Developing, Practicing Self-Regulation

by Lex Solberg, ASU Public Allies Fellow, Casa Grande Alliance

Do our impulsive behavior and disruptive emotions interfere with our ability to be happy and live our fullest life?

In terms of our emotional wellness, self-regulation is a key process in helping to control thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. When we self-regulate, we pause and think before we act on an emotion or feeling. Improving this skill can help us improve our emotional well-being and feelings of happiness.


What is self-regulation?
According to a book by Arlin Cuncic called The Anxiety Workbook, self-regulation has a wide range of definitions in politics, business, and mental health. When narrowed down to focus on our wellness, self-regulation still has plenty of nuances. Two types of self-regulation exist — behavioral and emotional:

  • Behavioral self-regulation involves acting in our best interest when our feelings suggest taking a different action.
  • Emotional self-regulation refers to controlling intense emotions like sadness, frustration, and anger.

The process of self-regulation consists of three steps: monitoring, judging, and responding to our emotions and behavior. Self-regulation is about our ability to think before we act. It reflects our ability to cheer ourselves up after disappointments and to act in ways consistent with our deepest values.

Self-regulation involves taking a pause between a feeling and an action; taking time to think things through, make a plan, wait patiently.

Developing, Practicing Self-Regulation
Everyone has an approach that will work best for them because of our unique personalities and experiences:

  • Mindfulness: This is the ability to give our purposeful, nonjudgmental attention in the present moment. By engaging in skills such as focused breathing and gratitude, mindfulness enables us to put some space between ourselves and our reactions, leading to better focus and feelings of calmness and relaxation.
  • Cognitive reframing: This process involves challenging negative thought patterns and replacing the negative energy with more reasonable and positive thoughts. By rethinking our thoughts, we can develop healthier responses and shift our mental energy to more productive and helpful thoughts.
  • Emotional literacy: This is our ability to identify and understand our emotions and the emotions of others. Improving our skill involves understanding why we feel a certain way and finding healthy ways to resolve that feeling.
  • Dealing with stressors: By identifying our stressors, it can help us be more prepared by building healthy coping strategies.
  • Deliberate thinking: In the heat of the moment, we must work to manage our upset and strive to regain a relaxed, thoughtful state before responding.

Our ability to self-regulate helps us to build our confidence and self-esteem. It helps us to express our thoughts and feelings appropriately. Self-regulation allows us to bounce back from failure and stay calm under pressure.