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It’s Not What Happens to You, But What You Do After The Fact That Matters Most- Tips for Improving Emotional Regulation

A calm woman on the beach

Let’s face it- bad things happen that are beyond our control.

This is a universal truth. The sooner we come to terms with it, the sooner we can free ourselves from the stress, frustration, fear, and unhappiness that manifests when we resist reality.

While we cannot control what happens to us, we can control what we do after the fact. When a difficult situation arises, it can be challenging to manage our emotions. We’ve all experienced situations that evoked intense feelings, such as anger or fear, leading us to say or do things we later regretted. In the thick of these situations, thinking objectively and acting logically can feel impossible. I like to explain this phenomenon using the metaphor of the “Think Line.”

The “Think Line” is an imaginary line that is essentially an individual's threshold for anger and volatility and their ability to manage it.

Someone with a low “Think Line” typically has a short fuse and angers easily, whereas someone with a higher “Think Line” is able to remain calm and patient in the face of adversity or challenges and doesn’t get their feathers ruffled very easily.

When someone is below their personal “Think Line,” they are able to think critically and logically. They are not likely to say or do things that are out of alignment with who they are and their beliefs, morals, and goals. They are more likely to make decisions and behave in ways that have positive outcomes. 

When someone exceeds their “Think Line,” they become highly reactive, experience a reduction in their ability to think and behave rationally, and are more likely to say or do things that are out of alignment with who they are and their goals. High stress, fear, and other emotions can also trigger this overly reactive state.

This happens because of a physiological response within the body.

When our brains perceive a threat- whether physical, mental, or emotional- they release monoamine neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and adrenaline, which trigger a physical reaction designed to protect us. When norepinephrine is released, it can cause intense anger. Overriding this powerful physical reaction is understandably very challenging.

However, while some people have lower “Think Lines” and experience anger more quickly than others, this shouldn’t be an excuse for negative or harmful behavior. Everyone experiences anger, and everyone is capable of managing it. You can raise your “Think Line” by practicing self-regulation and enhancing your Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

Evidently, the instantaneous release of neurotransmitters serves an important purpose and plays a key role in our survival. The fight-or-flight response can save your life when faced with real danger. However, we can sometimes become triggered by anger or fear because of a “perceived threat” that doesn’t actually endanger our well-being.

In these situations, it is paramount to take a step back, regulate your emotions, and then choose how to react. Having the ability to do so will strengthen your relationships, boost your confidence and self-respect, and create positive ripples in other areas of your life and the lives of those around you. 

Personally, I had a frightening experience in early May when I traveled to Philadelphia to be with my son Henry for his birthday and the one-year anniversary of my husband (Henry’s dad) Larry’s passing.

Over the past couple of decades, I have focused on improving my Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Regulation and helping others do the same. This work paid off when I suddenly faced a difficult decision.

Henry and I were walking down a busy street in broad daylight when all of the sudden, something hit me hard in the back of the head and nearly gave me whiplash. If Henry hadn’t caught me, I would have fallen to the ground on my hands and knees. A woman ran past us screaming, and people on the street were standing and staring. My initial thought was that the building was collapsing and that we should run…9/11 even flashed through my mind. I was very confused. 

A man quickly approached and said that the woman who had just ran past us screaming had hit me in the head. He explained that he had been walking behind her for several blocks and realized she was stalking me. He told us that she was yelling, “You disrespected me!’” I was in a state of shock and experiencing the effects of adrenaline and norepinephrine.

Mind you, my son was a football player and is tall and strong. It was baffling to me why this woman would claim I was disrespecting her and then assault me, especially with Henry right there who could have easily tackled her to the ground (Henry tried to run after her, but I insisted he stay with me). A nearby vendor yelled out, “She is on this block talking to herself and causing trouble every day, but that’s what happens when you cut mental health services.”

As I began to understand the reality of the situation, I was faced with a complicated decision. I knew I had to take a moment to check in with my emotions and think about what had happened before deciding what to do. On one hand, this random woman had just assaulted me. On the other hand, she was clearly struggling with mental health issues and didn’t attack me with a healthy state of mind.  She was no longer a threat to our safety since she had run away.

The reality was, if I had her arrested, she would have been taken to jail and likely faced charges. It didn’t seem likely she would get any quality mental health help, and her situation would likely get worse. While I was stunned and my neck was throbbing, I knew I didn’t have a concussion and didn’t need medical treatment. After two days of Advil, I was fine.

It just so happened that it was the day of the one-year anniversary of Larry’s death, and something he used to say popped into my head: “I would rather be me than him/her eleven out of ten days.” My decision became clear: let it go.

Henry and I had been doing things with Larry in our hearts that day, and making life harder for someone who was obviously struggling wasn't how I wanted to spend the rest of it.

Later, I discovered that according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 4 people with a serious mental illness has been arrested at some point in their lifetime, which equates to over 2 million jail bookings across the U.S. of people with a serious mental illness each year.

In addition, 598,000 adults in Pennsylvania who needed mental health care in 2021 did not receive it, and 32.7% of them were unable to afford it. This shows just how important affordable, accessible mental health care is. I hope that the woman who was suffering on the street that day finds the help she needs and deserves. I am happy with my decision not to press charges.

For me, this experience was a powerful reminder that although we often cannot control what happens to us, we can control what we do after the fact and whether we make life harder or easier for ourselves and others.

In high-stress situations, where emotions run high and you feel anger and pain, it can be difficult to resist acting on that anger and choosing to retaliate, become indignant, over identify as a victim, or seek “justice”. 

I’ve worked with people who have gone through an adverse life event (an unpleasant situation that, unlike trauma, is less sudden and not usually life-threatening) that caused them to become fearful of reminders of that event. For example, they avoid the city where it happened or become afraid of cities altogether. Many times people identify as victims, want to make someone else pay, and lament over the situation for months or even years.

Again, a neurochemical cocktail is flowing through your bloodstream during these moments, creating a powerful physiological response. However, choosing not to let it affect you longer than necessary is a powerful choice. It builds resilience, strengthens emotional regulation, and leads to better overall emotional well-being.

The experience also reminded me of the importance of viewing scenarios from multiple perspectives, considering other people’s experiences, and understanding that situations are rarely black and white; there isn’t always a clear “good guy” and a “bad guy.” I was also reminded of the critical role emotional and behavioral regulation plays in living a happier, more peaceful life. If I had acted on my emotions, I would likely be in the middle of pressing charges against this woman, traveling back and forth to Philadelphia for court dates, missing work, and living in a state of stress and anger.

Working on your emotional and behavioral regulation can help you maintain healthy relationships and emotional well-being. Although it doesn’t happen overnight, you can raise your “Think Line” and develop the skills needed for strong emotional and behavioral regulation.

Tips for Improving Emotional Regulation:

1. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of observing your thoughts without judgment and letting them pass. Many people, when faced with negative thoughts, focus on them, judge them, and judge themselves for having them, leading to anxiety or other negative emotions. Practicing the art of acknowledging thoughts as just thoughts and letting them pass- like logs floating down a river- is a powerful and effective way to strengthen emotional and behavioral regulation. Starting with just five minutes of meditation a day can make a significant difference.

2. Deep Breathing

In the midst of a difficult situation, deep breathing exercises can help bring you back to a level-headed state. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the "rest and digest" response. This response counteracts the "fight or flight" response triggered by norepinephrine, reducing heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. This state of relaxation makes it easier to manage emotions and react calmly. Deep breathing also reduces cortisol levels and increases oxygen intake to the prefrontal cortex, enhancing brain function and helping you make clearer decisions in emotional situations. Additionally, deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals.

3. Ensuring Adequate Sleep

Good quality sleep is crucial for emotional regulation. Poor sleep can exacerbate emotional instability and impulsivity. Establish a regular sleep schedule, create a bedtime routine that signals to your brain that it’s time to wind down, rest in a peaceful environment, and avoid stimulants before bedtime to improve sleep quality.

4. Improving Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and emotional regulation are closely intertwined. Having strong EQ involves effectively identifying your emotions and understanding what triggers them, which plays a key role in your ability to regulate them. Increasing self-awareness by engaging in self-reflection, practicing mindfulness, seeking feedback, and utilizing tools and techniques provided by a therapist or certified Life Coach can help you understand what triggers each of your emotions so that you can anticipate and manage them before they escalate.

5. Utilizing a Relaxation Technique

When you feel highly stressed, angry, or fearful, engage in activities that help you relax, such as listening to your favorite music, stepping out into nature, or calling a loved one. Building a connection in your brain between experiencing negative emotions and resorting to healthy coping mechanisms will help you automatically turn to these methods during high-emotion circumstances when you may not be thinking clearly.

The Power of Choice

Your true power lies in choosing how you react to people and situations beyond your control. Taking a moment to regulate your emotions and act thoughtfully helps you remain true to who you are, maintain self-respect, and sustain healthy, positive relationships with others and with yourself.

If you struggle with emotional regulation and it negatively impacts your life, start practicing the techniques above. If necessary, schedule time to speak with a professional who can provide more comprehensive help.

Life Coaching can provide you with tools and solutions for emotional regulation and healthy decision-making, as well as guidance and support. Reach out today at or email to schedule your Complimentary Discovery Call and let’s begin your Journey towards Unlocking Bold Change™ in your life. 


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