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Self-regulation refers to how people understand and manage their reactions to the environment, situations and feelings.  The capabilities of self-regulation vary depending on passed experiences and learned coping strategies.  You might be aware of needing to respond differently to strong emotions such as anger, embarrassment or excitement in a different way to emotions that you feel less strongly.  It is most apparent when working on self-regulation could benefit someone who finds it difficult to respond and process their thoughts, reactions or ability to communicate in certain circumstances, for example if they experience embarrassment or anger they might reaction in ways that they later regret.

Practising and developing self-soothing techniques contributes to your ability to maintain a sense of calm when you are becoming overwhelmed by thoughts, feelings or your environment.  

When someone is good at self-soothing, they engage in internal processes that help maintain a relaxed and regulated state. It's more noticeable when someone lacks these skills, leading to defensive reactions, possible aggression, or retreat into sullen silence. Such moments can take us back to times when we felt disconnected and unsure how to react. It's crucial to remember that we have a wider range of responses and greater control over our actions than we realise.  Learning self-soothing skills will help you to respond to triggers in a new way rather than just repeating unhelpful patterns.

Physiological factors

Ask yourself if you are tired, hungry, thirsty, or overwhelmed. It can be easy to overlook taking care of your own physical needs, and often something that would be fairly simple to address.  Could you do something to care for yourself, like having a healthy snack or taking a break from a noisy environment?  This type of self-care serves two purposes:

1.    meeting immediate needs for physical well-being

2.    practicing listening to and responding to body cues. Acknowledging and responding to what your body communicates will help increase your ability to tune in to your intuition in other areas.


Grounding techniques

Try experimenting with different ways to ground yourself to learn what works well for you.  Concentrating on your breath, in particular your outbreath can be helpful or planting your feet on the ground and noticing how your body feels.  You can anchor yourself to the here and now through your 5 senses, for example concentrating on 5 things you can see, 4 you can hear, 3 you can touch, 2 you can smell and one you can taste. 

Creating a small box or bag which contains things you know you like that affect your senses can be a useful, for example, essential oils that that give you a sense of calm a picture that you find soothing to look at, something with a pleasant texture to hold, such as a soft fabric or play putty.

When you could benefit from grounding, pay attention to your inner voice or thoughts. If it's critical and negative, work on self-compassion, replacing negative responses with kinder ones. Self-compassion and self-soothing are intertwined, so speak to yourself as a kind coach would. Regular practice will eventually amplify this positive voice over the critic.

Learn mindfulness techniques to help you to recognise and let go of intrusive thoughts. You can cultivate the skills to observe, acknowledge, and release thoughts through regular mindfulness practice. Guided meditations can be a good starting point.


Often when we think of self-regulation the first thing that comes to mind is calming emotional reactions.  However, if you experience low mood and lack of motivation, then self-regulation might involve energising exercises.  For example, could you try intentionally moving your body, jumping is playful and provides an energetic shift that can be helpful.  Maybe curating an uplifting playlist of songs that make you feel good so you can initially work on shifting your mood out of a slump.

Try to maintain perspective 

When you're dysregulated, it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.  You could use a rating scale to evaluate how bad you feel, 0 being the worst and 10 the best.  Do some thought experiments such as asking yourself if something will matter in a month, a year, or five years.  You might consider challenging your thoughts with thought records and identify any distorted thinking you might be using. 

Alternatively, rather get caught up challenging thoughts you could engage with your environment and, if possible, the people around you.  Once you feel in a more calm and relaxed state, review your scale rating to see if you have managed to move the dial, even a one or two number increase is positive and can make a huge difference to how you feel.  If you monitor this over time, you might learn which techniques help you to self-soothe most effectively.  

How counselling can help

Counselling can help you explore what happens during those moments of dysregulation. It can help identify patterns and coping techniques that you may have outgrown because they no longer serve you and consider alternative responses that might be more beneficial.

Moving forward

The first step is to gain awareness of the process and how you feel when dysregulated. Just noticing and acknowledging this is a positive change, creating a gap between your feelings and reactions. This space allows you to choose a different response rather than falling back on automatic, habitual reactions.


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