Last week we talked about the importance of Emotional Regulation as one of the top skills for leaders and the importance of creating a solid process of self-awareness and self-management of our emotions, particularly when engaged in leading others. So if you missed that one, I recommend you read Part 1 here first.
As promised, today I’d like to share with you practical skills that I’ve personally used to develop my own emotional regulation and my emotional intelligence and coached others in the process as well. I’ll also share some science-based strategies.
So without further ado, let’s dig in!
Practical Emotional Regulation Skills
Self-regulation is based on learning how to pause between sensing a feeling and reacting to it – it helps us to slow down for a bit and act only after objectively evaluating a situation. For example, a leader who yells at others out of sheer frustration during a meeting surely has less emotional control than a leader who, before reacting or raising their voice, expresses to his or her team why he or she feels frustrated and what they should’ve done differently.
Value engagement is another important aspect of emotional regulation. When we impulsively react without paying attention to what’s truly going on inside of us, we more often will deviate from how our core values would normally guide us to act. However, with adequate regulation and self-control, we gain the power to remain calm under pressure and avoid the pain and remorse of acting against our core values and ethics.
The following skills can help you develop your emotional regulation and sustaining it during the challenges you unavoidably will encounter:
I always state that we cannot pour from an empty cup, so setting time aside for ourselves every day is a must for building emotional regulation skills. Reminding ourselves of our talents, skills and accomplishments (without becoming arrogant) and letting our thoughts land on a safe space can have a tremendous impact in the way we feel and react to our emotions.
Some simple self-compassion hacks are:
- Gratitude journaling (gratitude = joy ??)
- Daily positive exchanges with loved ones
- Exercising regularly
- Breathing exercises (have you heard of the box-breathing method?)
- Meditation and/or prayer
- Regular self-care
Recognizing what we are feeling and giving it a name starts to create emotional regulation. For example, when you feel angry, ask yourself – Am I feeling sad, frustrated, tired, or anxious? Keep in mind that some emotions are known as masked emotions because they tend to mask the underlying root cause of what we are feeling and why.
Give yourself options and explore the rage of your feelings at any given time. We tend to have a very limited vocabulary when it comes to emotions and it shouldn’t be so. Try to name the specific emotions that you can feel intensely at that specific moment, and write them down. At this stage you don’t need to act or judge the cause and effect these emotions evoke; all you need is to create full awareness of each feeling that is controlling your mind ‘in that specific moment in time.’
3. Mindful awareness
In addition to creating awareness, mindfulness lets us explore and identify all aspects of the external world, including our own body. Quick mindful exercises such as sensory relaxation and breath control can help us to calm our internal storms while guiding our actions in a positive way.
Our ability to adapt might be impacted by emotional dysregulation. It can make us more prone to distractions that can sabotage our coping mechanisms, which consequently causes us to start resisting change. Objective evaluation is a great exercise to help us build adaptability.
For example, when you feel the weight caused by stressful emotions, instead of destructively reacting to them, take a moment to think what advice would you give to your best friend, if he or she was experiencing these exact feelings instead of you? What would you recommend he or she does to deal and cope? Journal about it and apply this same approach on yourself. We tend to be better at giving others advice than to ourselves, so this is a great exercise to get clarity.
5. Cognitive reappraisal
Cognitive reappraisal skills may include practices such as situational role reversals or thought replacement, where we try to look into a stressful situation from a whole new perspective. In a nutshell, it alters that way we think and so it’s a pivotal part of psychotherapies like Anger Management, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy).
For example, replacing thoughts like ‘My boss hates me, I am never getting that promotion’, with alternatives like, ‘My boss is frustrated at this moment, but I know I am hard-working and honest, let me try again’. This approach offers us a broader perception of the problem at hand and supports us in reacting in a more positive way.
Many times we can mistakenly perceive someone’s response to a stressor as a negative response to something we said or did and start creating unfounded horror stories in our heads; which then will trigger our own stressors and worsen the cycle. When in doubt, ask. Wait for the right moment and approach the person and just ask them why they reacted the way they did. If indeed it was something you did or said, then make amends. If we leave these situations unaddressed they will morph and fester into something unnecessarily big and ugly.
Science-Based Emotion Regulation Strategies
In recent studies, researchers have shed some light in this fascinating topic. They agree that emotional regulation should not be constrained to a timeframe or a specific group of individuals under a specific set of circumstances, as it used to be approached in the past. They have proposed a few scientific strategies that could guide us in a more general way, so here what’s I found:
Cognitive reappraisal or simply reappraisal ensures long-term wellbeing and offers a more permanent solution to emotional dysregulation through positive substitutes. It proposes that instead of attempting to suppress or eliminate negative emotions, we use re-evaluation, to find better ways of dealing with these emotions and the effects they create. It also helps us to shift our focus from the distress and reduces the impact of the negative emotion temporarily.
According to researchers, any form of self-soothing, may reduce the toxic effects of sadness, anger and anxiety that negative experiences can awaken. Researchers believe that using self-soothing, instead of self-confrontation, guarantees better and quicker outcomes when it comes to managing our emotions and thoughts.
Some variations of self-soothing exercises include:
- Self-compassion and kindness meditation
- Music meditation and relaxing sound
- Reminiscence therapy, which works great for resolving emotional conflicts involving other people. The practice requires that we sit and try to remember all the good memories we had created in the past with the person we are now having difficulties with
- Breathing exercises, breath counting and simple breath relaxation
- Simple self-care such as a hot bath, a relaxing massage, a good night sleep, etc.
3. Attentional control
This one starts with reappraisal. It aims to divert our attention away from the negative emotion and to focus instead on a rewarding perspective.
By focusing more on what we’ve learned from the conflict and not on the conflict itself, we not only save ourselves from the severe stress and anxiety, but we also gain a perspective of how we can avoid such negative exchanges or experiences in the future. This technique helps to modulate our response to a negative stressor successfully; while allowing us to restore our peace of mind at the same time, win-win!
Proven Tips for Developing Emotional Regulation in Children
If as adults, regulating our emotions feels challenging at times, imagine being a kid again and trying to figure things out without really understanding what’s making us feel this or that way and how to best approach said feelings. This is a conversation I have often with my daughter Antoinette, as she and her husband David now have two beautiful and very spirited little girls, who don’t shy away from showing mom and dad when they don’t like something.
This is the hard truth: if a kid understands advanced mathematical problems, is bilingual and keeps a bright spot in the Principal’s Honor Roll, yet is unable to manage his or her emotions, hasn’t developed stress management skills and nor practices conflict resolution, this child’s chances of succeeding will be severely diminished. Emotional regulation is an absolute must for academic, social, and moral development in children. Parents often feel overwhelmed, trying to find the right way to teach emotional regulation to their kids and help them deal with the inevitable stressors of everyday life.
Same as not two fingerprints are identical, emotional perception and management are never the same for two people, which is why successfully training someone to regulate their emotions can be challenging to say the least. However, here are some tips that parents and care-givers can use to foster emotional regulation in children:
1. Model the right behavior
This is one of those instances in which caught lessons can have a higher impact than taught lessons. Children learn best through observing those around them. Showing them what to do rather than verbally directing will always generate better outcomes. For example, a child who grows up with parents who treat each other with respect and resolve their conflicts without raising their voice, will grow up to be more emotionally balanced and resilient than a child who grows up in an aggressive and abusive household.
It is essential to show children to use a positive approach as the ‘only’ way to deal with stressors, and the best way to teach them is by practicing the same ourselves….talk about leadership 101!
2. Develop the child’s emotional vocabulary
This is something I’ve witnessed my daughter practice with her oldest child and it really made me wish I had a do-over with her and her brother at that age. Self-expression works wonders for emotional regulation in children. Often, a child experiences something that they are unable to explain, and the frustration that follows leads to an unpleasant reaction that is not acceptable, yet without guidance they don’t know any better.
A useful strategy is to create a chart with all the emotions named in it, with examples or face illustrations of how the particular emotion makes them feel. Being able to call the feelings they are experiencing awakens the child’s awareness when describing and managing their innermost feelings, and reduces the chances of emotional outbursts and temper tantrums.
3. Delayed response time
Encourage the child not to react immediately. Whenever a child feels angry or sad, ask him or her to hold back for a while and react after that time has passed. The delay in response time allows the fight-or-flight response generated by the amygdala in the brain to settle down, and most likely, the child would respond with less intensity than they would otherwise have or even not at all.
4. Teach them that actions have consequences
When a child is aware of what consequences their actions might bring to them, they will likely choose their actions and reactions more carefully. Whether at home or in school, we can engage in meaningful conversations with kids about what is an action and what could be its consequences.
5. Let them identify stress
The objective of developing emotional regulation in children is to help them become self-dependent and balanced people. There are particular situations, people, or events that create stress in children, for example, going to school for the first time, getting scolded by a teacher, or a peer or sibling taking away their favorite toy.
If we dedicate time to help children identify the things that bring unpleasant / upsetting feelings in them, it can go a long way in making them aware of their stressors and provide them the strength and awareness to deal with their emotions more effectively as they grow up.
I truly hope you’ve found this two-part series on emotional regulation valuable. If so, please like, comment and share with one person who can benefit from this content,
Thanks for reading, have an amazing rest of your day and God bless,