9 Science-Based Emotion Regulation Skills
What is emotion regulation and how to improve your emotion regulation skills.
Posted Nov 18, 2020
Emotion regulation is defined as the ability to change one's own emotions. Emotion regulation skills usually involve changing your thoughts or behaviors in ways that change your emotions. When you have emotion regulation skills, you can more easily feel better after experiencing stressful experiences.
Why might you want to build emotion regulation skills?
Effective emotion regulation can make you feel better in the short term and in the longer term. When we do not have emotion regulation skills, we often rely on unhealthy emotion regulation strategies like drinking alcohol, doing drugs, or overeating. These may make us feel good in the short-term but worse in the longer term. By building our emotion regulation skills, we can more effectively manage our emotions with healthier strategies and avoid using these unhealthy strategies.
Emotion regulation skills include a variety of strategies that help us feel better and generate a lasting sense of well-being (take this well-being quiz to see how you're doing).
Here are some emotion regulation skills to start learning:
Self-awareness is sometimes considered an emotion regulation skill. If we are not self aware, we are going to have a hard time being aware of our emotions. How can we regulate emotions we are not aware of? By increasing self-awareness, we build a better foundation for future effective emotion regulation.
2. Emotional acceptance
Emotional acceptance is a skill that involves experiencing negative emotions without judging them or yourself. Emotional acceptance is a key emotion regulation skill because judgment of our negative emotions just amplifies them making them stronger, last longer, and become harder to regulate. To accept your emotions, practice mindfulness and non-judgment.
3. Emotional cognition
There are all sorts of processes in our brains that aid emotion regulation. These "emotional cognitions" can be altered with various types of training. More specifically, activating regions of the brain associated with positive concepts may be beneficial. One way to do this is to recite and memorize positive words. (Here's a workbook with positive words to use.) Bringing these words to mind can strengthen emotion regulation processes.
4. Emotional attention
Another way to regulate our emotions is to re-direct our attention towards the positive. Focusing on the negative things makes us feel worse; shifting attention to the positive helps us feel better. One study trained participants to focus on neutral instead of threatening faces in a computerized task, and this training resulted in reductions in social anxiety. Build this skill by focusing your attention on the positive.
Reappraisal is an emotion regulation skill that involves cognitively reframing an experience as more positive or less negative. Building this skill can both increase positive emotion and decrease negative emotion simultaneously.
6. Temporal distancing
Temporal distancing involves shifting the way you think about your present situation by thinking about it from a time in the future. This technique helps regulate our emotions if we can see that these emotions won't be so bad after some time, Basically, we remind ourselves that "this too shall pass."
Self distancing is an emotion regulation skill that involves looking at your situation as “a fly on the wall." Emotionally distancing yourself from your experience and looking at it from an outsider’s perspective helps you disconnect from your negative emotions and see them in a new way.
Savoring is an emotion regulation skill that involves holding on to positive experiences and the emotions they produce. When we savor our good moments and experiences, we generate more positive emotions and create longer-lasting positive experiences.
Gratitude is an emotion regulation skill that involves thankfulness. It helps us feel good and makes others feel good too. Gratitude can increase positive emotions while also improving the quality of our personal relationships. We can practice gratitude with gratitude lists, gratitude notes, and gratitude letters.
Created with content from The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.
Amir, N., Beard, C., Taylor, C. T., Klumpp, H., Elias, J., Burns, M., & Chen, X. (2009). Attention training in individuals with generalized social phobia: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 77(5), 961.
Quoidbach, J., E. V. Berry, M. Hansenne, and M. Mikolajczak. 2010. “Positive Emotion Regulation and Well-Being: Comparing the Impact of Eight Savoring and Dampening Strategies.” Personality and Individual Differences 49 (5): 368–373.
Bruehlman-Senecal, E., and O. Ayduk. 2015. “This Too Shall Pass: Temporal Distance and the Regulation of Emotional Distress." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 108 (2): 356.