Emotional regulation is an incredibly important practice that allows individuals to learn to identify their emotions, increase emotional resilience, lower unpleasant emotions, decrease emotional vulnerability, and better cope with strong emotions as they come. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) teaches how emotions work and provides skills on how to better manage emotions, work with them instead of letting them control and take over your mind. Here are three ways to better regulate your emotions.
1. Opposite Action
One of the most simple yet overlooked emotion regulation techniques is opposite action. Opposite action recognizes that action and behavior often accompany an emotion and that pairing a different action with an unwanted emotion can contrast and override the current feeling. Consider this example:
Old Action: Isolate and lay in bed.
New Action: Go outside for a walk and to call a loved one.
Now, this is difficult and takes committed work, and acknowledging the current emotions and feelings is still important for reflection and healing. Engaging in an opposite action can change or create a new emotion, or a newly learned pattern, and prepare you for how to respond in the future.
PLEASE is an acronym that provides tips on how to regulate emotions. This strategy stresses the link between the brain and the body and emphasizes that a healthier body can lead to a healthier mind, and vice versa.
PL: Treat Physical Illness
Physical and mental health are closely related, making a sick body less equipped to deal with life’s demands and heightened emotions. Treating physical illness can look like taking vitamins, seeing a physician, getting blood work done, and resting if you feel a cold coming.
E: Balanced Eating
Eating too much, too little, or not getting enough nutrients can greatly affect one’s mental state. This doesn’t mean adopting a strict diet or not allowing processed foods or sweets - it stresses having a well-balanced diet that meets your nutritional needs with enough fruit, plants, healthy fats, protein, and energy.
A: Avoid Mind-Altering Substances
Substances such as illegal drugs, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, and others can decrease functioning and make it difficult to utilize coping mechanisms and skills. If you do use any of these substances, how often/how much? Do you feel like you use them too much? How can you get help, if needed?
We’ve all heard it - enough, restful sleep is necessary for mental, emotional, and physical health. If you’re having trouble sleeping, look for ways to aid in falling and staying asleep and consult professional help if necessary.
Getting an adequate amount of physical activity has been linked to better sleep, improved emotions, less physical illness, and more. Getting in exercise can be difficult yet adding a thirty-minute walk, taking a kickboxing class, participating in a kickball league, or going to the gym can set you up to build emotional resilience.
It’s understandable that not all of these can be done to perfection 100% of the time, yet taking steps to improve some, if not all, of these facets of life can lead to improved emotion regulation and coping. Starting small, trying one new thing, having others hold you accountable, or setting a goal with a plan can help achieve these important physical and mental benefits.
ABC is another acronym that emphasizes adding and creating positive feelings and experiences to help decrease vulnerability when negative emotions arise.
A: Accumulate Positive Experiences
Accumulating positive experiences simply means doing things that are pleasant and enjoyable. This can be accomplished by doing daily things such as trying a new restaurant or going to the beach, or by setting and achieving goals.
B: Build Mastery
Mastery encourages you to do one (or more) thing a day that creates feelings of accomplishment, confidence, and encouragement. Practicing mastery can create a sense of control and make you feel more capable of yourself and how you handle difficult situations and emotions. This may look like completing a task, practicing a new recipe, or reading a thrilling book. It’s important to finish out the skill of mastery by recognizing your progress and accomplishments while giving yourself credit.
C: Cope Ahead
Coping ahead means preparing for moments of difficulty before they come. Most of us think more logically when we are not in a state of crisis or intense emotional vulnerability, and coping in advance can help us anticipate and handle these moments better. For example, if a student is stressed about taking an important standardized test, they may cope ahead by setting up tutoring sessions, creating a timeline for studying, getting a good night’s sleep, and eating a fulfilling and healthy breakfast beforehand.
By honing individual skills and talents, feeling more confident, and taking preventative measures to care for yourself, you will be better prepared to face life’s challenges and deal with intense emotions as they come and go.
Written by Carolyn Simon, MS, LPC