What is emotion regulation and how to do it?

Perhaps, one of our most important qualities as human beings is our ability to self-regulate. This ability gave us an adaptive advantage that allowed our ancestors to survive and even thrive when the change in living conditions has led to the extinction of other species. It is embedded in us – and yet, sometimes we cannot grasp it, especially in difficult moments when we fall back in our modus operandi.

In this article, we will dive into the emotion regulation concept and provide you with some valuable strategies for emotion management.

First of all, what is emotion regulation?

Emotion regulation is our ability to integrate emotions into our decision-making process and behaviors to achieve our goals. It also helps us manage our very intense emotions when they have the potential of hurting the people around us or us. For example, as a driver (especially in Romania, but not exclusively), you often witness stupid and dangerous behavior in traffic. You can see people distracted by their phones or applying makeup while driving while failing to give way. Although it is pretty infuriating and dangerous for everyone involved, nothing gets solved if we start cracking each other’s windshields with stones. Usually, the emotion regulation process kicks in, and we try to restrain our violent impulses, distract ourselves, focus on something else, or use humor. Such an approach also highlights our ability to optimally choose between expressing our emotions immediately, waiting for a few seconds, or concealing them.

Second of all, what is not emotion regulation?

Emotion regulation is not equivalent to experiencing positive emotions and inhibiting negative ones. The balance should not be tilted to one side to the detriment of the other. A generalized neutral, cold, logical, analytical attitude motivated only by facts doesn’t help either. 

What can we do?

The process of emotion regulation is a complex topic. Several books and scientific articles have been written, and we still have much to learn. 

What we have understood so far is that emotion regulation can be viewed from two perspectives. It can be seen as a process of awareness in which we try to understand our emotions but also as emotion regulation strategies. 

In this endeavor, we have gathered some general, practical strategies for you to make use of in difficult situations:

  • Have a break (“have a Kit Kat”) – do some light or moderate exercise, read something you enjoy, help someone;
  • Ask details and get an understanding about a specific situation that concerns you;
  • Take a step back and reflect. By taking your time to process the information you can effectively decode and identify what you feel and why you feel it. Next, you can check whether the reason is in your control or not;
  • Remember how you managed to handle other difficult situations in the past and apply the successful strategies;
  • Remember the purpose of the communication, your priorities, and your interest in keeping the relationship. It also helps if you review in your mind what you would do or say before the event occurs. 


Andre, C., & Lelord, F. (2013). Cum să ne exprimăm emoţiile şi sentimentele. Bucureşti: Editura Trei