People attempt to regulate emotions in many ways, some more healthy than others. There are four main themes to these techniques, which engage different parts of the regulation process: decisions and actions about certain situations, the attention given to situations, cognitive changes to do with situations, and attempts to directly influence emotional response.
Early Stage Regulation
Often, people try to control their emotional states by controlling situations and deciding whether to engage in a situation or not. For example, someone may decide to avoid something altogether because it generates anxiety. Another technique is to change an aspect of a situation to your favor. You might stand on the outskirts of a concert, for example, if large crowds make you anxious.
Techniques that have to do with attention are often less adaptive ways to emotionally regulate, though some work well. Distraction, for example is a positive technique that works well.
Suppressing emotionally triggering thoughts, though, may be a less healthy way to regulate. While suppression works well in certain instances, it may cause unwanted thoughts to occur more often and at unexpected times.
Late Stage Regulation
Cognitive change is a very healthy way to cope with emotions. This is when a person changes his or her emotional categorization of a situation. A woman who has been sexually abused, for example, might become irrationally upset during one on one interactions with men. Instead of continuing to categorize these instances as dangerous, which is inaccurate, this person might work to remind herself that there is no danger.
This technique is difficult to accomplish on your own, as most people are not aware of things like this. Of course, no one categorizes things incorrectly on purpose—it happens unconsciously most of the time. Therapists and counselors know how to identify these and help you to identify them so that you can begin to change.
The attempt to directly change the response itself to stress, whether it be physiological, experiential or behavioral, is another technique. A few examples of responses are: crying when something sad happens, shouting and throwing things when something is angering or the heart racing when the boss wants to talk.
People with addiction and substance abuse patterns often directly try to change stress responses by using mind-altering substances. This is an unhealthy regulation technique. Healthy versions of this technique include the use of exercise, meditation and breathing techniques to change a stress response.