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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

10 Emotional Regulation Skills for a Healthier Mind

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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

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Reference

[1] Get Self Help: STOPP Skill

More by this author

Kathryn Sandford

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

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

Reference

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