6 Tiny Ways To Emotionally Regulate Yourself, According To Neuroscience

Learn the skills you need to stay calm.

woman with her eyes closed in sunshine Oleksandr P / Pexels  

From a young age, we received messages from both our caregivers and from society that our emotions should be controlled. Think back to being a kid, and having a tantrum. Did your parents let you scream and cry, or did they tell you to quiet down, to stop that behavior at once, or else?

In childhood, expressing our emotions too strongly was met with being told to calm down. But what if we were never taught the skills needed to actually calm ourselves?


Writer and actress Anna Akana looked to neuroscientist Dr. Nicole A. Tetreault’s research on emotional regulation for techniques to settle our nervous systems.



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Here are 6 tiny ways to emotionally regulate yourself, according to neuroscience:

1. The physiological sigh

A study from Stanford University looked into the power of cyclic sighing as a way to lower stress and anxiety. David Spiegel, the associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral studies, co-led the project with neurobiologist Dr. Andrew Huberman. 

“What’s interesting about the breath is that it’s right on the edge of conscious control,” Spiegel said. “Most of the time breathing is automatic… But you can very easily take over and control your breath, which then affects your overall physiology and stress response.”

This particular type of breathwork consists of two inhales and one long exhale.


To implement the physiological sigh, take one breath in through your nose. Take another deep breath, filling your lungs completely: Think of it like taking a second sip of air to top it off. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth, until all the air is gone.

You’ll probably feel better after just one round, but repeating cyclic sighing for about five minutes allows you to get the full effect of the sigh. 

Huberman noted that the second inhale is especially important, as it both gives you more oxygen and allows for “the offload of carbon dioxide.”


The exhale is also important, because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing down your heart rate and providing an overall soothing effect on your body.

2. Go for a walk

When we’re feeling stressed or out of sorts, it’s always a good idea to go outside, breathe in some fresh air, and feel the sunshine. 

Akana noted that when we walk, our eyes naturally move from side to side, which “relaxes the body and deactivates our amygdala.”

6 Ways To Emotionally Regulate Yourself Photo: Tyler Nix / Unsplash 


When you walk, consider leaving your phone at home, so you can fully decompress and reset.

3. Acknowledge your emotions

We spend a lot of our lives trying to exert control over our emotions, which often means we’re repressing what we’re feeling. 

If you’re sad or in a state of heightened emotion, verbally recognize what you’re feeling, instead of trying to tamp those feelings down. Ignoring how we feel only serves to make us feel worse. Validating how we feel is an act of self-compassion. 

Akana suggested moving your body to release endorphins after acknowledging your feelings. That movement doesn’t have to be anything complicated. You can stand up and stretch for a few minutes, or have a mini dance party in your living room — whatever gets you shaking out that negative energy. 


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4. Look out the window

Feeling angry is an especially challenging emotion to regulate. Anger is part of our fight, flight, or freeze reaction, during which our adrenal glands release major amounts of stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol.

6 Ways To Emotionally Regulate YourselfPhoto: Biserka Stojanovic / Canva Pro


When we’re in this state of heightened emotion, it can be hard to think straight, let alone calm down.

To release your anger, try looking out a window, but don’t focus on anything specific. Let your gaze stay soft and unfocused: This action blunts noradrenaline, so you’re able to take a pause and think clearly.

5. Hyperfocus for 1 minute

We’ve all experienced that midday lull when our minds go to anything but the work in front of us. To combat this feeling of low motivation, Akana suggested focusing on one specific spot on your screen for one full minute, while ignoring everything else around you.

“Pupillary convergence increases focus,” she explained.


6. Write down your strengths

Feeling insecure is an incredibly common part of being human, one that lowers our confidence and sense of self-worth. This particular kind of low energy can cause us to spiral, question our value, and just feel bad about ourselves.

One way to stop that spiral before it goes too deep is to journal about your best traits and skills. 

6 Ways To Emotionally Regulate Yourself Photo: Hannah Olinger / Unsplash 


“Logical thinking overrides your limbic system,” Akana shared, touching on her practice of journaling when she feels low. 

Journaling is a somatic practice: It gets our thoughts and feelings out of our body and onto the page. It’s a form of release.

'Learning emotional regulation is one of the most important tools we can have as adults,' Akana said. 

“Whoever gave you healthy habits of how to control your thoughts and feelings when life comes at you?” Akana wondered. “Likely, your parents did not, unless you were blessed, in which case, good for you.”

She noted that teaching ourselves emotional regulation is part of reparenting work, “by allowing ourselves to practice and master regulating our own emotional states.”


When starting on the journey of teaching yourself emotional regulation techniques, remember to be gentle with yourself. You’re learning a new skill, and like all new skills, emotional regulation takes time and practice. Give yourself space and grace while you’re going through this process. 

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Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers social issues, pop culture analysis, and all things to do with the entertainment industry.