What is emotional regulation and why is it important?

So you may have heard the term 'emotional regulation', especially if you're a parent, there's lots of information on how to help kids regulate their emotions - parents please read on.


But what does it actually mean?

What is emotional regulation?

Well, let's start with what it's not...

Regulating our emotions is not about 'controlling' 'managing' or 'suppressing' them. It's not about being cool and calm all the time and never ruffling our feathers. It's not about 'having our shit together', being logical or unemotional about things. It's not about being 'strong' and able to overcome difficult experiences quickly.

Emotional regulation is about...

  • Having the awareness to identify what we are feeling and being able to name the emotion.
  • Knowing that it's ok to experience ALL emotions, that it's part of being human and not a character flaw.
  • Being able to feel, be with and stay with our emotions, even when they are uncomfortable or intense.

It requires us to be able to connect to our emotions and feel safe enough to experience them.

When we are emotionally regulated we are able to ride the natural wave of our emotional cycles - allowing the emotion to run through our system, potentially rising in intensity and then falling away. We are able to return to a natural baseline of calm. We are able to complete the cycle.

Why is emotional regulation important?

Without stating the obvious - we are emotional beings. Whether we like it or not, our emotions are what drive our behaviour, so if we are not able to connect with them, they have the potential to hijack us, stay stuck in our system and burst out in undesirable ways.

Controlling and suppressing our emotions, whether consciously or unconsciously, causes a lot of stress and drains our energy. It stops us from expressing who we are, which long-term is pretty soul-destroying.

It's healthy for us to be in connection with our emotions and able to regulate our nervous system not only for ourselves but for everyone around us. If you are a parent/carer or spend time with kids and young people - the only way they are able to learn to regulate their emotions is via the adults around them. You can't teach them this stuff - you have to model it.

A child can only regulate their emotions to the degree of emotional regulation in the adults around them.

Being able to communicate and express our emotions with others takes away a lot of ambiguity and angst. On a nervous system level without us consciously knowing, we are all sensing each other's emotions anyway. Better to know what's going on with someone than wondering why we feel strange around them, or even making it mean something bad about us.

Being emotionally regulated in a highly dysregulated world is a bloody gift!!! We all know people, that when we are around them we just feel safe. We need more of those people!

So, how can we become more emotionally regulated?

It takes patience and practice to befriend your emotions. Start by taking a few minutes each day to ask yourself 'How am I feeling right now?' You might not feel anything obvious, but that's ok. Just name any physical sensations in your body - a tight chest, cold feet, a feeling of unease, butterflies - anything that grabs your attention. Notice it, there's no need to change it. Just take a few breaths.

Ask yourself - 'What do I need right now?' - are your thirsty, hungry, or too warm/cold. Go with your body's impulses, they are so often ignored on a busy day.

When you notice intense feelings coming up during the day. Pause to name it - 'I'm noticing I'm getting angry now'. Allow yourself to locate it and feel it in your body. If you're with others and it feels ok to say this in front of them - great, they are sensing your anger anyway. If it doesn't feel right, give yourself some time out to pause, feel it, breathe and ride the wave - it will always change.

If someone else is experiencing a difficult emotion - check in with yourself first. If you're at the peak of an emotional wave, you need to complete your cycle before steadying the ship for someone else. Bring yourself back to neutral as best you can. Without even needing to say or do very much - your regulated presence really is a gift in a highly dysregulated world.

Emotional regulation is a cornerstone of my work. Just because we've reached maturity in our years, doesn't mean we've reached emotional maturity. This isn't our fault, and it is our responsibility to learn it now - for ourselves and everyone around us.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cardiff, CF5
Written by Leah Davies, Somatic coach
Cardiff, CF5

Welcome to the 'Reclaim your true nature' coaching experience. An experience that brings you back to life so that the ordinary becomes extraordinary again. Have you lost your sense of humour?   Is the world feeling heavy and serious?  Are you longing to feel relaxed, light-hearted and your...

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