9 Silly Methods for Emotional Regulation That Actually Work
Trauma-informed work can be difficult at times. After all, we are talking about trauma—and trauma isn’t fun.
But that doesn’t mean that trauma-informed work can’t be fun. A big part of this work is healing, and a great way to heal is to access our innate need for playfulness.
By embracing the silliness inside ourselves, we can heal through trauma-informed practices. Being goofy allows us to break reenactments, get out of negative cycles, and reboot our brains. So, today we’re going to explore nine silly methods for emotional regulation!
1 – Cross your toes
Brain gym exercises are one of my favorite ways to trick my mind into getting out of trauma mode and back into my body. These exercises present us with physical and mental challenges that require focus, concentration, and body awareness.
My favorite go-to brain gym exercise is crossing my toes. Having trouble concentrating during a meeting? Cross your toes. Feeling your trauma triggered by something someone said? Cross your toes!
No one will know, and it will help you stay present.
Here are some other examples of brain gym exercises:
Pat your head and rub your tummy. Then, switch hands!
Hold your fists in front of you, palm up. Extend your left thumb and right pinky (the fingers on the left side of each hand). Make a fist. Extend your right thumb and left pinky (the fingers on the right side of each hand). Repeat, going as fast as you can!
Clasp your hands together in front of you. Without releasing your hands, extend the fingers of your left hand. Clasp again. Extend the fingers of your right hand. Repeat.
Put your hands in front of you, palms down. Make your left hand into a fist. Extend the fingers on your right hand (as if playing paper, in rock, paper, scissors). Switch so that now your left hand is the paper, and your right hand is the rock. Repeat!
You can find countless brain gym exercise videos online! Discover your favorites, and use them when you need to regulate.
2 – Describe an object in excruciating detail
“A clear plastic water bottle, with droplets of water on the inside, sticking to the walls of the bottle. It has an opaque cap, screwed on securely, and a sky-blue label with a scenic city street on it. There are wavy ridges along the sides of the bottle, and it tapers up towards the cap.”
Writing, speaking, or thinking with this level of detail engages our brains and helps us regulate our emotions when we’re in distress. It works because it draws us into the present, away from the anxiety of the future, away from the trauma of the past.
Describing a plain, normal object with excruciating detail helps us stay grounded and present, which makes it a great method for emotional regulation. When you try this exercise, remember there are no wrong answers!
When describing, see if you can accurately describe an object in the following ways:
3 – Huff n Puff
When we’re stressed, we might let out a big sigh. A sigh is a natural stress response that helps us relieve some of that mental pressure.
While there are plenty of breathing exercises you could try (alternate nostril breathing, box breathing, belly breathing, etc.), these exercises can feel rigid or restrictive.
Instead, we can try huffing and puffing as a silly way to regulate our breathing and our emotions. To do this, you simply take a deep breath in and sigh it all out.
With this exercise, you can get loud, make funny noises, or make faces. Expressing your emotions this way is extremely healing. Maybe you need to groan in aggravation: “Ugh!” Or, maybe you want to wail in desperation: “Wah!” Instead of using your words, use your sounds, body language, and facial expression to share what you’re feeling, even if there’s no one to witness you except yourself.
4 – Expose Yourself to the Cold
This method of emotional regulation is not as pleasant or comfortable as the other ones on this list, but it is effective.
A cold shower (or a hot/cold alternate shower) is a great way for us to regulate our emotions and shock our system into getting back into the present.
You can also ground yourself by dunking your head (or your whole body) in an ice bath. This is the extreme version of splashing some cold water on your face.
If you try this, don’t hold back. When you dunk your head in freezing water, you might “ooh” and “ahh” in pain and surprise. Let yourself experience what it feels like to feel.
5 – Flop Like a Fish
Over 17 million adults in the US suffer from major depressive disorder. When you have depression, it can be difficult to get out of bed. But, physical movement is one of the best methods of emotional regulation, and it can help with task initiation.
So, when you’re stuck in bed but need movement, what do you do? Flop like a fish. Wiggle your arms and legs, shake off your stress, and lay in bed, all at the same time.
Will you look ridiculous? Yes. Will it make you laugh? Probably. Will it help? Yes!
This same idea works when you’re upright, but we call that dancing. You can dance to your favorite music or just shake your arms to relieve stress.
You can also go with the standard recommendation: exercise. If you do that, remember that you can shift your idea of exercise to accommodate activities you enjoy. If you don’t like running and weightlifting, you can also try swimming, hiking, jumping rope, playing with your dog, doing yoga, or cleaning the house (especially if you have stairs at home).
Anything that gets your heart rate up and builds your strength is exercise!
6 – Be a Tree
Become one with nature in this imaginative emotional regulation exercise. Of course, you can get into the classic “tree” yoga position, but you can also just stand and envision yourself as a tall tree grounded in the earth with deep roots.
For this exercise, close your eyes and imagine you are a tree. Your legs become a sturdy trunk, and your feet become roots that grow into the ground. Then, put your arms up and imagine that you’re swaying softly in the wind. See if you can think of the sound of your leaves or what you might look like to others in your tree form.
Embrace playfulness in this exercise. It’s meant to be calming, but it’s also fun and silly!
7 – Watch the Fight
This emotional regulation exercise requires a good dose of self-awareness. For this work, you’ll need to take a step back and listen to your inner voices as though they are not your own (it can be a real challenge, but it is possible).
When you notice negative thoughts in your mind, sit back and watch the fight between your inner critic and inner cheerleader as if you were an audience member. As the observer, you can root for your positive self-talk.
Removing yourself from your thoughts can help you see which thoughts help and hinder you emotionally.
To make this more fun, try to embrace a sports-like attitude. Which team are you betting on? Who do you think will win?
8 – “Disappear”
It can be challenging to relax when our minds still feel connected to tasks, stressors, chores, and other responsibilities, but sometimes, we just need to take a break.
For this exercise, we’ll embrace playfulness by pretending we’ve disappeared from this plane of existence entirely. For a short time, we’re going to teleport into an alternate reality: one where stressors don’t exist. While there, we’ll take a break from our reality.
Your alternate reality is yours to create. You might do this by setting the mood with calm lighting, calm music, and no screens. In my alternate reality, I don’t need money to live. It’s just nice to have. My body doesn’t need food to survive. It’s just a nice treat. I don’t need to cook, clean, or plan anything. I can just relax with no demands waiting for me.
This imaginative exercise is especially helpful for those who may struggle to disconnect from work and responsibility and truly relax.