Six Ways to Regulate

By Kat Giles BSW, MSW, RSW  |  August 16th

In this series, Who Are You Emotions, we have looked at externalizing emotions and understanding what they are communicating to us. Throughout this series you have seen me refer to The Three Rs – Recognize, Regulate, Respond. Let’s look a little closer at the last of the Rs – Regulate.

We all have a typical regulated state of mind and mood; a space where we feel happy, calm, focused, etc. When emotions outside of these regulated emotions come into play, our minds and bodies become dysregulated. Today, we will explore six ways to help you regulate your mind and body.

1. Breathing

Breathing is one of the most basic regulating strategies but can also be one of the most powerful.

When we feel “big emotions” our nervous system automatically responds. Some emotions cause us to have a racing heart or sweaty palms. Breathing helps increase the oxygen to our brain and reduces the physiological symptoms that come along with the emotions we feel (Greenberger & Padesky, 2016).

There are many breathing exercises that you can try. One is taking deep breaths (from your diaphragm) in through your nose and out through your mouth. Count in – 2 – 3 – 4 and out – 2 – 3 – 4. Focus on how the breaths feel as they enter and exit your body. Encourage yourself to be in the present moment – not dwelling on the past and not focusing on the future. I encourage clients to set a timer for 2 – 4 minutes and challenge them to just spend that time focusing on breathing.

Although breathing is a natural aspect of our everyday life, focusing on it can be challenging. Have compassion on yourself as you learn this strategy. If you notice your mind wandering, gently remind yourself to come back to focusing on your breaths. Just like no one can run a marathon without training, we also need to train our minds to focus on breaths.

2. Exercise

We know that regular exercise impacts physical health, but did you know that it also improves your mental health?

Exercise increases our “arousal state” (our state of alertness and readiness for action) and has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety and improve sleep (Myers, 2013). Exercise also releases “happy hormones” such as norepinephrine, serotonin and endorphins that can work similarly to mood-boosting medications (Myers, 2013).  With these benefits, exercise is a regulating strategy worth trying.  Try walking, running, hiking, swimming, biking, playing a sport – anything that gets your heart pumping.

3. Listen to Music

Listening to music also has an impact on our brains. Listening to music can evoke positive feelings and release dopamine (the reward hormone) in our brain (Salimpoor et al., 2011) and can help reduce anxiety (Lee-Chen et al., 2013; Brigman et al., 2009). Music can also help us process feelings (Sharman & Dingle, 2015).

Next time you need to regulate, grab your headphones and listen to some music. Find songs that are familiar to you and match your emotions. Fast music tends to give us energy, while slower music can increase relaxation (Chen et al., 2013)

4. Journal

Writing things down can help us process our thoughts and emotions. Grab a journal, a pen, and whatever other creative supplies you want, and give yourself space and time to write things down.

5. Get Some Space

Sometimes we just need to be alone. Excuse yourself from the situation to practice regulating strategies. Sit in a room by yourself for five minutes breathing. Collect yourself before reentering a situation.

6. Talk to Someone

Lastly, find someone you trust to talk to. When we speak things out, they lose their power.

If you don’t have someone in your life who you can talk to, find a therapist. Not sure where to find a therapist? Reach out and we can connect you with one of our therapists or help you find another service in the community. We are ready to listen when you want to talk.

For a deeper understanding of the information referenced in this article, see the references below.



Bringman, H., Giesecke, K., Thorne, A., & Bringman, S. (2009). Relaxing music as pre-medication before surgery: a randomised controlled trial. Acta Anaesthesiol Scand, 53(6), 759-64. https://doi: 10.1111/j.1399-6576.2009.01969.x

Chen, L. Wang, T., Shih, Y., Wu, L. (2013). Fifteen-minute music intervention reduces pre-radiotherapy anxiety in oncology patients. European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 17, 436-441.

Greenberger, D. and Padesky, C.A. (2016). Mind Over Mood. (2nd ed.). The Guilford Press.

Lee-Chen, C., Tze-Fang, W., Yi-Nuo, S., & Le-Jung, W. (2013). Fifteen-minute music intervention reduces pre-radiotherapy anxiety in oncology patients. European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 17, 436-441.

Meyers, D.G. (2013). Psychology: Tenth edition in modules (10th ed.). Worth Publishers.

Salimpoor, V., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K., Dagher, A., & Zatorre, R. (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature Neuroscience 14, 257-262. https://doi:10.1038/nn.2726

Sharman, L. and Dingle, G.A. (2015). Extreme metal music and anger processing Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9(272), 1-11.