We all feel emotions every day! Some of them wonderful and some of them unpleasant. The difficult ones can be hard to process but whatever you’re feeling, we promise you’re not the only one feeling that way. Emotions are data; they tell us about ourselves, what we care about, and what we need.
So, how do we analyze the data, so to speak? Emotion regulation is the ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience (Gross, 2014). There are opportunities to regulate emotions early in the process of an experience or after an emotional response. In other words, you can control how you respond to your emotions.
Don’t judge your feelings; notice them. Use them as your map.
-Lori Gottlieb, Therapist and Best-Selling Author
Learn 5 key steps for emotional regulation to find what works best for you!
1. Take a Moment
Take a moment to slow down, check-in, and understand your emotions. Ask yourself, how am I feeling in this moment? How is my body reacting? Do I know what is causing this feeling? Am I comfortable sitting in this feeling? Make friends with your emotions.
2. Bring Awareness
Turn toward your emotions with acceptance. Placing judgment on your feelings can be harmful as you begin to work through what you’re feeling. You’re feeling what you’re feeling; judgment won’t change that. Instead, try lovingly accepting your feelings to allow you more space to process them.
3. Recognize Inputs
If you know you’re not comfortable experiencing a feeling, ask yourself, am I encountering any unsettling inputs? For example, if you’re anxious, what do you notice about your body? Are you hungry or tired? Can you eat something, or take a nap? Perhaps you need to pause the activity you’re doing and take a short walk.
4. Opposite Action
Are you able to identify your emotion in a particular situation? How do you usually like to react when you're feeling this emotion? Opposite action refers to addressing situational emotions. The idea is to put yourself in situations that may be uncomfortable in order to build towards new situational emotions. For example, maybe you feel anxious when presenting in class, so your reaction is to not attend or to avoid presenting. Practicing an opposite action may mean starting to raise your hand in class and speaking with clarity and confidence. The situation may be uncomfortable for a while. Still, as you begin building new emotions, you may find your anxiety shifts into something you're okay with—that's the goal!
5. Engage in Positive Self-Talk
We’ll get more into this in later posts! Suffice it to say, reframing, “I shouldn’t have made that mistake,” to “I’m human and I’m allowed to make mistakes” can make all the difference in terms of healthily navigating emotional response.
Feel Your Feelings
If you have time to explore your feelings, get curious! Be open to them, be reflective about them, and be gentle with yourself throughout the process. Here are a couple of suggestions navigating your feelings.
- Identify & Label: What am I feeling? These are feelings of guilt. I feel nervous.
- Go Inside: What’s showing up in my body?
- Be Curious: Why is this coming up?
- Assess: How intense is this feeling on a scale of 0-100?
- Address: What does my (insert emotion) need right now?
Wondering why we’re suggesting you ask your emotions what they need, i.e., “what do my anxious feelings need right now?” As we’ve mentioned before, self-talk matters. Think about the conversations you have with yourself when you’re feeling an emotion. Often, we position our feelings as part of who we are, for instance “I’m sad” vs. “I feel sad.” Small shifts in language can help create distance and invite curiosity.
Try saying these two versions to yourself. Do you notice any difference?
- I’m anxious. What do I need right now?
- I feel anxious. (Hello, anxious feelings!) What do you need right now?
Sometimes emotions can feel overwhelming but know you have the capacity to productively engage with them. Also, remember, you can have access to counselors 24/7 through the NYU Wellness Exchange.
Check out our suggestions for healthily engaging with your feelings!
- Pause & Breathe: Take a moment to sit with your feelings and breathe through them.
- Practice Mindfulness: Notice your thoughts and feelings without judgment.
- Have Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself, whatever you’re feeling, and tell yourself it’s okay.
- Talk to Someone: Process your feelings with someone you trust.
- Express Your Feelings: Write, draw, paint, dance your feelings and thoughts—whatever form appeals to you.
- Reassure Yourself: Normalize having feelings, realize their impermanence, and remember the emotions will pass.
- Play Music: Listen to songs that let you embrace your feelings.
Shift Your Feelings!
Sometimes you just don’t have the time or the capacity to fully investigate your feelings, express them, or even feel them.
Sometimes when life gets busy, it feels necessary or convenient to compartmentalize feelings. We get it! However, we encourage you to be intentional about how you shift them in the moment and to check in with yourself later to see if your feeling needs to be addressed.
So, next time you’re in your feelings and don’t have the bandwidth to fully engage with them, think about the before and the after:
Be curious about the before:
Right now, I feel ____ and I want to feel ____.
What does my body need right now?
What does my mind need right now?
What can I do in order to shift this feeling?
Be curious about the after:
Is my (insert emotion) okay if I don’t revisit it?
Does this feeling show up a lot for me? Is there a pattern here?
Am I sidestepping my (insert emotion) or is my (insert emotion) okay if I let it go?
Does my (insert emotion) need me to take time to investigate it?
Check out these activities for shifting your emotions!
1. Try a Loving-Kindness Meditation
Focus on by strengthening feelings of kindness toward loved ones, acquaintances, and all living beings. Google “loving kindness meditation” and pick one you like!
2. Develop a Container
Imagine a container that can hold whatever you need for however long you need. You can return to it at any time, and nothing will be forgotten. Put whatever you feelings you want to revisit into an imaginary container until you have time and capacity to address them.
3. Distract Yourself
Lower the activation of your amygdala by temporarily diverting your attention away from your emotion with a healthy activity like listening to an album you love from start to finish, watching dogs play in a dog park, picking something new to learn. It can be helpful to make a list of activities you enjoy in advance. This way, you can pick one from your list and don’t need to think of something in the moment.
4. Reframe Your Thoughts
Reframe any negative thoughts into neutral or positive ones and integrate a growth mindset into your reframed self-talk.
5. Notice Your Surroundings
Pay attention to your environment using all five senses— notice the colors, the objects around you, the noises you hear, etc.
6. Move Your Body
Select an activity that gets you out of your head and into your body, and stay focused on your body and the movement. Listen to the limits of your body; if something doesn’t feel good, stop and try a new movement.
7. Tense and Release
Inhale and tense a muscle group for 4-10 seconds and then exhale and completely relax that muscle group. Click our LIB for a gentle example of progressive muscle relaxation from Johns Hopkins Rheumatology!