Counseling for Emotion Regulation
Emotion regulation sounds like such a simple term, such as just being able to keep emotions under control. However, it involves quite a bit more than that, and many people struggle with being able to actually regulate their emotions. So, what exactly does emotional regulation mean? Yes, it does involve the ability to exert control over one’s own emotional state. It may involve behaviors such as rethinking a challenging situation to reduce anger or anxiety, hiding visible signs of sadness or fear, or focusing on reasons to feel happy or calm. However, this ability is often very difficult for people for a variety of reasons, which will be discussed in this article, along with ways of learning how to get help, and will also provide different strategies and approaches to learning to control emotions. Whether someone is dealing with a life event that makes it hard to keep emotions under control, or perhaps they may have a mental health issue/disorder that hinders them from being able to do so. Lansing Counseling has many licensed professional counselors, therapists, and social workers in East Lansing, MI available to help you or those you care about to learn how to regulate emotions that feel out of control.
Why Emotional Regulation is Important
In order to live a healthy daily life, it is important to be in control of your own emotions. Small children do not usually possess the ability to do so; for example a three year-old may be perfectly happy one moment, and then throw themselves on the floor screaming the next, seemingly for no reason. This is a normal part of development. However, Unlike small children, adults are expected to be able to manage their emotions—especially anxiety and anger, but also many others—in a manner that is socially acceptable and allows them to remain functional. When emotional control fails, people often say or do things they later regret and wish they had been able to keep their emotions in check. Emotion dysregulation, or the lack of being able to keep emotions within control, can be a component of certain forms of mental illness. Over time, it could have a negative impact on one’s personal well-being, social relationships, and overall life. Therefore, it is critical to do whatever is necessary to learn to control emotions when they may seem to be spiraling out of control.
What Emotions Are Hard to Control?
Depending on a given experience or situation, some of the most difficult emotions to control are often anger, resentment and disappointment, but can also include grief, extreme sadness, depression, severe anxiety, and panic among others. While these are universally experienced states, they may become so overwhelming and debilitating that people cannot function in daily life in a healthy manner. In some cases, a lack of appropriate emotion regulation may be a sign of a mental health condition. While some can process and mitigate these feelings, they should not feel that they need to do so on their own. Whatever it is that might be causing such a lack of control, there are strategies and help available to assist in regaining and maintaining a healthy emotional balance.
Consequences of Not Address Poor Emotional Regulation
There are obvious negative consequences of not properly addressing emotions like anger, anxiety, or fear: harm to relationships from emotional overreactions, unnecessary suffering, and/or losing opportunities that seemed too overwhelming. Certain ways of regulating emotion regulation, such as regularly bottling them in instead of addressing them may also be associated with lower satisfaction with relationships and life in general. It is essential that out of control emotions be addressed, whether it be with the help of others, learning coping strategies, or both in order to gain that control back.
What Makes Controlling Your Emotions More Difficult?
A variety of factors might help to prevent emotion regulation, including beliefs about negative emotions (that they are only bad, or that we are just not at all not able to control them), a lack of emotion-regulation skills (not knowing how to deal with them, or situations that often cause especially powerful emotions. Uncertain, scary, or threatening conditions may cause a flood of emotions to happen all at once, therefore making them even more difficult to control.
Ways to Deal With Regulating Difficult Emotions
Although it may sometimes feel like they strike us out of the blue, such as if an intense event happens, emotions usually unfold over time. According to the process model of emotion regulation, we can work with emotional processes at different points during the course or timeline of the emotion using different strategies. For instance, before the emotional reaction is becomes intensified, we can target the source of the situation and try to keep it at bay beforehand (for example, avoiding dreaded situations we know may occur in advance), our attention to the situation (for example, looking somewhere else and finding a way to distract from the triggering situation), and the way we choose to define the situation (for example, downplaying negative events). Once the emotion is on its way, we can alter our behavioral or physiological response to it.
Not all strategies are equally effective at helping to regulate our emotions. Two of the most widely studied strategies, called reappraisal and suppression, have different types of consequences our well-being:
*Reappraisal is cognitive in nature, which means that it involves how people think about and reframe emotional situations. It is considered to be a positive type of emotion regulation, because it is flexible and because it transforms the whole emotion, rather than just one piece of it. Reappraisal is associated with lower levels of depression and greater levels of well-being, as it allows the mind to concentrate on controlling the emotion.
*Suppression, in contrast, is basically still experiencing the emotion, but hindering its behavioral expressions. It is considered to be a more negative type of emotion regulation. One reason is that the experience part of the emotion still persists. Another reason is that by suppressing the emotion instead of acknowledging it, it creates a false reality between how a person feels and what other people see.
Research has shown that people who use reappraisal strategies are able to reframe stressful situations by reinterpreting the meaning of the causes of negative emotions. They deal with challenging situations by taking a proactive role in restoring their moods and in adopting more positive attitudes. These efforts are often rewarded with more positive and less negative emotions, as well as resilience, better social ties, greater self-esteem, and general life satisfaction. Suppression, on the other hand, only affects the behavioral response of emotions, and does little to reduce their actual experience. It’s thought to be mentally and socially costly — it takes continuous effort to control and suppress emotions. Studies have shown that people who used suppression were less able to repair their negative moods, despite “masking” their inner feelings. They experienced fewer positive emotions and more negative emotions, and had less life satisfaction and less self-esteem.
There is another form of emotion regulation which may help us see emotion regulation in the light of thousand-year-old traditions — acceptance.
*Emotional Acceptance is a stance of understanding that someone is emotional, but decides not to do anything about it, thereby choosing not to alter or change the emotion. Somewhat in both ways, emotional acceptance is related to decreased negative emotions, as well as resilience. Therefore, choosing to ignore emotion regulation can sometimes actually have the best emotion regulatory function. For example, people who accept their negative emotions when they are stressed out experience fewer negative emotions than people who don't accept their emotions. It’s one of the core ideas of mindfulness, which involves a number of different psychological processes. One of them is awareness of your emotional and psychological states, and the other one is non-reactance or acceptance, which could also be thought of as the absence of emotion regulation. That might seem contradictory at first glance, but perhaps it’s the combination of both that you really want: a stance of emotional acceptance — acknowledging your emotions and not being threatened by them — and the knowledge that you can, if you want to, decide to change them.
Skills, Strategies, Hope, and Help.
Whether you might be experiencing difficulty regulating your emotions due to grief, a life change, a mental disorder, or any number of reasons (you may not even realize what the cause may be right away), you deserve relief from feeling emotionally out of control. There are some great worksheets and questionnaires you could begin with on your own which can be found here. However, usually the most effective way to learn to cope with keeping control of your emotions is to do it with someone who can help guide you through whatever the best process is for your individual situation.
At Lansing Counseling, we can offer that help to release the heaviness that can be felt when you feel out of control through our counseling services for managing emotions. To schedule an appointment, fill out the contact sheet below, email us: [email protected] or give us a call at: (517) 333-1499. Lansing Counseling is located near the campus of Michigan State University, off of Grand River Ave across from Whole Foods. We are on the ground level of the Red Cedar Flats building, and are in Suite 101. We would love to work with you and get you feeling emotionally healthy!
5030 Northwind Dr Suite 101
East Lansing, MI 48823