Why is Emotion Regulation Important For My Physical Health?

I’m going to be the first to admit that when I was younger I often struggled with my emotion regulation. This often came to the forefront in the context of relationships, because I had a “short temper.” I would get angry and yell, pretty quickly. I could always calm down, but I came to realize the older I got that I had to remove myself from the situation in order to get myself to be more calm. I had a really bad breakup geez, almost 5 years ago now, that I also had a difficult time controlling my emotions, especially sadness and rumination. That last time, that was the lesson for me. But we’ll get to that in moment…

A transition from a poor emotion regulation period to a better one.

First, let’s talk about what emotion regulation is, because I know that some of you may never have really heard the term before. Emotion regulation is our attempts to control the experience, expression, time and scale of our emotions. It has been long known to be important for our mental health, and only more recently explored for physical health. These are also skills that many of us learn as children, but often do require practice throughout our lifetimes. I worked in retail for a long time and as I reflect back I can see how customers yelling at me, for let’s be honest, very small things (I had a lady yell at me once because a competitor had an item for a dollar less but she didn’t tell me before she paid – I happily would have matched it… and by yelled I mean screamed bloody murder) and I realize they were exhibiting very poor emotion regulation, which is more harmful for themselves than the stress it caused me.

If you’re yelling at retail workers (or servers, etc) you might want to check on your emotion regulation skills.

Here’s what we know about emotion regulation and physical health:

  1. better emotion regulation impacts our overall physical health positively
  2. difficulties with emotion regulation, especially with prolonged negative emotion, can make you more at risk at developing heart disease
  3. emotional suppression and rumination (part of poor emotion regulation) cause lower energy, greater physical pain, greater disability, and overall lower quality of health
  4. difficulties with emotion regulation make it difficult to engage in self-care and health-related behaviours necessary for managing chronic illness
  5. better emotion regulation makes it easier to manage stressors in our lives, meaning less flares and relapses of illness
  6. better emotion regulation increases medication adherence and sticking with diet and exercise regimes

Back to my story. So, I had this breakup and this very poor emotion regulation following it, and then I had a flare so terrible I ended up in the hospital for pain. I was released the same day, and the pain came down a bit, but it really went back to normal levels when I was able to come out of the depressive funk I was in. I can safely say I have not had a problem regulating my emotions since… and I mean really who wants a flare like that again? So, we’ve answered the question why, and there are lots of “how tos” in regulating emotions, but I’m going to leave you with one to try out.

A much more emotionally regulated period

Learning to self-soothe. Again, many of us learn this skill as children, but not everyone does, and often we do less of it as we get older. Some ideas for practicing self-soothing are to do meditations such as loving kindness (click here) or a relaxation practice like progressive muscle relaxation (click here). Expressive writing about the experience (click here), breathing exercises (click here), and self-care strategies like taking a bubble bath, are more ways to lear to self-soothe. There are many other strategies online so I suggest a Google search if you’re looking for more!

Take care, and keep making the most of it!

Daily Mindfulness: Observing the Breath

Getting present is so important because it allows us to not dwell on the past or future, or to only feel strong sensations (such as chronic pain). Instead it allows us to take in our whole experience. This is extremely beneficial for people with chronic pain and illness, and it take A LOT of practice (for example it took me around 3 years to get good at this). This is one mindfulness practice that you can use.

If you’re interested in more mindfulness, I recently started a new YouTube channel called Kelsey L Harris Meditations, where you can find this and more meditations!

For now, keep making the most of it!

Daily Mindfulness: Mindful Stretching

This mindful stretching exercise is from Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Training Manual. The point is to focus on your breath and movement while doing a stretch that allows you to “reach for the stars.” Mindfulness can be done in many ways, and stretching (and yoga) is one of them! If you’re having trouble with mindfulness meditation, I suggest starting with these types of practices first. There are two versions in the video, one standing and the other sitting so this is accessible to everyone!

For more on the benefits of stretching, check out my podcast episode with Danielle Potvin here. And for more on the benefits of mindfulness for health, check out that episode here. Until next week, keep making the most of it!

2-Minute Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing has a lot of health benefits including for COPD, stress management and anxiety, and lowering heart rate and blood pressure. It is also what is used in progressive muscle relaxation, which is an excellent mindfulness exercise for anxiety and mental health. This is a good place to start if you haven’t yet done the progressive muscle relaxation that I posted awhile back. I hope after this practice you feel calm and relaxed.

If you like these mindfulness practices, I also guide them in the first two episodes of my podcast. Here are the links for Apple Podcasts. The podcast is available on Spotify and everywhere you get your podcasts. And if you’re using Apple, please submit a review as it would help me continue to bring you amazing content!