Why regulating, and not suppressing your emotions is the key to healthy living—and leading

By regulating your emotions, you will be able to respond to a stream of experiences you may encounter, with a spectrum of appropriate emotions most suitable for that situation.

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Dec 22, 2020 01:12:02 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Human beings are emotional creatures.Emotions can create havoc in our lives if they go haywire, but if handled correctly they can be harnessed to become our most potent guidance mechanism and compass to navigate life. During executive coaching sessions, when I work with leaders from across the globe on their goals, very often they say, "But I am very emotional." This is what I tel them: Emotions are not the problem in your way, it is the unregulated emotions that are the troublemakers.

What is emotional regulation? Emotional regulation is a term used to describe a person's ability to effectively manage and respond to a personal experience. People unconsciously use multiple emotion regulation strategies to cope with various circumstances, both good and bad, several times throughout a day. By regulating your emotions, you will be able to respond to a stream of experiences you may encounter, with a spectrum of appropriate emotions most suitable for that situation. Learning about emotional regulation and then practicing it consciously is a critical aspect of developing emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the skill of awareness, management, and expression of our emotions. It can also be used to comprehend and respond skillfully to others feelings. Controlling feelings, those incredibly intense, difficult emotions, is easier said than done and takes care and practice. It is a skill that can be developed and fed in many different ways; however, not all emotional regulation strategies are created equal.

The most common emotional regulation strategy used, especially by leaders in the corporate world, is emotional suppression. Suppressing emotions involves inhibiting the outward signs of our inner feelings. To cope with life's challenges, most people have concluded that emotional suppression is a brave and effective strategy for emotional regulation. However, research proves otherwise.

The risks to health and well-being from suppressing emotions is immense-both physically and psychologically. Bottling emotions can decrease outward expressions of feelings but does not change the inner state of a person. Effectively, suppression does not make the feelings go away; they stay inside you, buried deeper, causing more pain.

Regulating, not suppressing
As human beings, we experience a range of emotions most of the time. On some occasions, feelings are strong. No one seems to mind positive, intense emotions. It's the negative or upsetting emotions that we try and supress. Still when it comes to regulating difficult emotions, most people respond in two possible ways: Either act them out in their behavior through words or actions, or suppress them.

Acting out an intense emotion like anger will likely create undesirable consequences in your life. The cascading consequences of acting out will invoke more negativity in your environment, leading to increased tensions. While it is not apparent initially, the consequences of suppressing those heavy emotions are far more catastrophic.

So what is the best way to regulate your emotions?
There is a third most beneficial way to handle this, Feel the feeling at the moment.

Most of us are naturally opposed to this method because these difficult emotions usually emerge from some pain. It's considered weak to show your emotions at the workplace. Humans are also naturally averse to pain and gravitate towards pleasure.

Consciously or subconsciously, we tend to keep thinking about, and holding onto the emotions we are trying to avoid. The body holds the memory of suppressed feelings within it. These unprocessed, unexpressed, and suppressed emotions stay trapped in the body, added to stresses,which may often lend itself to physical manifestations.

Feeling your emotions
Research into emotional regulation suggests several methods that can be incorporated, such as:

  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Drawing
  • Grounding exercises
  • Any activity that involves using the body, such as dancing, walking, or any form of exercise.
  • Talking through your emotions are other ideas.

Suppressing, denying, or compartmentalising challenging emotions to operate successfully in high stake roles led to inadvertently trigger strong emotions, and can harm a person. One must do all they can to process their feelings as smoothly as possible.

The author is Founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners, a leadership development company based in Bengaluru.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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