Some emotional responses require no particular regulation. If the emotion is appropriate to the situation and helps you feel better, there’s no need to worry about changing the way you handle things. Laughing when others are laughing is one example of an appropriate reaction that helps you feel better. Expressing road rage may also make you feel better, but it’s not appropriate or particularly adaptive. You could express your frustration in other ways that allow you to release those angry feelings, or instead try to find a way to calm yourself down.
Stanford University psychologist James Gross (2001) proposed a 4-stage model to capture the sequence of events that occurs when our emotions are stimulated. In what he calls the “modal model,” a situation grabs our attention, which in turns leads us to appraise or think about the meaning of the situation. Our emotional responses result from the way we appraise our experiences.
The study of emotions is not an exact science. Psychologists still debate the body-mind connection in emotional reactivity; don’t have a complete taxonomy of emotions; and are even uncertain about whether emotions are the cause or result of the way we construe the world. However, there are advances being made in understanding the concept of emotion regulation, the process of influencing the way emotions are felt and expressed.
Your ability to regulate those emotions, in turn, affects how you’re perceived by the people around you. If you’re laughing at that text during a serious meeting, you’re likely to get resentful looks from others in the room. On the other hand, if you react with rage at a driver who cuts you off in traffic, you can engender unwanted attention, and perhaps even risk your life.
Emotions are a vital part of our everyday lives. Whether you’re having a good laugh over a text message or feeling frustrated in rush hour traffic, you know that the highs and lows you experience can significantly affect your well-being.