Emotions are a normal part of the human experience. They are important because emotions affect how we behave and impact our relationships with other people. Without emotions, we would not be able to fully interpret our sensory experience. Further, we would not be able to experience deep connections with ourselves or with others.
Simply put, emotions occur as a physiological response to what is happening around us. Our emotions, then, dictate our behavior. If we do not have the appropriate knowledge and coping skills available to help us control and influence our emotions positively, then we are at risk of experiencing emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation can lead to a plethora of mental health problems, including an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD). For this reason and more, it is essential to understand how to increase emotional regulation skills to better your mental health and overall well-being.
The Importance of Emotional Regulation
Emotions are neither good nor bad; they are neutral. The way we regulate and manage our emotions can have a significant impact on all areas of our lives. Most importantly, good emotional regulation helps us to persevere beyond life’s stressors. Emotional regulation, or emotional management, helps us to respond better to emotional experiences. In other words, it helps us better influence emotions in ourselves and in others.
Throughout our lives, we apply various emotional strategies to different situations. When we experience positive emotional regulation, we have control over our emotions in a way that is both flexible and acceptable in social situations. This flexibility in emotional responsiveness allows us to address when it is appropriate to display an emotional reaction or when it is better to delay our emotional expression. Research has found that positive emotional regulation is associated with greater well-being, income, and socioeconomic status.
When Small Things Lead to Large Reactions
We all experience a variety of emotions. For some people, however, their emotions feel like an out-of-control fair ride. They may become easily agitated or reactive to small or insignificant events. The emotions they experience can be too high or too low. Their emotions might also be misdirected or inappropriate for a particular situation. When someone experiences difficulty with controlling emotions, they are experiencing emotional dysregulation.
During times of emotional dysregulation, people may:
- Experience anger outbursts
- Criticize others
- Become defensive
- Use alcohol and other drugs to cope
- Engage in binge eating
- Exhibit otherwise irrational, aggressive, or fearful behavior
There is no one root cause of emotional dysregulation. However, certain situations can increase your risk of experiencing it. These situations may include, but are not limited to:
- Unresolved childhood trauma, which may include:
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Parental abuse or neglect
- Poor parental attachment
- Lack of social support
- Experiencing poverty and homelessness
- Experiencing a natural disaster
- Little to no sense of self-worth
- Lack of purpose and direction in life
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Co-occurring medical or mental health conditions
The Cycle of Emotional Dysregulation
According to a research article titled “What is emotional regulation and how do we do it?” by the Cornel Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery, difficulty with the management of emotions occurs when a specific cycle is activated. The cycle begins with a disruptive situation, for example, an argument with a loved one.
Negative thoughts may follow that cause an individual to question their own self-worth. An example of an intrusive thought following an argument may include, “My boyfriend doesn’t love me anymore.” As a result of these thoughts, intense feelings may occur, such as sadness or anger. And even further, negative behaviors will result from the combination of these experiences.
The cycle of disruptive situations, negative thoughts, intense feelings, negative behaviors, and physical reactions can then lead to emotional outbursts, poor choices in self-care, and increased conflict in relationships. Once these cycles begin, they may be self-perpetuating. For example, intense negative thoughts may make it difficult for a person to trust others. Difficulty with trust may lead to fears of betrayal or abandonment. These fears can make it even more challenging for a person to seek out emotional connections with others. Episodes of emotional dysregulation can ultimately leave a person feeling disconnected, unloved, frustrated, and overwhelmed.
The Value of Dialectal Behavior Therapy for Emotional Regulation
Various treatment interventions exist to address problems with emotional dysregulation. The most well-known of these include dialectal behavior therapy (DBT). Through a four-pronged approach, DBT teaches people how to control and accept their emotions. In turn, clients can learn how to have better relationships, manage their feelings, overcome stress, and find more effective ways to work through conflict.
Tips for Positive Emotional Regulation
There are many things you can do right now to improve your emotional regulation. Here are just a few examples:
- Take time for mindfulness daily.
- Attend to your physical needs.
- Engage in activities that boost your confidence and self-esteem.
- Learn about healthy coping mechanisms you can use when you feel stressed, angry, depressed, etc.
- Journal about your feelings.
- Immerse yourself in nature.
- Listen to music to better understand how you are feeling.
- Get enough sleep every day.
- Focus on reducing your unhealthy eating habits.
If you struggle to navigate your emotions healthily or appropriately, you may be struggling with emotional dysregulation. When emotional dysregulation lingers, it can lead to worsening mental health problems. At SoCal Mental Health, we can help you regain a sense of control in your life by teaching you how to cope with distressing emotions in valuable ways. As you learn how to incorporate useful emotional regulation techniques into your life, you can feel more present and experience better relationships with your loved ones. Our use of mindfulness-based exercises will teach you how to calm yourself from upsetting thoughts. We offer a wide range of treatment programs and options for individuals who may need assistance and support as they work through emotionally-charged disorders and symptoms. To learn more about our treatment programs and services, give us a call today at (949) 502-2041.