7 Actionable Ways to Self-Regulate – Even When Shit Hits the Fan
Did you learn how to “self-regulate” as a child? If not, have you learned effective ways to self-regulate as an adult? What is self-regulation anyway?
According to Your Therapy Source, self-regulation is the ability to monitor and manage your energy states, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in acceptable ways and produce positive results such as well-being, loving relationships, and learning.
I would amend the term “loving relationships” to “constructive relationships and interactions with others” just for this article. Because self-regulation behavior is essential with people you may not be in “loving relationships” with, like co-workers, business associates, store clerks, customer service providers, etc.
We all know how quickly things can go sideways when dealing with frustration or other negative emotions. And when we are not able to navigate challenging circumstances with effective self-regulatory behaviors, we can find ourselves feeling remorseful later.
That’s precisely why learning to self-regulate effectively is so important. It can save you a lot of regret and disappointment (and maybe even embarrassment)!
Self-regulation: the ability to act/react/respond in a reasonable, thoughtful, wise, rational, levelheaded manner when you feel challenged or compromised emotionally or energetically.
I just consulted a thesaurus to come up with all those words. (No shame in my game). They’ll come into play a little later in the article.
Recovering What Was Lost
As you may have guessed, a big part of effective self-regulation is learning how to calm yourself when you’re distressed or irritated, i.e., when the shit hits the fan. If you had a traumatic childhood or didn’t learn how to self-soothe, it may be something that creates a stumbling block when negative emotions are triggered. That doesn’t mean you can’t develop the skill as an adult.
It’s not productive to feel angry because you didn’t have an ideal childhood. Growth is about recognizing where and why you may have developed the coping mechanisms (or lack of) that you did as a child and having compassion for yourself to move forward with the power of that knowledge as a conscientious adult.
This is why one of the most critical parts of any self-improvement program, including effective self-regulation, is learning how to be kind to yourself (check out that article for more info on how to be more kind to YOU).
(You can get even more insight about how to make the best of childhood trauma in this past article I wrote, Using Traumatic Experiences in Childhood to Create A Better Life.)
I think we all need reminders about self-regulation because things change fast in our world now, so it’s important always to reflect.
Qualities of Effective Self-Regulation Techniques
- Ability to self-soothe or calm themselves
How you do this is a personal thing. It may involve breathing exercises, going for a walk, listening to calming music (Slayer for example), or even calling a friend. (Just because it says “calming themselves” doesn’t mean you can’t employ the help of a trusted friend if you’re having a hard time doing it on your own. The idea here is to recognize that you are feeling triggered to avoid reacting in an unproductive way; any resource you can use intelligently counts.)
- Turning negative thoughts around
If someone hurts your feelings and your impulse is to lash out, you can talk yourself into a more positive state of mind. Again, whatever resources you have at your disposal that help you feel more positive are fair game here. Unless, of course, they are destructive behaviors like substance abuse, etc. (for the sake of clarity, as I don’t want anyone saying I’ve encouraged them to get sloshed every time they get triggered). Maybe it’s a good time to cuddle with your furry 4-legged friend, look at some funny videos, or think of things you’re grateful for.
- Acting in ways that reinforce personal values
This is where regret and disappointment can be avoided because when we act out in the heat of the moment in ways that are not congruent with our values, we may experience shame after we’ve had time to come to our senses, so to speak. Here’s a great article about finding your values.
- Practicing open and clear communication
This is about not bottling up your feelings. Self-regulating is not about suppressing your emotions. It’s about finding constructive ways to express them. Keep in mind that it may require some “cool down time,” and that’s okay.
- Persisting through challenges
So, don’t give up! And that goes for the times when you fuck up and act in an unideal way. Forgive yourself, apologize if necessary, and move on.
- Giving others the benefit of the doubt
This can be very helpful because the things that trigger us were often not meant to be harmful or disrespectful by the other party. So don’t assume the worst. And if you are unsure, utilize some of those clear communication skills to check-in and resolve the issue (preferably when you’re feeling more levelheaded).
- Seeing opportunities instead of obstacles
If you’ve been following my blog or have read my book, you know this is a big one for me. I firmly believe that every situation has an opportunity hidden within it. And believe me, I’m qualified to have that perspective because I’ve been through some shit. That’s actually how I know this is true!
Perhaps the most important self-regulatory process is remembering when you’re triggered to STOP, BREATHE and THINK before you ACT.
When you give yourself to take those three steps, you can review the list of qualities above in your head and remember all those words from the thesaurus. Ask yourself if what you are about to do is reasonable, thoughtful, wise, rational, levelheaded, and prudent. If it isn’t, refer back to the top of this paragraph.
Self-regulation is a skill that you may or may not have learned as a child. Regardless of that, however, it is possible to effectively learn how to self-regulate as an adult. Most adults could use a refresher on self-regulation every so often. One way to become better at self-regulation is to make an effort to develop the qualities that have been proven effective for others.
But perhaps the most important thing to remember is to STOP and THINK before you ACT when you feel yourself about to react to a person or circumstance in a way that is not reasonable, thoughtful, wise, rational, or levelheaded.
What are some situations that challenge your ability to self-regulate effectively?
Did you learn something in this article that you feel will be helpful for you if you become triggered and have an impulse to react irrationally in the future?
Shit hits the fan for us all, click here to get yourself a copy of my book!