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Keeping Your Cool: Mastering Self-Regulation

I’m naturally pressure-prompted. Deadlines help me do my best work, yet there are times I crack under the pressure and wonder, “Why did I wait so long?” At times, frustration bubbles up. This is where self-regulation, a key component of emotional intelligence (EQ), comes into play.


jeff laying on grass relaxing

Self-regulation is your ability to manage your emotions effectively.

It's the pause button between feeling an emotion and reacting to it. I think about this often when I’m playing pickleball - as this is a game of patience that needs me to keep my emotions in control and not lean into what I learned in all my years of playing tennis – crack the ball hard down the line. I need to navigate the skills to slow it down and WAIT for the opportunity.  BTW…I’m still learning (and unlearning) this.  Strong self-regulation allows you to maintain composure in challenging situations, make sound decisions, and achieve your goals.


Why Self-Regulation Matters

Self-regulation is a game-changer in the workplace. It helps you manage stress effectively, navigate conflict with grace, and maintain focus under pressure. The best leaders are those who can regulate their emotions, which fosters trust, inspires confidence, and creates a calmer, more productive work environment.


Self-regulation also invites you to be your best self in your personal life. I know it takes patience and intention to calmly discuss those items with our partners that might have us bent out of shape, but doing so allows anger or frustration to de-escalate (and our relationships to flourish!).  When we can bring grace and compassion to our conversations, we can navigate those more challenging times more easily, creating a greater sense of resiliency. 


The Risks of Neglecting Self-Regulation

Without self-regulation, emotions quickly spiral out of control. Discussions get heated, and arguments ensue. This usually shows up as emotional outbursts, impulsive decisions, and difficulty adapting to change. Poorly regulated emotions can lead to strained relationships, missed opportunities, and even physical health problems. 


During my first year as a working professional, I let the stress and unease of that year get to me.  I was in a new role as Director of Campus Life. We did about 75 events a year; the last one was to kick off and close the year.  This week's events seemed to go against all of what I was trying to accomplish as a new professional with regard to alcohol use and campus activities.  I made some tough decisions that the students disagreed with because the previous director just let it happen.  This was a really stressful time. As a result, and I’m sure some unhealthy eating habits over the years, I had a bout of diverticulitis that had me in the hospital for 2 weeks.  Emergency surgery and a long road to recovery.  


3 Practical Tips for Strengthening Self-Regulation

Here are three actionable strategies you can incorporate into your daily routine:


  1. Practice Relaxation Techniques: Deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation are powerful tools for calming your nervous system and regaining emotional equilibrium. I often use the yoga pose of Child’s Pose during the day not just as a stretch but as a rest and relaxation tool.

  2. Reframe Negative Thoughts: Our thoughts significantly influence our emotions. Learning to recognize and challenge unhelpful self-talk takes us out of the spiral-down effect of negative emotions. The art of the reframe allows for different perspectives to take hold in my brain. With options come opportunities and a sense of feeling empowered, not stuck or trapped in my negative thoughts. 

  3. Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Find healthy outlets for your emotions. Exercise, spending time in nature, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy can release pent-up feelings. I recently moved to a townhouse complex, and the loop around it is about 10 minutes.  This provides for a nice walk during my day.  It helps get me outside and breathe some fresh air.  All of which slows my nervous system and helps to get me back on track.  

Investing in Your Emotional Fitness

Self-regulation is a skill that requires continuous development. By consistently practicing these techniques, you'll cultivate greater control over your emotional responses. Remember, emotional fitness is just as important as physical fitness. I’ve started using an app on my phone that helps me better understand the quality of my sleep. Brain research about sleep's positive impacts on our emotional and physical well-being is quite clear. I’m using the data to help me better regulate my behaviors while attending to what my body (and soul!) needs. 


Ready to Deepen Your Self-Awareness?

This article has equipped you with strategies to strengthen your self-regulation. Consider taking the Bar-on EQ-i 2.0 assessment, a comprehensive tool that provides insights into your current level of emotional control.  Learn more here to take the EQ Assessment. Together, we can help you navigate life's challenges with greater composure and emotional intelligence.

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