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Emotion Regulation

Emotional Well-Being: 5 Healthy Practices for Regulation

Move from dysregulated and reactive to regulated and responsive.

Key points

  • Emotional regulation is the ability to control and redirect our emotions.
  • Self-awareness is foundational for effectively regulating our emotions.
  • Regulating our emotions can be complex, but we can improve with practice and repetition.

Emotional self-regulation is the ability to control and redirect our emotions. It is a key component of our emotional intelligence and our overall mental and emotional well-being. Since we don’t get to choose all the thoughts and emotions that show up for us, learning how to work with our emotions as allies and finding healthy and productive ways to manage and express them is where our true power lies.

In our busy lives, moving on autopilot can hinder our ability to tune into our emotions. Often, when we pause long enough, we’re hit with a wave of emotions. It can be easier to keep going than to face any uncomfortable feelings. However, leaving emotions unaddressed can lead to dysregulation; the more we try to ignore them, the louder they become. To regulate our emotions, we need to be present with what we feel, allow our emotions to exist without judgment, and get curious about what they may be trying to tell us. In my previous post, I shared some more strategies that can help us improve our emotional self-awareness.

Setting the intention to check in with ourselves can allow us to direct more of our energy towards moving in the direction of how we want to feel and shift from a place of being dysregulated and reactive to one of being regulated and responsive.

5 Tips to Support You in Regulating Emotions

1. Find your glimmers. While emotional triggers are commonly recognized, I believe that fewer people have been taught to embrace the glimmers. The term “glimmer” was introduced by licensed clinical social worker Deb Dana in her book Polyvagal Theory in Therapy. While triggers, whether they be memories, situations, people, places, or objects, alert the body to possible threats, glimmers are little cues of safety for the nervous system.

Glimmers are micro-moments that bring a sense of peace, joy, happiness, or hope and help the body return to a more regulated, grounded, and connected state. The warmth of the sun on your face, cuddling a pet, smelling freshly brewed coffee, or seeing a dog’s head out a car window are just some examples that could elicit these positive emotions. The beautiful thing is that once you begin to seek out these glimmers actively, you notice that they are all around you.

Try intentionally seeking out one glimmer every day and notice how it affects your mood. You may also choose to keep a running record of your glimmers on your phone or set a goal to capture a picture of each one, allowing you to revisit them whenever you need that shift in your mood.

2. Cope ahead of time. If you are going into a situation that you know might trigger complex or multifaceted feelings, try checking in with yourself by asking, “What can I do ahead of time to walk into this situation as my most grounded and safe-feeling self?” When we tune into our physical and emotional needs, we are then able to consider what we can do to bring ourselves a sense of safety or comfort.

This might look like deep breathing exercises before engaging in a difficult conversation, selecting comfortable clothing and footwear for a nerve-wracking presentation, or scheduling a break or calming activity immediately following a meeting.

3. Think of your day in quarters. Many of us tend to think of our days as totals, where we either had a good day or a bad day. Instead of viewing the day as a whole, dividing it into quarters (e.g., morning, midday, afternoon, and evening) can help us regulate our emotions. Pausing and checking in with ourselves after each quarter takes us off autopilot and into the present. If one quarter didn’t go well, we can take a moment to address any emotions or challenges that arose and take steps to regroup and recalibrate for the next one.

As you prepare for restorative sleep at the end of the night, engaging in a gentle cleanse and release ritual can also be helpful. This practice involves taking a few moments to reflect on the day and identify any thoughts or emotions that may be weighing you down or no longer serving you positively. It is an opportunity to acknowledge any stagnant emotions and intentionally release them, verbally or in writing.

4. Go for the feeling. Every behaviour we engage in serves a purpose and elicits an emotion. The key is to recognize our adaptive and maladaptive strategies and understand what helps versus what hinders our emotional state. Notice compassionately when there is a gap between your actions and your desired feelings.

My invitation here is to think about how you want to feel and then find the behaviour that will elicit the feeling. For example, if you want to feel energized, get outside, workout, play, or listen to a trusted pump-up song. If you want to feel more focused, take a break, eliminate distractions, or write a to-do list. This is all about using our emotional psychology to our advantage to make our desired feelings come to life.

5. Create an emotional game plan. To expand on the previous idea, we can proactively create a game plan by pairing an emotional expression with an activity that promotes a shift in our emotional state. This tool can help us identify healthy outlets for our emotions and bring to the surface any personal traps or tendencies that aren’t particularly helpful when we are in a certain emotional state.

I invite you to focus on the emotions that make sense for you and replace the behaviours with what you know works for you (as well as the tendencies you want to avoid):

  • Example: When I feel depleted, I get back to the basics of sleep, food, and connection. I don’t take on more work or entertain negative self-talk and self-criticism.
  • Example: When I feel sad, I journal, talk with a trusted loved one, or take a stillness break. I don’t destructively dwell on negative thoughts or excessively binge-watch TV to avoid the feeling.
  • Example: When I feel angry, I exercise or get into nature. I don’t jump to blame or talk about it too soon.

Final Thoughts

Turning these emotional regulation practices into habits will take time, and thankfully, practice makes it better. One of the greatest wins we can experience in emotional growth might just be realizing that we are handling situations better than we would have before. Every small step forward is progress.


Dana, D. (2018). The polyvagal theory in therapy: Engaging the rhythm of regulation. W. W. Norton.

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