In Dialectical Behavior Therapy, emotional regulation is a key skill used to help individuals feel more capable of coping with and managing their emotional experience. Emotional regulation includes the ability to identify, understand, and accept emotions while also controlling impulsive behaviors and being flexible in different emotional situations.
Emotions are energy experienced in our nervous system that ask to be expressed. Emotions provide information about what is happening and what you may need to do so that you feel able to respond. When we ignore our emotions our body and nervous system responds by creating tension and stress. By shutting down our emotions without exploring them, we create a habit of ignoring our needs and denying ourselves the opportunity to meet those needs.
So, what does emotional regulation look like?
In regulating emotions, first acknowledge the presence of the emotion without judgment. In this nonjudgmental observation of emotions, space is created to become aware of our response to the emotion. This acknowledgement and awareness can lead to feelings of validation as the emotion is honored, rather than shoved down or brushed aside. From this place of validation, it becomes easier to interpret the message and need the emotion is connected to. Then, an emotion regulation skill can be used to decide how to respond and act.
Emotion regulation can be challenging, especially if we have spent lots of time ignoring or invalidating our emotions. But every time emotion regulation skills are practiced it becomes a little bit easier. Here are some skills you can start applying now.
Skill 1: HALT – acknowledging emotions
Acknowledging emotions is an important first step of emotion regulation, but sometimes we do not know how to start doing that. One way to start this intentional practice of emotion regulation is to pay attention to strong emotional experiences. Four experiences to pay attention to can be found by using the acronym HALT.
Are you feeling?
When we feel these things, there are needs that are being unmet. For example, if you realize you are hungry and acting in a way you do not want to – perhaps the way to meet that need is to have a snack or meal. By acknowledging the experience, we can start to recognize the need and what response would be helpful.
Skill 2: ABC PLEASE – decrease vulnerability with unwanted emotions
Another skill is ABC PLEASE. This skill helps decrease feelings of vulnerability when experiencing unwanted emotions. The ABC skills help build up resources that can be drawn on, while the PLEASE skills focus on taking care of your body so you can take care of your mind.
Accumulate positive experiences: participate in activities we enjoy and work towards something positive
Build Master: consistently work on self-improvement, hobbies, and talents to boost confidence
Cope Ahead: if we know about an upcoming situation that will make us uncomfortable, preparing ahead of time can decrease worry or anxiety you may feel in that situation
PhysicaL Illness: Take care of your body by seeing a doctor when necessary and taking prescribed medication.
Balanced Eating: Eat regularly and mindfully throughout the day.
Avoid Mood-Altering Substances: Do not use illicit drugs and be mindful of alcohol intake.
Balance Sleep: Aim to get enough consistent sleep to help you feel good throughout the day.
Get Exercise: Participate in some form of movement every day.
Hopefully, these skills provide you with some starting points for emotion regulation. And of course, if you want more information about these skills and other DBT skills, please reach out to a mental health professional.
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