Do you sometimes find it difficult to control your emotions, behaviors and what you say? Have you gotten in trouble for disrupting class? Do you sometimes have emotional or angry outbursts that alienate your friends? Are you overly impulsive and find yourself participating in activities that you know are dangerous or unhealthy?

If these behaviors sound familiar, you have probably also experienced how they interfere with your learning, your relationships and the things you want to do and achieve.

To a degree, having a hard time with self-regulation is not unusual for adolescents and young adults. Research shows there are major changes in brain development that occur during this time. Throughout adolescence brain systems that seek rewards and process emotions are more developed than cognitive control systems responsible for good decision-making and future planning. In other words, acting or speaking before you think, is fairly common teenage behavior.

However, adolescents and young adults with mental health conditions such as anxiety and ADHD or those who have suffered trauma, tend to struggle more with self-regulation than the average teenager. They often feel emotions more intensely than they should, feel them for longer than they should, feel them at inappropriate times or respond to them in extreme ways.

Building Self-Regulation Skills

Self-Regulation skills are all about developing coping strategies that help you deal with your emotions in healthy ways and ultimately become more resilient.

Psychologist Stuart Shanker, an internationally recognized researcher and author on childhood development has categorized these skill-building steps into the “5 Rs”:

  • Reframe – After you have had an outburst, consider your behavior from various angles. Determine whether it was simple misbehavior or if it was unfortunate behavior brought on by an underlying cause such as stress or anxiety. When you can understand the distinction, you can reframe the incident and become more aware of your actions. 
  • Recognize – Learn to identify types of stress and how they impact you. There are five types of stress: physical, emotional, cognitive (stress over schoolwork), social (this is often made worse by social media), and pro-social (the stress individuals feel when they consider other people’s distress). When you recognize the types of stress that cause you to become dysregulated, you will better be able to avoid them or focus on learning to cope with them. 
  • Reduce (manage your stress) – This requires practice and developing new self-care routines. These can include regularly going on a run or walk, practicing breathing, meditation or mindfulness techniques that can help you be present rather than immersed in your feelings, talking with someone you trust, establishing a healthy sleep routine, etc. The Center for Parent and Teen Communication has created a guide for developing an individualized Stress Management Plan that may be helpful.   
  • Reflect – Take time to identify and acknowledge your feelings, possibly with the support of a mental health professional.
    • Name your emotions. By singling them out and giving them a name, you can gain some clarity and your emotions may feel less overwhelming.
    • Process your emotions by talking about your feelings with someone you trust or a professional.
    • Release your emotions in healthy ways and in safe settings so they don’t overwhelm you at other times.
  • Respond – Work on these strategies over time to build self-regulation skills.

In the Moment

Building self-regulation skills is important. But how can you prevent reacting in an extreme way in the moment you feel intense emotions?

  • Take a Deep Breath – Breathe in deeply through your nose (to the count of five) and out through your mouth (to or past the count of five.)
  • Push Pause – Stop what you are doing and remove yourself from the situation. Take a walk, play with your pet and then come back when you feel calm. If you can’t leave, think of a place your feel relaxed and imagine you are there.
  • Practice Self-Talk – It may be helpful to have some mantras using phrases like, “I can handle this” to repeat to yourself when you feel overwhelmed.
  • Write it Down – If you are itching to say something or ask something that may not be appropriate or could be disruptive, write it down instead of verbalizing it.

If your emotions feel overwhelming and out of control, I’m here to help. Give me a call at (303) 542-0180.

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