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What Does it Meant to be Dysregulated?

Sometimes when we’re feeling anxious, depressed, or triggered we become dysregulated. This means that we are not able to control our emotions or behaviors. Examples of dysregulation include:

  • Thought spirals
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Self-harm
  • Substance use

What does it mean to self-regulate?

Self-regulation is when we are able to understand and manage our emotions when we become dysregulated through self-soothing and healthy coping mechanisms. Examples of self-regulation include:

  • Cognitive challenging
  • Exercising
  • Distracting ourselves
  • Meditating
  • Journaling
  • Reflecting
  • Grounding

What does it mean to co-regulate?

Co-regulation is when one nervous system helps calm or soothe another nervous system. In order words, another person helps us calm down and relax ourselves to better manage our emotions and behaviors. Examples of co-regulation include:

  • Hugging someone
  • Talking to another person
  • Guiding someone through a meditation
  • Cuddling with another person
  • Holding someone’s hand
  • Coaching someone’s breathing

Who can help us co-regulate?

Anyone can help another person co-regulate:

  • Therapists
  • Doctors and care providers
  • Teachers
  • Parents, guardians, caregivers
  • Friends
  • Partners

All of these individuals can help people co-regulate through different means such as, nurturing, coaching, grounding exercises, hugging, cuddling, holding, and talking.

When is Co-regulation Useful?

Co-regulation is useful in many settings. For example, mothers help soothe infants through co-regulation. Co-regulation can also be helpful with partners during conflict and triggers. Sometimes, a hug or a brief talk can go a long way after a fight. It can help each person regulate so that they can come back to the discussion in a healthier way.

How to ask for co-regulation

If we’re feeling dysregulated it can be difficult to ask for help – especially if we’re upset with the other person. Remember: We can’t get what we want or need without asking. Vulnerability is the glue that repairs relationship ruptures. Next time, try saying something like: “I am feeling flooded right now. Can I have a hug?”

Understanding triggers

Another part of co-regulation includes understanding your partner’s (or the other person’s) triggers. This require both people to share when they are feeling triggered, what events/situations may lead to triggers, and what might be needed to soothe or regulate when triggered. Next time, try saying something like: “It really scares me when we fight. It’s helpful when you hold me.”


  1. Dysregulation is when we are unable to manage our emotions and behaviors.
  2. Self-Regulation is when we are able to understand our emotions and mange our reactions.
  3. Co-regulation is when someone else helps us calm down.
  4. Anyone can help another person co-regulate.
  5. Co-regulation can be especially helpful in relationship conflict.
  6. It’s important to ask for support when feeling dysregulated.
  7. Take time to get to know your partner’s triggers.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.