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Strategies for Emotional Regulation and Coping

In the turbulent sea of social work, we quite often find ourselves caught in a whirlwind of emotions. We’re can be rocked with waves of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. We all know those feelings. What we often don’t know, or what we forget, is there are anchor points—strategies that will help us steady our course and navigate the storm. Let’s take a look at some of these anchor points and explore some practical techniques for emotional regulation and coping skills.


The first skill is simply breathing. The breath is ALWAYS available for us to use as a grounding mechanism. It’s the ultimate in portability. We take it with us everywhere. If you feel yourself being pulled out to sea, inhale deeply, feel the air fill our lungs, and exhale slowly releasing tension with each breath. When you do this, make sure your lower abdomen is swelling as you breath in and falling as you breath you out. Do this so you know you’re pulling air fully into the lungs and not just superficially into the top most accessible parts of the lungs. This simple act of conscious breathing will work wonders to calm us and taking better control of our minds. Take a moment to pause and connect with the rhythm of your breath. It to centers us.


Once you are conscious of your breath, simple and effective breathing practice is box breathing. For this we’ll count 1-2-3-4 on the inhale. We’ll hold for 1-2-3-4. We’ll exhale to the same 1-2-3-4 count. And then hold again for 1-2-3-4. Repeat for a set number of rotations. Profit.


Another priceless tool in our arsenal is the practice of thought stopping. Our minds often become battlegrounds, overrun by negative thoughts and worries. We have the power to interrupt this cycle. When intrusive thoughts threaten to overwhelm us, if we will gently but firmly say, “Stop.” Visualize a red stop sign halting the flow of negative thoughts. Then, we redirect our focus to something positive or engaging—a pleasant memory, a soothing image, or a comforting mantra. Mantras for thought stopping can be anything. “This is nothing I cannot handle”, or “I am prepared”, or “I am strong”. Once the negative thoughts are stopped, we will still have the problem to solve in front of us, but, we’ll have a clear head and positive vibrations to attack it head on efficiently and effectively.


Another good habit to craft is noticing what we feel and then giving it a name. Emotions, though transient, wield immense power when left unchecked. By acknowledging and labeling our feelings, we reclaim control over our inner chatter. Are we experiencing anger, sadness, or fear? By identifying and naming our emotions, we disarm their potency and pave the way for constructive coping mechanisms. “Stop. I am feeling angry. I am feeling overwhelmed. I am feeling inadequate” When we name these emotions our ego takes a hit. Egos want us to be scared and it’s a lot tougher to be scared of the known than it is the unknown. Just name it. Pretty simple, yet effective.


We also must recognize the importance of self-compassion in our journey towards emotional regulation. We sometimes berate ourselves for feeling a certain way, judging our emotions as unwarranted or irrational. Instead of condemning ourselves for experiencing them, just recognize it for what it is and move on. Just observe it and let it pass. Treat yourself with the kindness and understanding we would offer a close friend facing similar struggles. Through self-compassion, we create a nurturing environment for growth and healing. Our energy will improve and high vibrations will be the rule.


Lastly, let’s cultivate a support network of trusted confidants who can provide comfort and guidance during trying times. Share your struggles with loved ones, knowing that we are not alone in our journey. Lean on each other for support, encouragement, and understanding. Weather the storm together.


Emotional regulation and coping skills are indispensable tools in our quest for resilience and well-being. By incorporating breathing exercises, thought stopping, emotional labeling, self-compassion, mindfulness, and social support into our daily lives, we empower ourselves to navigate the turbulent waters of our profession and the emotions that come along as part of social work with grace and fortitude.

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