What Is Emotional Regulation and Why Does It Matter in the Workplace?

Find out what is emotional regulation all about and impactful strategies to help you achieve peak performance in the hectic modern workplace.


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Burnout and stress remain pressing problems for talents across all industries as companies adapt to large-scale shifts like hybrid work and increasingly complex work-life structures. While you might have limited control over the rapidly shifting landscape, you can shape your feelings and responses to achieve optimal well-being. By learning what is emotional regulation, you can remain calm through the storm and stay in control, even when your immediate environment seems unmanageable.


Understanding What Is Emotional Regulation

Emotional self-regulation refers to an individual’s ability to manage and respond to emotions. People with firm control over emotional self-regulation generally have a better chance of maintaining optimal performance under highly stressful scenarios and making decisions based on logic and reasoning.

The Three Types of Emotional Regulation


There are various emotional regulation techniques to help you achieve a focused state of mind and improved quality of life. The three main categories of these techniques include attentional control, response modulation, and cognitive reappraisal.


Attentional Control – The Power of Refocus

Attentional control, commonly known as concentration, determines a person's flexibility in shifting focus from one point to another. Strong attentional control enables individuals to effectively pay attention to specific environmental stimuli while ignoring others. For example, you might tune out from surrounding gossip among co-workers to focus on a manager’s constructive feedback shared at a meeting.


Response Modulation – Strategic Reactions

Response modulation determines how a person modifies their reaction to a stimulus after emotionally processing the information. The modulation process might suppress verbal and behavioral expressions, especially if you work within a psychologically unsafe environment.


Through effective response modulation, you can tailor a natural response to fit the situation, creating a "holding area" between thought and action — to think before you act. For instance, you might pause to carefully consider the potential harm to your professional reputation before flaring up at an insensitive comment made during a meeting.


Cognitive Reappraisal – Reassessing Reality

Individuals with well-established cognitive reappraisal abilities can consistently make the best of any situation from an emotional standpoint. Becoming familiar with what emotional regulation is can help guide somebody toward answering the age-old “is the glass half empty or half full?” question. In other words, cognitive reappraisal refers to how a person consciously interprets the meaning and significance of an event.


For example, an employee with positive cognitive reappraisal might recognize a missed promotion as a learning experience rather than a mistake or failure. The objectivity of the situation remains (i.e., the unpromoted status), but the employee controls their emotional response and subsequent actions and performance.


Emotional Regulation Strategies – Putting It into Practice


Although every individual has unique emotional thresholds due to variables such as past experiences, socio-political factors, and personality type, anyone can improve emotional regulation through specific conditioning exercises and strategies. Recognizing what is emotional regulation enables you to apply conscious practice that nurtures a stronger control over your thoughts, feelings, and responses.


Attentional Deployment

Through attentional deployment, you deliberately distract yourself from a source of emotional disturbance with something more positive. The conscious distraction technique can help prevent a sudden outburst at the workplace or responding with an inappropriate comment that might jeopardize your career.

For instance, if the hard-hitting remarks of an email from your manager cause significant distress, you may quickly disengage from the trigger by listening to some soothing classical music and changing your focus before hitting the reply.


Taking Frequent Breaks at Work

Scientific studies have shown that the lack of breaks at the office could result in decision fatigue due to an overworked pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for executive-level thinking and rationalization). Ideally, you may include a workout routine in your breaks, where moderate physical activity can help improve focus and concentration by boosting natural levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.


Reframed Thoughts

At times, identifying your thoughts can significantly improve emotional regulation. You can rationalize and strategize the most meaningful response by putting a name to your emotions.


For example, when a co-worker makes a huge mistake in a group effort, you might immediately feel a welling sense of frustration and a need to blame. Alternatively, you might choose to ask some rhetorical questions to help reframe your thoughts. These questions may include, “what am I feeling at the moment?”, “what is emotional regulation?”, and “is there a better way to respond to the problem?”


Habitually reframing your thoughts enables you to avoid strong reactions, improve workplace relationships, and focus on formulating effective solutions.

Prioritized Physical Needs and Achievements

You can improve mental resilience and emotional regulation by staying well-rested and caring for your bodily needs. Getting the minimum amount of quality sleep and following a balanced diet can help keep your body healthy and mind more alert and aware of ongoing emotions.


Additionally, focusing on the positive aspects of work can help you gradually improve your overall mood and productivity. Consider keeping a workplace journal where you can maintain a conscious record of your daily emotional experiences and pay added attention to the achievements and highlights that keep you motivated.


Closing Thoughts – Emotional Regulation for a Healthier Work-Life


The dynamic modern workplace throws all kinds of curveballs that could result in elevated stress levels and reduced productivity if you lack a reliable emotional strategy. Understanding what is emotional regulation and its effects on your professional conduct is a significant first step toward work-life balance.


When it comes down to emotions, it’s essential to aim for regulation over suppression. While emotional suppression might seem like an effective quick fix, the process could lead to long-term mental and physical issues such as mood disorders. Rather than relying on a single emotional regulation strategy, consider mixing them around for the best fit according to each workplace scenario.


Ultimately, an optimized mindset requires the perfect balance of emotions between explosive expressions and self-harming suppression. Through frequent mindful practices, you can gain control over your emotions in the most trying times and keep the risks of burnout at bay.