Emotional regulation refers to processes such as; the tendency to maintain attention on a task and the ability to suppress inappropriate behavior under instruction.
On a day to day basis people are constantly being exposed to a huge variety of potentially arousing stimuli. Such stimuli range widely, anything from an upset stomach to listening to music to talking about what happened last night on TV. Since in many cases social norms would deem inappropriate extreme or unchecked emotional reactions to such stimuli, people must engage in some form of emotion regulation almost all of the time.
The majority of people are flexible in respect to dealing with emotions and can effectively manage more extreme emotional states, therefore enabling them to live contently most of the time. However, some do lack certain basic skill sets and can therefore be placed into the category of poor self-regulators.
Poor self-regulators may be people who get angry and take their frustration out on other people or themselves. Poor self regulators also often unknowingly exhibit facial expressions that seem contrary to what is normative in a given situation. Poor self regulators are often deemed socially awkward because they are unable to control their (happy or sad) emotions properly.
Emotional self-regulation focuses on providing the appropriate emotion in the appropriate circumstance. If you laugh at a funeral people will take notice of the odd behavior. If a man cries while watching something with his friends, he will be judged. If a woman acts cold and distant to her crying child, her friends will be taken aback. These are all instances when emotion regulation would be proper precautionary techniques, by knowing the situation and what is appropriate during it you can act in a manner that won’t arouse suspicions. Regulating emotions isn’t always about masking or facial expressions, it can also be used as a way to calm one’s self down, or to refrain from contentious behavior or getting in to a fight. ER is also a way to help relieve stress, one example: one might write in a journal about the significant parts of one’s day.
How people deal with the emotion of anger is most revealing. People who properly regulate their emotions when they are angry may choose to let their frustration out in healthy ways; like working out (exercising), or writing a letter about how they feel. Poor regulators don’t. Poor regulators tend to not consider such options as good enough and therefore lash out (in sometimes violent manners) because they lack the ability/skills to state how they feel in any other way.
Some people utilize meditation and other stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness to help calm and soothe themselves and to maintain or regain composure, for some prayer and religious beliefs are used in similar fashion.
A good method often suggested for younger people to calm themselves, is the ‘count to 20’ –while slowly and taking deep breaths—technique. Sometimes a so called ‘time out’ (or a long walk, see section on exercise below) is necessary or helpful to cool the nerves/emotions
Some people learn how to control their facial expressions and have an internal cooling down method. Sometimes all it takes is a little common sense to put feelings into perspective and overcome the bad experience
Exercise is a widespread method for emotional regulation that works for almost everyone. Exercise has been shown to have definite cognitive effects by altering brain chemistry. Animal studies have shown that norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter involved in emotion, is altered in the frontal cortex and hippocampus after exercising. The change in norepinephrine levels in the brain due to exercise seems to have an effect on mood similar to those of antidepressants. Exercise has also been shown to help individuals deal with stress by “acting on the neurohormones that govern the stress response”. This effect on the neurohormones increases one’s threshold for stress, making the stresses of life seem more manageable.
The changes in brain chemistry due to exercise have important implications for the management of mental health disorders. In some instances, exercise has been shown to be more effective in the treatment of depression than medication. One study that analyzed longitudinal gains over a two-month period after exercising period produced results with even more positive implications for the use of exercise in emotional regulation. After this two-month period, individuals indicated they felt less emotional distress and experienced a decrease in perceived stress. An increase in the ability to control behavior was also shown, with behaviors ranging from cigarette smoking to making appointments on time, all showing improvement.