There are a few slightly different definitions to the concept:
The ability to exert control over one’s own emotional state, a process by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express their feelings, or a person’s ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience.
Regardless of which one of the above you adopt, there are always important keywords in those definitions that you should pay attention to: control, influence, respond and, finally, manage.
I am, personally, fond to focus on “managing” emotions, rather than simply “regulating” them.
Allow me to delve into the semantics of each term to help me explain my point of view.
Regulate means to control or direct according to rule, principle, or law while Manage means to direct or be in charge of, or to handle with skill.
Regulate means to adjust to a particular specification or requirement, in opposition to one of the meanings of “manage” I like the most: to continue to function, progress, or succeed, usually despite hardship or difficulty; get along.
As regulation is a term associated with rules, laws, specifications, we can say it is directly affected by external factors and, even more important, determined by them.
On the other hand, managing something is, ultimately, taking charge or care of it, which not only demands commitment but also that you establish some sense of ownership of it.
When it comes to dealing with our own emotions, choosing between regulating or managing changes everything.
Regulating emotions puts us in a dependency state on factors that, most of the time, are not determined by us or by our personal circumstances.
In turn, when we choose to manage not only how and when we feel emotions but also how we consciously respond to them we strengthen our presence, grounding us to the moment and to the situation in front of us. That’s powerful, as it puts us in a commanding position, the master of our own fate.
As I said before, it is a choice. A deliberate one.
What will you pick? To be the ship of life captain or to live under his orders as just a sailor man?