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Emotion Regulation


Source: Get Self Help


In DBT, we use Emotion Regulation skills in order to change our emotions or situations.  But sometimes it's not appropriate or we're not able to change the situation or our emotions, then we should use Distress Tolerance skills.


Emotions are normal and everyone experiences them.  Sometimes, particularly when we have had persistent distressing experiences during our lives, we can emotionally react more often to situations (that others may not find distressing) where we feel threatened.  The distress can be very intense and it's difficult to manage ourselves and situations when things are feeling so over-whelming.


Learning Emotion Regulation skills will help us learn to effectively manage and change the way we feel and cope with situations.


Emotions, thoughts and what we do or feel an urge to do (behaviours) are all linked and become vicious cycles.  Changing one part of the cycle will help improve the situation and help you feel better.


When we experience really strong negative emotions, it’s easy to get caught up into the old pattern of using unhelpful and damaging coping strategies such as using substances, self-harming or unhealthy eating habits.

Emotions are closely linked to our bodies, and each emotion has a particular behaviour linked to it.  The word "emotion" can be described as E - MOTION (Elicit Motion).  Emotion causes us to react and move in certain ways. 


If emotions cause our bodies to react in certain ways, then doing something different - doing the opposite ('Opposite Action') - can affect and help change our emotions.

 Opposite Emotion – do something that will help you to feel the opposite of what you feel now.  For example, if you feel depressed, watch a funny movie or tv programme, or listen to some uplifting music.


Increase positive emotions


Do more enjoyable activities – every day.  Do more enjoyable activities than you would normally do, schedule them in each day.


DO ONE THING each day.


Be mindful of positive experiences

  • Focus your attention on positive events as they happen

  • Notice when your mind wanders to unhelpful thoughts, and bring your focus back to the current situation


Changing the way we think


As thoughts play such an important role in our distressing emotions, it can be very effective to notice these thoughts, and learn to think differently, or to think about thoughts in a different way.  When you start to feel upset


Questions to ask yourself when you feel distressed STOP! 


Pause, take a breath, don't react automatically


Ask yourself:


  • What am I reacting to?

  • What is it that's really pushing my buttons here? 

  • What is it that I think is going to happen here?

  • What's the worst (and best) that could happen?  What's most likely to happen?

  • Am I getting things out of proportion? 

  • How important is this really?  How important will it be in 6 months time? 

  • What harm has actually been done?

  • Am I expecting something from this person or situation that is unrealistic?

  • Am I overestimating the danger?

  • Am I underestimating my ability to cope?

  • Am I using that negative filter? Those gloomy specs?  Is there another way of looking at it?

  • What advice would I give to someone else in this situation?

  • Am I spending time ruminating about the past or worrying about the future?  What could I do right now that would help me feel better?

  • Am I putting more pressure on myself, setting up expectations of myself that are almost impossible?  What would be more realistic?

  • Am I mind-reading what others might be thinking?

  • Am I believing I can predict the future?

  • Is there another way of looking at this?

  • What advice would I give someone else in this situation?

  • Am I putting more pressure on myself?

  • Just because I feel bad, doesn't mean things really are bad.

  • Am I jumping to conclusions about what this person meant?  Am I mis-reading between the lines?  Is it possible that they didn't mean that?

  • Am I exaggerating the good aspects of others, and putting myself down?  Or am I exaggerating the negative and minimising the positives? How would someone else see it?  What’s the bigger picture?

  • Things aren’t either totally white or totally black – there are shades of grey.  Where is this on the spectrum?

  • This is just a reminder of the past.  That was then, and this is now.  Even though this memory makes me feel upset, it’s not actually happening again right now.

  • What do I want or need from this person or situation?  What do they want or need from me?  Is there a compromise?

  • What would be the consequences of responding the way I usually do?

  • Is there another way of dealing with this?  What would be the most helpful and effective action to take?  (for me, for the situation, for the other person)




What Are Emotions & Benefits of Increased Awareness Of Emotions

Matthew Tull Ph.D




Your Emotions: Benefits of Increased Awareness


Knowing what you are feeling, on the other hand, helps you figure out how to make yourself feel better. Not every healthy coping strategy works the same for every emotional experience. For example, expressive writing might work better for sadness than anger, where taking a "time-out" would work best. When you know what you are feeling, you can better figure out exactly what coping strategy is needed for the specific emotion you are experiencing.


How do you identify what you are feeling? Learn how to get started better knowing and labeling what you are feeling.


What Makes Up an Emotion?


An emotion has many parts:


  • Thoughts:       Ideas or images that pop into your head when you are experiencing an emotion.

  • Your Body's Response:     The physical changes you experience (for example, increased heart rate, feeling queasy) when you experience an emotion.

  • Behaviors:       The things you want or feel an urge to do when you experience a certain emotion.


All the emotions you have are made up of these three parts (whether you are aware of it or not). Most people, however, are not really aware of these different parts. Sometimes one component is so strong that it makes it difficult to get in touch with the others. Other times, one part may be so uncomfortable that a person automatically "shuts down" that part. For example, a person may actively try to push away or suppress uncomfortable thoughts, and, in extreme cases, a person may use dissociation to distance themselves from all aspects of an emotion.


Identifying What Makes Up An Emotion


Knowing what thoughts, physical sensations, and behaviors often accompany certain emotions can help you get in touch with your own. Listed below are some common experiences that accompany several emotions often experienced by people with PTSD.



  • Physical Sensations: Racing heart, "tunnel vision," shortness of breath

  • Thoughts: "I am in danger. Something terrible is going to happen."

  • Behaviors: Getting out of a situation, freezing, crying



  • Physical Sensations: Low energy, slower heart rate, queasy feeling

  • Thoughts: "My situation is never going to change. I am all alone in this."

  • Behaviors: Isolating yourself, seeking out help, crying



  • Physical Sensations: Racing heart, muscle tension, jaw clenching

  • Thoughts: "Life is unfair. Everyone is out to get me."

  • Behaviors: Yelling, picking a fight with someone, slamming doors


Make up your own list like this. Next time you experience an emotion, try to identify all the different parts of it and then label that emotion.


Coping With Your Emotions


Once you have identified at least one or two things for each part of an emotion, think of what kind of coping strategy you might use to manage that emotion. For example, if you are experiencing an emotion that includes increased heart rate and muscle tension, you might want to try a coping strategy that will bring those feelings down, such as progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing. There are a number of healthy coping strategies available that can be effective in managing uncomfortable emotional experiences.




Managing Intense Emotions Using Distraction

~ Matthew Tull Ph.D



Purposeful use of distraction techniques can actually be of benefit in coping with emotions that are strong and feel uncomfortable.


People with PTSD often experience very strong and uncomfortable emotions, such as fear, anger, sadness, and shame. These emotions can be very difficult to deal with, and as a result, they may lead people with PTSD to use unhealthy coping strategies, such as alcohol or drug use.



Although alcohol and drugs may initially work in taking away an intense feeling, this is only a temporary fix. In the long-run, alcohol and drug use often leads to more intense emotions and other problems.


Given this, it is important to learn how to cope with very strong emotions in the moment using skills that do not put you at risk for long-term negative consequences. One such skill is distraction.


What is Distraction?

Just as the name implies, distraction is anything you do to temporarily take your attention off of a strong emotion. Sometimes, focusing on a strong emotion can make it feel even stronger and more out of control. Therefore, by temporarily distracting yourself, you may give the emotion some time to decrease in intensity, making it easier to manage.


What Distraction is Not

A key part of the above definition of distraction is the word, "temporarily." Distraction is not about trying to escape or avoid a feeling. With distraction, it is implied that you eventually will return to the feeling you were having.


Then, once the intensity of the feeling has reduced, you will try to use another skill to manage the emotion, such as expressive writing.


Distraction can keep you safe in the moment by preventing unhealthy behaviors (such as drug use or deliberate self-harm) that occur in response to a strong feeling, as well as making a feeling easier to cope with in the long-run.


What Can I Do To Distract Myself?

There are a number of things you can try to distract yourself. Listed below are some common distraction techniques.


  • Count backwards from a large number by sevens or some other number (for example, 856, 849, 842, 835, etc.).

  • Take part in a fun and challenging game that requires some level of attention, such as a crossword puzzle or Sudoku.

  • Focus your attention on your environment. Name all the colors in the room. Try to memorize and recall all the objects that you see in a room.

  • Do something creative. Draw a picture or build a model.

  • Do some chores, such as cleaning the house, doing laundry, or washing dishes.

  • Read a good book or watch a funny movie.

  • Call or write a letter to a good friend or family member.

  • Exercise.

  • Go out shopping (even if it is just window shopping).

  • Take part in a self-soothing behavior.

  • Practice mindfulness. Focus on your breathing.


Try to come up with your own list of distraction activities that you can use when you experiencing a strong emotion that is difficult to cope with in the moment. The more you are able to come up, the more flexible you can be in coming up with the best activity depending upon the situation you are in.




Coping Using Self Soothing

~ Matthew Tull Ph.D




When you are upset, it is important to have ways of coping with stress. For example, seeking out social support can be an excellent way of improving your mood. However, symptoms of PTSD, such as unpleasant memories or thoughts about a past traumatic event, can sometimes occur unexpectedly, and social support may not be readily available.

Therefore, it is important to learn coping strategies that you can do on your own.



Coping strategies focused on improving your mood that you can do on your own are sometimes described as self-soothing or self-care coping strategies.

Effective self-soothing coping strategies may be those that involve one or more of the five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound). Listed below are examples of self-soothing strategies for each sense.



  • Soaking in a warm bath

  • Getting a massage

  • Relaxing in the warmth of the sun

  • Stretching

  • Going for a swim

  • Changing into comfortable clothes

  • Playing with an animal



  • Eating a comforting meal

  • Sipping herbal tea

  • Eating healthy food

  • Slowly sucking on hard candy

  • Shopping for flowers

  • Smelling lavender or vanilla

  • Lighting a scented candle

  • Deeply breathing in fresh air     



  • Seeing a funny movie or watching a funny television show

  • Reading a good book

  • Looking at pictures of loved ones

  • Looking at pictures of a past vacation or places that you would like to visit

  • Watching the clouds



  • Listening to relaxing music

  • Singing to yourself

  • Saying positive statements to yourself or self-encouragement

  • Playing a musical instrument

  • When engaging in these strategies, make sure to focus completely on the task at hand. That is, be mindful of your senses and what you are experiencing, and anytime you are distracted, simply bring your attention back to what you are doing.

    Come up with your own self-soothing strategies that you can do when you are upset. Try to come up with as many as you can. The more you can come up, the better off you will be in improving your mood when you are experiencing distress.



  • Sipping herbal tea

  • Eating healthy food

  • Slowly sucking on hard candy

  • Smelling lavender or vanilla

  • Lighting a scented candle

  • Deeply breathing in fresh air


When engaging in these strategies, make sure to focus completely on the task at hand. That is, be mindful of your senses and what you are experiencing, and anytime you are distracted, simply bring your attention back to what you are doing.


Come up with your own self-soothing strategies that you can do when you are upset. Try to come up with as many as you can. The more you can come up, the better off you will be in improving your mood when you are experiencing distress.




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