Updated: 4 days ago
These effective steps can help kids, teens, and adults alike learn and practice emotional regulation.
It's hard to know what to do when you feel overwhelmed with an emotion. Do you just accept it, ignore it, or try to stop the feeling?
There’s no right or wrong way to deal with feelings, but there may be steps that work better for you.
Here’s a little bit about feelings, emotional regulation, and what to do if you’re struggling with both.
Looking for resources for yourself or your clients? Skip ahead to our mental health worksheets and activities.
Recognize your emotion
Validate your feelings
Consider riding it out
Learn CBT skills
Learn DBT skills
Try cognitive defusion
Find a support network
Check out online resources
Be kind to yourself
What are emotions?
What are emotions, exactly? If you think about it, most of your feelings come from your body. For example, how do you know when you’re anxious? You probably feel pressure in your chest or butterflies in your stomach.
What about anger? You might clench your fists, or your face might flush.
We think of emotions in our mind because our thoughts and feelings are related. Thoughts may bring on a certain emotion, and a thought can change how we feel.
What is emotional regulation?
Emotional regulation is the ability to soothe feelings or control your reactions to them. For example, if someone becomes angry and starts punching a wall, we might call that dysregulated. If they’re able to lower the intensity of the feeling, that’s called emotional regulation.
Emotional regulation in kids
People of all ages struggle with regulating emotions at times. Younger kids, in particular, may have more challenges.
They’re having big feelings for the first time, and they’re not used to them. Other issues, such as tiredness or stressed out parents, can also contribute. However, people of all ages and in many different circumstances may struggle with their emotions.
Get professional help if you need it
If your emotional struggles (or your child’s) are to the point that they’re causing problems in your life, then consider looking for professional help. Talk to your doctor or find a therapist who can help. If you’re not sure where to start, visit here for therapy listings and immediate support.
How to flow with your emotions
Meanwhile, what can you do to help yourself when you’re overwhelmed with feelings? Here are some tips you can try, along with resources to support your efforts. The techniques may work best for kids, teens, or adults. But mostly it will depend on the individual and their needs.
1. Recognize your emotion
It’s common for people to not even recognize they’re having a feeling. They may also be used to minimizing their emotions, even when others can see them.
“I’m not angry!” “Why would I be stressed?”
So a good starting point may be to put a language to feelings. Just having about 5 to 10 feelings words can help you get a better handle of what’s happening. Connecting your feelings to your physical sensations (remember the butterflies) can also help.
Some studies show (UCLA, 2007) that simply naming an emotion can make you feel better. That may be because it connects the emotional and cognitive parts of your brain. That helps your brain know how to respond to a stressful situation.
This may not work for everyone, so notice your experience when you try it. Does labeling that you’re angry make you more or less angry?
If you need help with feelings words, visit here to check out our feelings activities and worksheets.
2. Validate your feelings
Therapists know that it’s important not to immediately dismiss or judge feelings. If you feel angry or sad, there’s a reason. However, most people grow up being taught to shut down feelings.
You might have heard (or said) things like:
“It’s nothing to be upset about.”
“You don’t need to get so angry.”
This advice comes from well-meaning people who want to make you feel better. Or, they may feel uncomfortable and want to feel better themselves. Either way, they are usually just reacting automatically.