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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

10 Emotional Regulation Skills for a Healthier Mind

10 Emotional Regulation Skills for a Healthier Mind

What is emotional regulation?

“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It can not be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.” — Buddha

This quote encapsulates the essence of what “emotion regulation” is all about.

In its purest form, emotional regulation is about you having the skills to control your behavior, emotions and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals – for example living a resilient and flourishing life as opposed to living a life where you are languishing in discontent and frustration.

In this article, you will learn what emotional regulation is, and the skills you need to be mentally strong and healthy.

What Are Emotional Regulation Skills?

Emotional regulation skills help us to effectively manage and change the way we feel and cope with situations. Emotions, thoughts and what we do or feel the urge to do (behaviors) are all linked; and if not managed well can lead us down a path of self-sabotage and self destruction.

When we apply emotional regulation skills into our life then, there will be a definite improvement with our thoughts, attitude and mood. Living life in a more positive way brings major benefits for us – such as increasing our compassion, empathy and relationships with others.

Emotional Regulation Skills are the key to us living a healthy and well balanced life – physically, mentally and spiritually. When we strive to live a balanced life, we build our resilience and our coping strategies to effectively deal with the adversity and the challenges in life.

Why Is Emotional Regulation Important?

Self-regulation is one of the key emotional regulation skills. Historically, we have been taught to believe that the strategies around managing our responses and behaviors are self-taught.

For example, when toddlers have tantrums, parents just put that behavior down to a “phase” that they will grow out of. Some of us do and some of us, depending on what negative experiences we have in our lives, lose our ability to self regulate. Outbursts, yelling, displays of anger, aggressive behavior and extreme violent acts demonstrate the inability of a person to self regulate their responses to situations where they feel they have no control. A lack of self-regulation will only cause problems in one’s life.

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Self-regulation in its most basic form allows us to bounce forward from failure and stay calm under pressure. It is these two abilities that will essentially carry you through life – more than any other skills.

10 Important Emotional Regulation Skills

1. Applying Your Power Of Choice

The first step in the practice of self-regulation is for you to recognize that you have the choice in how you react to situations.

Using your power of choice is a self regulation skill that empowers you to work with the disruptions and challenges that you face in your life. Your power of choice is your gift. The sign that you are using your power of choice wisely is when you can honestly say out loud to others — ” By using my power of choice, I am able to live my life to my fullest potential and I am flourishing”

When you use your power of choice wisely, there is no compromises about how you live your life. You have clarity, focus and a purpose; and these elements all come together to build your resilience to deal with adversity and the tough times in life.

The other side to using your power of choice is accepting that you never have complete control over how you feel. The power of choice enables you to greatly influence how you choose to feel and thus, respond.

2. STOPP – A Technique Designed by Carol Vivyan to Manage Your Emotions

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”. — Viktor Frankl.

If you are struggling to get your emotions under control, this technique is a great process to follow to manage your emotions more effectively:[1]

  • S – Stop
  • T – Take A Breath
  • O – Observe – your thoughts and feelings
  • P- Pull Back – put in some perspective – what is the bigger picture?
  • P – Practice What Works – Proceed – what is the best thing to do right now?

3. Take Care Of Your Body

“Caring for your body, mind, and spirit is your greatest and grandest responsibility. It’s about listening to the needs of your soul and then honoring them.” – Kristi Ling

Consistent physical activity, eating well and getting lots of sleep are critical to you having a resilient and well balanced life.

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4. Work on Having Positive Relationships In Your Life

“Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you too can become great.” — Mark Twain

The relationships you have in your life have a significant influence on how you live your life. The more positive and healthier your relationships are, the more resilient and optimistic you will feel about your life.

Toxic relationships do not serve you well and you need to eliminate these relationships from your life. Your wellbeing, mentally, physically and spiritually is influenced by the type of relationships you have in your life.

5. Find Ways to Have Fun

Below are a few quotes that demonstrate why it is important for you to have fun in your life.

‘When fun gets deep enough, it can heal the world” – the Oaqui

“There’s no fear when you’re having fun” – Will Thomas

“I am going to keep having fun every day I have left, because there is no other way of life. You just have to decide whether you are a Tigger or an Eeyore”-Randy Pausch

“In all of living, have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured” – Gordon B. Hinckley

6. Practice Mindfulness

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment” — Buddha

Mindfulness practices can help you to increase your ability to regulate emotions, decrease stress, anxiety and depression. It can also help you to focus our attention, as well as to observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment.

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The practice of mindfulness can be different for everyone. However, the most common practise of mindfulness is mediation. The main benefits you get from practicing mediation is that you learn how to calm down your mind. You also learn how to practice the art of gratitude and appreciation. These are key skills that help you to be present in the moment and mindful of the positive things that are in your life.

Take a look at this beginner’s guide to meditation: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

The more integrated the practice of mindfulness becomes in your life, the less you worry and stress about the past or the future. Mindfulness improves your mental health and your emotional wellbeing.

7. Find Ways for You to Let Go of Painful Emotions and Your Regrets

The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” ― Steve Maraboli

Learning how to let go is probably one of the hardest emotional regulation skills to learn. When you do manage to release all these negative emotions, you will find that you resilience and ability to deal with the curveballs of life will soar.

When you accept that you are suffering, you stop running from the difficult emotions and turn to face them with strength and courage.

Here’re 21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go.

8. Learn How to Accept Your Vulnerability

“In our culture, we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.”– Dr. Brené Brown

Brené Brown’s mission in life has been to teach others about the power of vulnerability. It was her Ted Talk that set her on the journey of spreading the message about how to step in to your vulnerability and find your power:

She has written a book not only on vulnerability but also on how to forgive yourself and dealing with shame.

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For me, when I read Brené’s book Daring Greatly, I learned many life changing lessons; however, there were two life lesson that really stood out for me:

  • Vulnerability Takes Courage – Allowing yourself to be vulnerable takes strength and courage. When you do this, you are truly standing in your power and it is at this point that you know who you truly are and you are not afraid.
  • Don’t Bottle Up Your Emotions – Become more self-aware. I was very good at hiding away how I was really feeling and overtime, these feelings of anxiety and sadness would overwhelm me. After I read Brené’s book, I realized that to become more emotionally resilient and self aware, you have to be able to explore your emotions, ask questions to get in touch with how you are feeling and thinking in a given moment.

9. Seek Excellence Not Perfection

This is another of Brené Brown’s life lessons, and this lesson so important when it comes to managing our emotions.

Brown says perfectionism is:

“the belief that if we live perfectly, look perfectly and act perfectly, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.”

Perfectionism isn’t about growth, improvement, or personal achievement, it’s about fear and avoidance. Therefore, what you should really be focused on is realizing excellence, the best version of yourself despite your flaws. This perspective is healthy and inclusive and leads to real personal growth as opposed to a flawed perfectionism.

10. Become Better at Managing Your Negative Feelings Because They Never Go Away

These negative feelings such as fear and criticism will always be a part of our life. The best course of action you can take is to face your fears and move forward. The more you stand up to these negative forces, the more you’ll flex your courage and resilience and come out stronger for it.

Final Thoughts

Dare to be yourself – your strengths, skills, and beauty as well as your flaws and insecurities. This is who you are and the more you stand in your personal power the more courageous and stronger you will be especially when facing those challenges, disruptions and painful moments in your life.

Our emotions are a powerful force in influencing how we live our life. Our emotions are here to stay and the good news is that we are not victims of the negative feelings that are influencing our life.

When you integrate these 10 emotional regulation skills into your life, your emotional agility and courage will enable you to live your life to the fullest – a life where you are thriving, resilient and courageous.

More About Mental Strength

Featured photo credit: Matthew T Rader via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Get Self Help: STOPP Skill

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Kathryn Sandford

Career Resilience Coach passionate about supporting others to grow and thrive in a complex world.

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Published on April 9, 2021

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

Benefits on Your Mental Health

Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

  • Autonomy
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Competence
  • Empathy
  • Optimism

Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

  • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
  • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
  • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
  • Prevention of major depressive disorders
  • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

  • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
  • Awareness of the present moment
  • Openness to experience whatever comes up
  • Acceptance that the mind will wander
  • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

2. Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

3. Body Scan Meditation

A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

More About Practicing Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
[4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
[8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
[10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
[17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
[18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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