Top 10 Ways to Regulate Emotions – Part Two

Top 10 - Emotion Regulation - Part Two

Ready to learn about five more strategies of emotion regulation?  As mentioned in Top 10 Ways to Regulate Emotions – Part One, strategies six and seven are specifically endorsed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  The following emotion regulation strategies are adapted from The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook (McKay, Wood, & Brantley, 2007).

(6) Taking Opposite Action

An important DBT strategy for changing or regulating intense emotions involves changing its “behavioral-expressive component by acting in a way that opposes or is inconsistent with the emotion” (Linehan, 1993, p. 151).  Taking opposite action does not imply blocking the expression of an emotion, but rather expressing a different emotion.

An example of this would be having the subjective experience of being so depressed that there is no desire to get out of bed or interact with anyone, and then choosing to challenge this emotion (not denying that it exists) by deciding to get up and simply take a walk around the block.  While this is unlikely to eliminate the experience of being depressed, it is likely to create some positive changes in the way that you feel.

(7) Applying Distress Tolerance Techniques

When you are feeling angry, sad, or anxious, there is sometimes an urge to “do something” that will block out or blunt this seemingly unbearable negative emotional experience.  Intense negative emotional states are bearable.  Taking impulsive actions when experiencing strong negative emotions is quite likely to make matters worse.  Specific strategies for tolerating distress are discussed in my previous post, Top 10 Ways to Tolerate Distress.

(8) Reducing Physical Vulnerability to Overwhelming Emotions

This is a similar idea to reducing vulnerability to “emotion mind.”  While it is important to identify and understand the ways in which thoughts and behaviors influence your emotions, it’s just as important to consider the way your physical state of being can make you more or less vulnerable to overwhelming emotions.

A way to begin assessing how your physical health impacts your vulnerability to intense affect is by asking yourself: (1) How do my eating habits affect how I feel?; (2) What are the temporary rewards & long-term costs for my overeating or undereating behaviors?; (3) What are the temporary rewards & long-term costs for my alcohol and drug use?; and (4) How does my sleep (or lack of sleep) affect how I feel?

(9) Emotion Exposure

A major goal of DBT involves facing your emotions, rather than avoiding them.  When we face the reality of our emotional experience, we are able to make choices about how we would like to feel differently or how we would like to respond to the situation.  Emotion exposure begins by keeping a journal to record specific emotionally triggering events, the specific emotion elicited, and the subsequent coping or blocking response.  By recording these aspects of an emotionally intense experience, you can begin to identify how you typically respond to particular emotions.

If you are aware that you typically go to great lengths to block out an emotion such as anger, you can begin to gently guide yourself (briefly, at first) towards focusing on the dreaded emotion, how it feels in your body, any impulses to act on or avoid the emotion, and judgments that may arise about the emotion.  This gradual emotion exposure process should be accompanied by an intention to remain mindful of all that you are experiencing.

(10) Being Mindful of Your Emotions Without Judgment

When you are able to become mindful of your emotional states without judging them, you are decreasing the chance of them growing in intensity.  This mindful awareness essentially helps you put the brakes on possibly overwhelming emotional escalation.  Begin by focusing on your breath, observing whatever current emotion you are experiencing.

Try noticing your emotional experience from an outsider observer perspective.  Just notice what is happening – don’t label it as “good” or “bad.”  It can be very difficult to resist the urge the let intense emotions take control.  Notice any thoughts or judgments about the emotion (or even about your intention to mindfully observe the emotion) and let them go.  What comes up for you as you practice this exercise?

Try reflecting on ways that you can integrate these specific emotion regulation techniques into your daily life.  How can you work towards strengthening your awareness of opportunities to mindfully notice your emotions and respond to them with intention?

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Linehan, M.M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

McKay, M., Wood, J.C., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Featured image: over the sun by mindfulness / CC BY 2.0

2 Responses to Top 10 Ways to Regulate Emotions – Part Two
  1. Mary Ross
    April 19, 2011 | 6:05 pm

    Point # 10 is very helpful to me! I hope we hear more about how to not judge an emotion… and let the judgment/thoughts about the emotion go.

    • Laura
      April 21, 2011 | 10:18 pm

      I find many concepts central to practicing mindfulness to be quite simpler in theory than in practice. Cultivating the ability to recognize, identify, and accept emotions while also “letting them go” is no easy task. Simply increasing conscious awareness of the value in letting emotions go can be helpful.

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