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A Holiday Gift to Self, 3 Goals to Emotion Regulation Mastery (Feel Optimally!)


Emotion mastery is a learned ability to navigate challenging emotions and moments, and to feel optimally, at least enough to make choices you’ll be happy with later.

It’s a vital skill, also known as emotional intelligence.

Emotions are powerful energies, and upsetting emotions in particular, can either be our greatest teachers, when we understand them as action signals to help us grow — or our worst enemies, when we fight or seek to avoid or numb them.

“Love cures people, both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it,” stated Karl Menninger, author and one of the foremost practitioners and advocates of psychiatry in the 20th century.

This quote by Dr. Menninger reminds us that: there is no force greater, or more humbling for that matter, than the inner-core drive for love, meaning, happiness.

So much, if not all, of what you did or will do during the holidays is about love, right?

Likewise, even in moments of stress or hurt feelings, well, these too are rooted in the same drive to love, to matter, to contribute.

“I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy,” the Dalai Lama notes, “From the very core of our being, we desire contentment … [and] the key is to develop inner peace.”

In the same quote, however, the Dalai Lama also states the key to this happiness is “cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others [as this] automatically puts the mind at ease.”

But how do you do that, you may say, when a loved one says or does something hurtful!?

You need a measured way of responding that, at minimum, doesn’t make matters worse. And remember, you’re only responsible for your part, and not the other’s.

The reality is that hurt feelings in relational contexts are not only inevitable, they are also key to expanding your capacity for compassion for your self and others.

(By the way, that’s a life long task, worthy of being included in New Year goals every year!)

It’s been said that all human actions are either expressions of love or cries for help.

There’s no changing the fact that, the drive to connect in meaningful ways to our self and life around us, is the most powerful human impulse throughout life.

All of us, like it or not, are on a path on which our greatest need, to realize the love and happiness we yearn to feel inside, requires us to cultivate an inner ability to self-activate our body’s relaxation response (parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system), and thus, to prevent our body’s survival reaction (sympathetic division) from taking over.

Why? Simply put, when it does, it causes us and others to treat relationship situations, and loved ones, with the same or similar emo-physiological reaction we’d use if we were facing a physical threat to our survival, such as out the wild facing a lion, tiger or bear!

So, for the holidays and beyond, why not give yourself the gift of lifting your own vibration with emotion mastery?

There are three goals, or areas, to work on to achieve emotional mastery.

1. Understand and Name Your Emotions

Your first goal is to understand and name the emotions you feel. And it starts with becoming aware of your emotions, identifying and naming them. Often there is a cycle that begins with an event that triggers automatic negative thoughts, for example, such as shame or self-loathing. These emotions activate your body’s sympathetic nervous system, also known as the survival system or the “fight or flee” response.

Using descriptive labels such as “frustrated” or “anxious,” makes emotions easier to manage, and this much more effective than using black-and-white labels, such as “feeling bad.” An additional distinction is understanding that emotions are not good or bad, and, in the same way, there aren’t wrong or right ways to feel. They are a normal part of life, and the more you try to avoid or numb them with substances or addictive activities, the more they will control you, instead of you being in charge of regulating them.

This helps you avoid judging yourself (or others) for experiencing certain emotions. In fact, these judgments are often the problem, as they tend to intensify the upsetting emotions you feel to problematic and adverse levels.

To understand yourself involves getting know how your thoughts work together with emotions to create images and activate powerful neuropathways in your brain, and how these processes literally decide what actions you take, stop, avoid, and so on. This understanding, in turn, leads you to develop a relationship with your self by connecting and getting to know, and make “friends” with your inner world of feelings and sensations. (Yes, even with upsetting emotions.)

Part of cultivating a relationship with our self, is accepting your emotions as valid, on the one hand, yet also knowing how to avoid intensifying them to extreme levels.

2. Strengthen Emotional Resiliency

Your second goal in emotion regulation mastery is to develop resiliency, thus reduce vulnerability, so that you build tolerance for certain triggering events in ways that allow you to maintain a sense of balance, confidence and competency.

The acronym M.A.S.T.E.R.Y. outlines the seven steps, as follows:

M —> Live MINDFULLY to cultivate a practice of balance and wholeness in all aspects of your life.

A —> AVOID sugary foods, drinks (alcohol), sugar is now proven an addictive mind-altering drug that elevates anxiety, depression, mood swings.

S —> Get regular and adequate amounts of SLEEP to enjoy feeling refreshed each morning.

T —> TREAT your body with loving care — as a 24/7 partner, dedicated to helping you realize your dreams and happiness.

E —> EAT nutritious foods that support you to remain in optimal states of mind-body when facing triggers.

R —> Get REGULAR exercise to oxygenate your brain and body, also releasing healthful, happiness-producing hormones.

Y —> Take the reins of YOUR LIFE to become authentically YOU, in conscious roles of observer, creator and choice-maker.

It also helps to plan one or more experiences daily that you look forward to and enjoy, perhaps reading a book, a hobby, spending time with a friend, or anything that brings fun and contentment. You are wired for happiness, fun and enjoyment. Don’t wait, actively seek to include fun and enjoyment. Additionally, remember to write down short and long-term goals to stay engaged with your life, it’s direction, and creating an ever brighter future. This helps you stay focused on what you want, and get excited about thinking of options in this direction, thus, minimizing and eliminating thought patterns focused on lack, such as what’s wrong with you, others, or your life. Emotions of gratitude, appreciation, curiosity, enthusiasm release powerful action activating energy, and also nourish the cells of your body in healthy ways.

3. Exercise 2-action steps to lower emotional suffering

The third goal in cultivating mastery of your emotions is to decrease patterns that cause needless emotional suffering. There are two primary skills here:

a. Letting go

Letting go refers to an ability to become aware of a current emotion, and to do so mindfully, consciously recognizing and feeling the emotion, naming it, rather than avoiding, dwelling or fighting it. And then, letting this go, in a conscious way that involves your entire body and breath, by feeling what the emotion is like, and where it is located as a sensation in your body, and breathing into it with slow, deep and long breaths. Simultaneously, change the posture of your body, begin to move, sit or stand up straight and tall, for example, or begin to move your body in a way that feels right. You may also visualize the feeling or the thought floating away, or imagine a wave that come and takes the thought or emotion.

b. Going opposite-emotion

There’s nothing more powerful in reducing a fear than, once you’ve identified and understood what it’s telling you, taking action in the opposite direction. All growth occurs intially, at least at a physical level, by “getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.” This means everything you’ve ever done in life, to include taking your first breath as a baby, or first step as a toddler, at first was uncomfortable.

The good news here is that you’ve done this before, in fact, you do this all the time. There’s no way to get through school, a course, a gym workout, etc., without hearing part of your body and mind sending you messages of discomfort! All successful persons, at least in the areas in which they are successful, are good at “going opposite-emotion”; after all, if they only what they “felt” like doing, they could not keep a job, much less become successful at it!

In this case, you’re going opposite emotion with the fear-responses (one at a time!) that your brain and body currently has imprinted in memory cells, and operate as automatic strategies. So for example, instead of reacting in the same way to something someone says or does, you look for a positive emotion-response that, while “uncomfortable,” will grow and strengthen you in the long run. And, don’t forget to remind yourself that, the more you practice this “new-you” response, the easier and more comfortable it will be! In fact, eventually, the subconscious mind of your body will make this your automatic positive-response. After all, this is how you’ve built feelings of confidence, courage and strength in other areas.

In sum, the purpose of emotions is to enhance your sense of connection to who you are, what you love and value, and life around you. Emotions are there to serve you, that is, to alert you to something in your environment that is important to you, to help you grow or to avoid harm.

You have a choice to either become the master choice maker and creator of your thoughts and emotions, or by default to allow your emotions and sensory system of the body to take over. When your emotions and sensory system are in control, it puts you at risk of addictions, with the subconscious mind of the body in control, it will automatically gravitate to quick-fix ways to avoid pain and seek pleasure — and this never serves you. You  are designed to be happy in inner-driven ways that build meaningful relationships with your self and life around you.

Photo by Incomplexity

A Holiday Gift to Self, 3 Goals to Emotion Regulation Mastery (Feel Optimally!)

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2016). A Holiday Gift to Self, 3 Goals to Emotion Regulation Mastery (Feel Optimally!). Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Dec 2016
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