Many of us struggle with self-regulation or managing our emotional energy in a way that helps us to feel calm, centered, and in control of our lives. Even when we know that behaving in a certain manner isn't beneficial to us, we can sometimes become overwhelmed by our emotions and feel like we are being controlled by them rather than the other way around. But with understanding and discipline, it is possible to effectively handle emotional energy in a way that allows us to feel calm and confident.
What is self-regulation?
At its core, self-regulation is the ability to control our own behavior, emotions, and thoughts. It’s a vital part of emotional intelligence and is closely linked to our ability to manage stress, build relationships, develop discipline, and achieve our goals. Essentially, it teaches us that we can choose our reactions to any situation rather than simply reacting instinctively based on our emotions. The process of regulating can be challenging for a couple of reasons, however:
The ego is our greatest enemy when developing awareness and taking responsibility for our shortcomings. When we lack self-awareness, our ego tends to dictate our lives and blind us to areas we need to work on—resisting the notion that there is an issue that needs addressing. This tends to be especially true when we feel overwhelmed, stressed, or triggered by a difficult situation.
Rewiring the brain is possible but takes time and effort. If we spend most of our time worrying and being anxious, we’re not reserving much energy for constructing new habits and breaking old ones.
Why is self-regulation important?
Self-regulation is essential for our mental, emotional, and physical health. When we struggle to regulate our emotions, we may feel anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed. Physically, we may experience symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, poor heart health, and immune or digestive issues. On the other hand, when we self-regulate, we can better manage stressors, build positive relationships, and pursue our goals with focus and determination. Self-regulation can also help us to communicate more effectively, solve problems more creatively, and make more thoughtful decisions.
How can you improve your self-regulation skills?
There are many things you can do to strengthen your self-regulation abilities. One of the most important is to practice mindfulness—pay attention to the present moment with non-judgmental awareness. When we practice mindfulness, we can better notice our thoughts and emotions without getting swept away. This can help us respond to challenging situations more thoughtfully rather than simply reacting based on instinct. Other self-regulation strategies include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and exercise. Engaging in activities that promote relaxation and reduce stress can help our bodies and minds stay calm and centered.
What are some common obstacles to self-regulation?
One of the most common obstacles to self-regulation is stress, making it challenging to stay calm and focused. Other obstacles might include negative self-talk, which can make us doubt our ability to regulate our emotions, or past trauma, which can make it harder to feel safe and secure. It’s important to recognize these obstacles and work to address them, whether through therapy, self-care, or other strategies.
Self-regulation is a powerful tool that can help us to live our best lives. By understanding the basics of self-regulation and practicing strategies for managing our emotional energy, we can improve our mental, emotional, and physical health, build positive relationships, and achieve our goals with confidence and focus. If you’re struggling with self-regulation, know that you’re not alone and that, with practice and patience, you can learn to stay calm and centered in any situation. Take some time to explore the strategies that work best for you and give yourself permission to make mistakes along the way. With persistence and dedication, you can become a master of your own emotional energy and create a life full of peace, joy, and purpose.