Two Powerful Ways to Reduce Emotional Arousal

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Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

Have you ever flown off the handle and then wondered, “Where did that come from?” We surprise ourselves sometimes with the range of emotions we’re capable of expressing.

While conveying our emotions is an important part of maintaining emotional well-being, experiencing extremes in emotional arousal can be damaging if they occur frequently or for extended periods. In fact, severe distress and interference with relationships can occur when emotions become out of control.


Luckily, research has shown that we have tools available to us to regulate our emotions. The most common way is to reduce emotional arousal, which we’ll talk about here. But keep in mind that we can also regulate our emotions by occasionally expressing strong emotions (in a mindful way) or by activating positive emotions.

Here are two ways to reduce emotional arousal:

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Meditation. According to research, meditation may be one of the most effective means for decreasing anxiety, panic, and persistent anger. Meditation is also used in about 60% of addiction treatment programs.

If you think there’s only one way to meditate and it involves converting to Buddhism, think again. Several forms of meditation exist that can be adapted to either be spiritually-focused or not. A noticeable benefit of meditation is a reduction in the constant chattering of the mind and the mental images that produce anxiety.

Meditation should be done on a regular basis for maximum benefit. A simple Internet search can point you to meditation resources and classes near you.

Progressive muscle relaxation. While meditation quiets the mind, progressive muscle relaxation can provide physical rest. Progressive muscle relaxation is frequently used by behavioral therapists and is considered a highly effective structured technique that requires regular practice and involves every muscle group in the body.

While there are many progressive relaxation programs available through the Internet and by finding a behavioral therapist, there are basically 4 steps to the technique:

  • Preparation, including proper positioning and a quiet environment
  • Tightening and relaxing each muscle group while focusing on the differences in sensations
  • Relaxing fully and breathing slowly and deeply following the tensing of each muscle group
  • Scanning the body for remaining areas of tension and then repeating the sequence to relax these stubborn spots

If you experience extreme emotional arousal on a regular basis, I encourage you to try one or both of these techniques as a way to find more peace in your everyday life.


Young, M. E. (2013). Learning the art of helping: Building blocks and techniques (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

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