skip to main content

Emotion (Dys)Regulation – Tips & Tricks For When You Feel Dysregulated

By CFI Predoctoral Fellow Rachel McDonald, MA, MPS

What is emotion regulation?

Throughout our day-to-day lives we encounter things in our environment that can make us  upset or uncomfortable. Societal rules suggest that we must respond in a way that matches the situation. This sometimes involves inhibiting our emotions rather than reacting on impulse. Consider you are at work and your coworker is repeatedly tapping their foot; it is distracting you from your work. You have several options: 1) Ask your coworker nicely to stop tapping, 2) email your boss and ask for them to fire your coworker for being a distraction to the office, 3) put on your headphones so you can’t hear your coworker, 4) scream at your coworker to stop tapping. Your ability to quickly evaluate the situation and make necessary and appropriate steps to rectify the situation is called using emotion regulation strategies. Making a choice such as option 2 or 4 are not necessarily appropriate based on the context and situation, and may indicate difficulty regulating emotional responses. This is called emotion dysregulation.

Emotion regulation in Autism.

People with Autism experience emotional dysregulation at a higher rate than their peers, where they can have trouble both regulating their emotional responses and identifying what an appropriate response may be. Emotion dysregulation has been linked to global mental health difficulties, poorer interpersonal relationships, and reduced academic and workplace performance.

What do I do about it? 

If you’re a parent and you notice your kid has difficulty regulating their emotions, it is important to try to intervene early. Therapy is a great place to start. However, you can also make changes in your home and to your parenting style that might help. For example, labeling your child’s emotional experience and giving them tools and strategies to calm down. The same kinds of strategies can help you too! Therapy can be a great start, where they can teach you to implement things in the moment to help build tolerance to distress. While you are learning to better identify your triggers and emotions, there are also some universal tips and tricks that you/your children can do when feeling upset.

Tips and tricks for when you’re feeling dysregulated:

  1. Identifying a “safe space” where you can calm down away from others. 
  2. Deep breathing 
  3. Splashing cold water on your face 
  4. Reducing sensory overload by putting on headphones, turning down the lights, and using sensory toys
  5. Incorporating meditation into your routine

Stay in Touch