Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff
Emotion regulation is the ability to exert control over one’s own emotional state. It may involve behaviors such as rethinking a challenging situation to reduce anger or anxiety, hiding visible signs of sadness or fear, or focusing on reasons to feel happy or calm.
How We Control Our Emotions
While there are many ways to influence one’s emotional state for the better, emotion regulation often involves what experts call “down-regulation,” or reducing the intensity of emotions. A grieving person might down-regulate his sadness by recalling something amusing. An anxious person may cope by distracting herself from the thought that is causing her anxiety. Emotion regulation can also include “up-regulation,” or amping up one’s emotions, which can be useful when an imminent danger or challenge calls for a healthy dose of anxiety or excitement.
The process model of emotion regulation proposed by psychologist James Gross emphasizes that people can act to control their emotions at different points in time—including before they feel an emotion (“antecedent-focused emotion regulation”) and after they have already begun to react emotionally (“response-focused emotion regulation”).
What are some basic ways of controlling emotions?
Two broad categories of emotion regulation are reappraisal—changing how one thinks about something that prompted an emotion in order to change one’s response—and suppression, which has been linked to more negative outcomes. Other strategies include selecting or changing a situation to influence one’s emotional experience, shifting what one pays attention to, and trying to accept emotions.
How can I learn to control emotional outbursts?
Practicing habits such as mindful acceptance of emotions, shifting attention away from the source of negative emotions, or reframing emotional situations (such as thinking about a setback or mistake as an opportunity to learn) may be helpful, and a trained therapist could be a valuable partner in enhancing emotional control.