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Emotion regulation

Emotion regulation infographic


Regulate your emotions

  1. Name your emotions
  2. Understand your emotions
  3. Choose a mood booster

Emotions, even the unpleasant ones such as anger and sadness, are a normal and important part of life. They give us clues as to whether something needs to change or is unjust, and also help us to feel alive and motivated.

While it is important to feel emotions and to accept them, sometimes emotions can feel too much to handle, and can start to impact negatively on us. For example, feeling extremely angry or sad all the time can get in the way of your day-to-day living.

1. Name your emotions

Naming feelings in your head is the first step to knowing and regulating your emotions. Recent research shows that this skill is one of the most helpful strategies in promoting mental health, as it lays important groundwork and helps people to feel more comfortable with their own emotions. 

Our brains have two hemispheres, which perform different functions in the way that we think. They have different roles:

  • Left hemisphere - logic, language
  • Right hemisphere - emotions, holistic view, artistic self-expression etc.

We can use the language of our left hemisphere to help calm down and regulate the emotions of the right hemisphere. This means that we can feel our emotions, but that we are not necessarily overwhelmed by them. In your head, you might say to yourself “I feel sad right now”. You don’t need to say this aloud, but just silently to yourself.

What am I feeling?

When it comes to naming emotions, you may find it tricky to know what you’re feeling. A simple way to start is to see which of these four categories your emotions might fit into. These are basic, primary emotions:

  • Mad (angry)
  • Bad (guilty)
  • Sad (upset, down)
  • Glad (happy)

Does what you’re feeling fit into one of these categories? This could give you a starting point to know more or less what you’re feeling.

These categories are just a guide. Not every emotion fits neatly into one of these, but it’s a good starting point if you’re not sure how to get going. There are, of course, many more emotions, some of which are complex. You may also feel a combination of emotions, such as feeling scared and excited before starting university.


It takes repeated practice to form links between the two hemispheres of your brain. By using the language of your left brain to regularly respond to your right brain emotion, you help to build neuronal connections between the two. Over time, this may mean that you are less likely to be overwhelmed by your emotions, benefitting your behaviour and interactions with others.

It may feel strange at first, so keep practicing. At first, you may find that you can only name an emotion after the event, but in time it will become easier to identify and manage your emotions in the moment.

2. Understand your emotions

Once you know what you’re feeling, it’s helpful to understand why. Rather than fighting off the feelings, just sit with them for a while and have a think about what is causing them. Are you angry because it’s been harder than you thought to adjust to university life? Or did you have a misunderstanding with someone? Are you sad because you experienced a loss that you never had the chance to deal with?

If you feel that you need extra help in understanding or naming your emotions, counselling (such as at CCDU) may help.

3) Choose a mood booster

While negative emotions are a normal and important part of life, and it is important to sit and feel them, sometimes they can drag on for an extended time to become a “bad mood”. When you are in a bad mood, it’s often easy to get drawn into activities that continue to make the mood last - such as staying isolated, complaining, or mindlessly scrolling through your phone.

Think of some things that make you feel happy, and try them to boost your mood when you’re struggling. Some mood boosters include:

  • Talking to a friend about something interesting - not just continuing to complain
  • Go for a walk outside or around campus
  • Focus on where you are right now, and enjoying the moment
  • Listen to uplifting music

Plan ahead for what you will do next time you are in a bad mood, and then try out the idea and put it into action. Read more on mood boosters.

For more emotion regulation tips, take a look at Anger Management and Resisting Harmful Behaviour.

Wits Student Crisis Line 0800 111 331 (24/7/365)