such as feeling better in the immediate term, strong emotional regulation skills can also enhance long-term wellbeing, improve performance at work, enrich personal relationships, and even lead to better overall health. 

Additionally, regulating emotions through problem solving, asserting oneself, reappraisal of the situation, and so on, makes those emotions much less likely to escalate and lead to regrettable situations. And while moods aren’t the same as emotions, emotions do affect moods. This means emotional regulation can lead to mood improvement, which in the long run can increase compassion and empathy for others.

But for anyone looking to improve their regulation skills, it’s important to not be ashamed of uncomfortable or unwanted emotions. Everyone has them—it’s what people do with them that counts.

We’re here to help

If you’re having a difficult time regulating your emotions or think you may have a mood disorder, help is just a phone call away. At Alvarado Parkway Institute in San Diego, we offer diverse therapies, individualized treatment, and a continuum of care that is tailored to each patient’s needs. We also have a 24-hour crisis line—619-667-6125—if you need immediate attention. 

Please give us a call. We would be honored to assist you on your journey towards a healthier, happier life.