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Most people have said or done something at some point in their lives that they wish they could take back. The ability to think before you act is an important part of emotional self-regulation.

Emotional self-regulation is a learned skill that becomes easier with age. However, its roots form during childhood.

Read on to learn more about emotional self-regulation and tips you can use to help achieve it.

Emotional self-regulation is the ability to modify or control your thoughts, emotions, actions, and words, explains a 2022 research review. Self-regulating your emotional state can stop you from saying or doing things that might hurt others or yourself.

Impulsive behaviors can significantly damage personal and professional relationships. Emotional self-regulation lets you pause before you do or say something harmful that may stop you from achieving short or long-term goals.

Emotional self-regulation requires self-control, but it’s much more than simple self-policing. It also includes the ability to reframe challenging or disappointing experiences in positive ways and to live in accordance with your core value system.

Emotional self-regulation is an important part of empathy. Regulating your feelings and reactions gives you time to listen and take other people’s feelings into account. It also helps you handle disappointment and react rationally to changes that are out of your control.

A child who is quick to throw things or has tantrums has not yet learned how to control their emotions. This can also be true of an aggressive teenager or impulsive young adult. The inability to harness the power of emotional self-regulation can result in negative coping mechanisms, such as substance misuse and other harmful behaviors.

In people of all ages, emotional self-regulation gives them the ability to calmly resolve conflict in a rational manner.

Emotional self-regulation doesn’t get rid of anger, sadness, or disappointment. Rather, it provides a framework for dealing with those emotions. It also stops you from making things worse by reacting recklessly or impulsively to situations you can’t control.

In this way, it supports emotional well-being, calmness, and serenity.

Emotional self-regulation is a skill that improves over time with practice.

Children start to acquire this skill through their interactions with other children and their caregivers. Learning emotional regulation helps pave the way for children to become productive, connected adults.

But this process doesn’t happen overnight. Things like trauma, neglect, isolation, or stress can delay it further.

The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that controls regulatory behaviors like impulse control, reactivity, and flexibility. It develops primarily during adolescence and fully matures when you are around 25 years old.

So, though children start to use emotional self-regulation at a young age, they spend many years subconsciously attempting to master it. Of course, even adults have trouble with self-regulatory behaviors sometimes.

Extreme stress and overwhelming emotion can get in the way of emotional self-regulation, making it especially difficult to maintain.

Many parents and caregivers have expressed concern about the effect of isolation on their children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 2022 study noted a reduction in emotional self-regulation skills caused by heightened anxiety in parents — but not in children — during this time.

Possibly, the comfort of parental care helped shield children from the effects of isolation. Parents and caregivers, on the other hand, had no way to block the stresses of money woes, confinement, and fear of contracting the virus.

It may take years to fully understand the pandemic’s full effects on the emotional health of both children and adults.

A 2017 study listed three daily strategies that people use to maintain emotional well-being, with varying results:


Mindfulness is a technique used during meditation. It refers to the practice of focusing your attention on the now, rather than on the past or future. It is a gentle strategy that enables your brain to let go of worry, guilt, and anxiety.

A 2022 study found that practicing mindfulness as an emotional self-regulation technique reduced feelings of loneliness in older adults. It also helped boost their immune systems.

Cognitive reappraisal

Cognitive reappraisal is also referred to as cognitive reevaluation. This emotional self-regulation strategy is the ability to change the way you think about and react to a potentially triggering situation.

Changing how you interpret stressful occurrences has been shown to reduce stress and increase positive feelings.

A 2020 study looking at burnout syndrome in health professionals found that cognitive reevaluation was linked to higher feelings of personal accomplishment and lower burnout than emotion suppression, which we discuss below.

Emotion suppression

Emotional suppression tamps down your emotions but doesn’t shift them. It postpones feeling them, which causes them to fester and grow. This self-regulation technique doesn’t alter your emotional state. It merely stops you from expressing how you feel to others.

Emotion suppression can be helpful for the de-escalation of potentially challenging situations. However, it won’t improve emotional self-regulation long term.

It may also cause or worsen depression. Depression is an emotion dysregulation disorder that adversely affects your quality of life and ability to employ social skills effectively.

You can strengthen and bolster emotional self-regulation through self-awareness and daily practice. These tips may help:

  • Get enough sleep: It’s easier to “fly off the handle” when you’re exhausted. Reducing insomnia by practicing good sleep hygiene can help.
  • Eat well: You may have heard the expression “hangry,” which combines the words “hungry” and “angry.” Eating nutritious food at regular intervals can help you avoid hunger. Being hungry can make you irritable and quicker to anger.
  • Exercise: Physical activity has many benefits, including that it can help reduce anxiety. This may help you cope more effectively with stressful situations.
  • Meditation: Practicing mindfulness through meditation can help increase coping skills and have other positive effects on your health.
  • Practice pausing: If someone says or does something upsetting, take several deep breaths before you automatically respond. This can help de-escalate situations that may become damaging or dangerous. One way to do this is to let go of the desire to “win” every encounter or argument.
  • Acknowledge your emotions: If you’re having trouble coping or are dealing with feelings such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness, consider talking with a therapist. You can also try at-home strategies such as journaling or talking with a trusted friend.

When to seek professional help

If you’re having trouble dealing with your emotions or meeting your long-term goals, talking with a therapist or other type of mental health professional may be beneficial.

Emotional dysregulation can lead to harmful behaviors, such as drug or alcohol misuse or sex addiction. It can also reduce your ability to have close, meaningful relationships.

Professional support can help you increase your emotional self-regulation skills and achieve greater life fulfillment.

Was this helpful?

Emotional self-regulation gives you the ability to think before you act. It also enables you to view situations in a more positive way.

Acquiring emotional self-regulation takes practice. Strategies such as mindfulness, getting enough sleep, and exercising may help.

If you’re having trouble managing your emotions or anger, consulting a therapist may also be beneficial.