Learning how to regulate your emotions

When was the last time that you felt your emotions were completely out of control? At the time, did you have the tools and skills to ensure things didn’t spiral further?

We can all think of a time (or many) when we let our emotions get the better of us. However, it is important to note that being able to regulate one’s emotions is essential. When we allow ourselves to be ruled by our emotions, our chances of relapse greatly increase. Often, unchecked emotions lead to unchecked behaviours.
So what is emotional regulation? It is our ability to use internal and external strategies to influence our emotional reactions.

Emotions function like an alarm, alerting us to pay attention to events that may be important. Identifying these events, and the associated emotions, is an important first step toward learning emotional regulation. Below are three steps that we can take to help us better manage our emotions.

An emotions wheel shows the depth that is behind the emotions we feel.

1. Labelling
Being able to identify your emotions without judgement is an important process. All feelings – including very difficult ones – have a place in our life. Our ability to label our uncomfortable feelings like rage, disgust, and anticipation, is a first step toward managing how we are feeling.”

Many people think uncomfortable feelings need to be changed. However, that is not always the case. Investigating one’s feelings and identifying them as valid is key. Emotional regulation is not about labelling a particular emotion as “right” or “wrong” but, it is about identifying how we are feeling and adopting a non-judgmental view of each emotion you feel.

2. Acknowledging
Once we have “labelled” how we feel, it is important to then acknowledge those feelings. When we do so, we are taking ownership of our situation.
How we think can often have a direct impact on the emotions we feel. If we can better understand how we think, we can then work on understanding our emotions. We can subsequently change and manage our feelings if we address unhealthy ways of thinking.

Mobile Apps: There are many apps that can assist with tracking our feelings and emotions. Over time, it can be helpful to examine what category we ‘live’ in. For example, some apps are categorised into main ‘themes’, such as ‘Love’, ‘Joy’, ‘Surprise’, ‘Anger’, ‘Sadness’, and ‘Fear’. Engaging with Mood apps on a consistent basis can help to identify patterns of feelings, leading to a better understanding of ourselves.

As part of the journey to identifying feelings and emotions, learning to utilize tools can greatly increase the identification and growth process.

Mindfulness: This is the intentional process of observing and accepting our thoughts and feelings without judgement in the moment. It encompasses experiencing emotions without trying to deny, change, or hold onto them.

Try this mindfulness practice. Ask yourself:

  • What is the emotion I am experiencing at this moment?
  • What is the activating event that led to the emotion?
  • Where am I feeling the emotion in my body?
  • Do I feel discomfort? Do I feel content?
  • How can I move through the thoughts, and what recovery tools can I use to help me?

Journaling: This is a healthy and productive way to express yourself that can help you gain valuable insight by clarifying your thoughts and feelings. It can promote self-awareness through inner exploration.

Try this journaling practice. When you are experiencing emotions that you would like to reflect on, write a journal that answers these questions:

  • Which emotion(s) am I trying to examine right now?
  • Am I trying to hide from this emotion? If so, why?
  • What does this emotion need from me?
  • What is preventing me from addressing this feeling?
  • What recovery tools have I learned can help me process my feelings?
  1. 3. Accepting your emotions
    It is a common misbelief that the natural state for all human beings is happiness. This belief can create more unhappiness as it is an unrealistic goal. Life brings with it a whole range of experiences and feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant. We will feel love and joy but also hurt and sadness, and a full range of other emotions. Can we consider changing the word ‘happy’ with ‘content’? For example, ‘am I content with…’. Life can always be ‘better’ or ‘worse’. Accepting where we are NOW, with what we have, can lead to healthier behaviour.

    Consider the goal in life is not to remove unpleasant emotions, but instead to accept and process them. Suppressing emotions may feel better in the short term, but causes great problems in the long run. Once the emotion has been labelled and acknowledged, it is beneficial to then accept it for what it is.

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.