Emotions set the tone of life. They influence actions and behaviors. Actions and behaviors influence emotions. Somewhere in there is consciousness, awareness and us. If we want to regulate our emotions, we have to use our consciousness, awareness and actions.
People usually talk about regulating emotions with respect to children. Part of growing up is learning to regulate emotions. Children’s emotions are like thunderstorms, they blow through quickly and intensely. Children’s moods spill over into their actions, so if they are feeling bad, they throw temper tantrums. If they feel excited, they will scream and laugh. As we grow up, we learn not to kick and scream so much when our emotions feel intense, but we still get caught up in the ebb and flow of our emotions. Because our moods can last days or weeks instead of minutes, they seem more like personal characteristics than passing feelings.
To regulate these long standing emotions, we use awareness to recognize the feelings and actions to address the feelings. The most basic action we can use is breathing consciously. As we focus our attention on our breathing, we can better see the emotions bubbling away in our minds. As we focus on our breathing and feel our moods, we will know what actions will best address our emotions. Regulating emotions with our actions is not all venting and suppressing. It is mostly observing, accepting and then acting with kindness and compassion.