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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ashley Jacobson

Understanding Emotional Dysregulation & Effective Strategies for Managing Emotions

emotion dysregulation

Everyone can experience strong emotions, and sometimes people have a difficult time managing big emotions in a healthy way. Emotion dysregulation occurs when people have a difficult time managing your emotions, which may cause them to feel stuck or feel like they are unable to make themselves feel better, especially with negative moods and emotions like depression and anxiety. Emotional dysregulation is also closely linked to executive dysfunction, which is commonly seen in ADHD and depression. When individuals regulate their emotions, they can steer and direct how they feel and react. For most people, they learn how to do this in childhood and continue to develop this skill throughout adulthood. For example, in childhood, children often exhibit temper tantrums and eventually seem to “grow out” of the tantrums. One reason for this is because as children get older, they generally learn how to manage the big emotions associated with temper tantrums, thus the tantrums become less frequent and eventually stop. Given that this is learned over time, each child develops emotion regulation skills at different paces and some may exhibit more difficulty than others.

emotion dysregulation

When emotion dysregulation is severe it can impact social relationships, careers, and day to day life. Some more severe side effects may include verbal outbursts, such as shouting, yelling, screaming, or crying; aggressive behavior (towards objects, animals, or people); or trouble maintaining friendships or other social relationships. When someone is experiencing emotional dysregulation, to those around them, their emotions and reactions may seem out of proportion compared to what they are reacting to.

It is important to note that emotions and behavior are intertwined. For example, if someone feels angry, they might raise their voice or if they feel sad, they might withdraw from friends. One helpful strategy for regulating emotions is to utilize opposite action. This is how using opposite action might look:

If you typically raise your voice when you are mad, the opposite action would be to try and talk quietly and politely. If you withdraw from friends when feeling sad, the opposite action would be to schedule a social activity with friends. Engaging in the opposite action might feel forced, however, when individuals typically engage in the opposite action, they should notice that it shifts their general feelings/mood in a positive direction.

Additional tips for regulating emotions

  • Staying Present: This includes staying conscious of one’s own feelings, thoughts and actions. By doing this, the individual is able to stay in control.

  • Identifying Emotions: One way to do this is by labeling what you are feeling. It is most helpful to try and be as specific as possible. Emotions that are labeled are less likely to consume and take over individuals.  

  • Regular Exercise: Sometimes intense emotions can make individuals feel like they have high energy levels. It can be helpful to find a form of movement to release built up energy (i.e., walking, running, yoga, swimming).

  • Overcoming Procrastination: When people procrastinate, they are actively avoiding unpleasant feelings. A helpful way to tackle procrastination head on is by starting on the task right away and taking frequent short breaks.

  • Checking the Facts: This can help to reduce the intensity of extreme emotions. When noticing a strong emotion, individuals may ask themselves the following: What triggered my emotion? What interpretations or assumptions am I making about the event? Does the intensity of my emotion match the facts of the situations or just my assumptions?

  • Paying Attention to Positive Events: Individuals can practice this by purposefully paying attention to the positive events during a short period every day. To start off, one may choose an activity that is generally enjoyable and make a point to focus on the positives. After some practice, one may try to extend the positive outlook to more challenging situations that they do not typically enjoy.


When To Seek Additional Support

If you notice that you are experiencing any signs of emotional dysregulation or have a difficult time implementing strategies by yourself, it can be helpful to work with a therapist. Therapy for emotion dysregulation may include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or parent management training. Goals of therapy may include helping individuals understand their emotions, label their emotions, tackle negative cognitions, and learn healthy coping skills. Therapists may utilize mindfulness-based techniques to help individuals develop a state of emotional awareness and a sense of self-control.

At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialize in assisting individuals navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation.


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