Learning Emotion Regulation with a Psychologist
Often, when people come to therapy, a psychologist will spend time teaching “emotion regulation skills”. Having the ability to regulate well emotionally means that a person can learn how to be aware, understand and manage their emotions better. This is essential for a balanced life because it allows a person to better ease or tolerate stress and distress, handle situations well, and maintain healthy relationships.
Psychologists can teach their clients many tools and skills to improve emotion regulation. In this article, I will discuss a few of the most useful ones. It is important to remember that you should, of course, seek out the help of a psychologist or other mental health professional if you are struggling with emotion regulation issues in your life or suffering from a mental health condition.
Emotion Regulation Strategies You Can Use
Some of the more common emotion regulation strategies taught by a psychologist include:
1. Changing Your Thinking with CBT Therapy
Psychologists call this cognitive reappraisal, restructuring or re-framing. The approach was popularised by American psychiatrist Aaron Beck, who developed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT Therapy in the 1960s, and psychologists still teach this to clients today. It involves changing the way one thinks about a situation in order to change the emotional response.
For example, if you are with your colleagues because they criticised your work in front of others, you might think, “They did that on purpose; they’re out to get me.” These thoughts could make you angry and upset and may change how you start interacting with your colleagues.
Cognitive restructuring can help you identify potentially unhelpful or unrealistic thoughts and challenge them. You might ask yourself, “Is that really true? Are there any exceptions? Have they been supportive towards me in the past?” With practice, you can learn to look at the evidence and challenge your angry thoughts and reframe them into more balanced ones, such as “They probably didn’t do that on purpose; they’ve been supportive of a good colleague and me in the past, maybe they have something going on at home, or they have a bad day.” By practising this technique, you can get reasonable control over otherwise strong emotions, which could lead you to act in a way that you might regret later.
Mindfulness Therapy and skills are taught in therapy with a psychologist to help someone develop a psychological state of moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. Learning this skill has many benefits, including fewer anxiety and depressive symptoms, reduced rumination, better stress reduction and an improved ability to disengage from emotional reactions.
There are many free online resources and apps for learning mindfulness skills based on good evidence.
3. Self-soothing Skills
Psychologists often teach self-soothing skills in therapy. They can help a person reduce the intensity of their emotions and feel more in control of their thoughts and feelings. One helpful way to self-soothe is to do activities that engage the different senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch to calm and relax. The key is to find activities that work well for you and to engage in them regularly. Some of these might include the following:
- Vision: Look at a photo album; study a picture; people watch, look at nature all around you
- Hearing: Listen to soothing music, listen to nature, hum a favourite tune, turn on the radio or songs on your device
- Smell: smell freshly brewed coffee; go to the park or a forest and smell nature around you; burn incense or a scented candle
- Taste: Eat some of your favourite foods or soothing non-alcoholic drink, mindfully eat your food, and treat yourself to dessert
- Touch: Take a shower; get a massage; pet your dog or cat; brush your hair; wrap up in a comfortable blanket
4. Relaxation Techniques for Anxiety
Deep breathing and Progressive Muscle Relaxation are two essential techniques often taught by psychologists in therapy to clients and can often help calm anxiety and frustration.
- Deep Breathing: This technique is about taking slow, deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, trying to concentrate on moving the air down into the belly rather than more shallow chest breathing. It calms the autonomic nervous system, reduces stress and promotes relaxation. A common count to follow is “in for three, out for four”, but you should try to find a rhythm that feels comfortable for you while sitting, standing or lying down.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body, starting from the feet and moving up to the head. This technique reduces muscle tension and promotes overall relaxation. To practice progressive muscle relaxation, it is recommended to tense each muscle group for a few seconds, then release the tension and allow the muscle to relax.
Emotion regulation skills can help a great deal in managing life well. By learning how to manage our emotions effectively, you can experience a range of psychological benefits that make a big difference in how you feel and relate to others.
Martin Hood Psychology