DBT Emotion Regulation Skills: How to Cope with Intense Feelings (2023)

Key Takeaways:

  • Emotion regulation is a person’s ability to manage and control their emotions.
  • Emotional regulation skills can help us react more appropriately to different situations.
  • You can use several emotional regulation skills to help you.

Emotions can be tough. We all have different reactions to things, and that’s completely normal. Adults may feel frustrated while stuck in traffic while kids might feel disappointed after failing a test. Sometimes we have outbursts of intense feelings depending on the life situation we are going through. DBT emotion regulation skills can help us control and manage our feelings in more appropriate ways so we can express them healthily.

Let’s further understand how emotion regulation works.

What is DBT Emotion Regulation?

Emotional regulation is essentially an individual’s ability to exert control over their emotions through different approaches. Some people can regulate their emotions better than others. This is because they have developed an awareness of their internal experiences and how this might affect the feelings of others.

DBT emotion regulation is the third module in dialectical behavior therapy, building off of two other modules (mindfulness and distress tolerance). It teaches individuals how to manage overwhelming or negative emotions while increasing positive experiences.

In DBT emotion regulation, patients are first taught to identify and label emotions. Patients then get coaching on how to be mindful of current emotions and actions. They then get both individual DBT therapy sessions and group DBT settings distress tolerance techniques to correct any destructive behavior that would normally arise from overwhelming emotions.

(Video) DBT Skills: Emotion Regulation and Acceptance

What are DBT Emotion Regulation Skills?

There are three goals in the DBT emotional regulation module: understand one’s emotions, decrease emotional vulnerability, and reduce emotional suffering. These are broad categories of skills that can be learned using specific techniques.

First is understanding and labeling emotions. Patients are taught to use specific language in labeling their emotions, such as “frustrated” or “anxious.” This is more helpful than saying one “feels bad,” which is vague and difficult to define and manage. Patients also learn how to distinguish between primary emotions and secondary emotions. Primary emotions are our initial reactions to events, while secondary emotions are reactions to our thoughts and feelings.

Other skills in DBT emotion regulation include reducing emotional vulnerability by building on positive experiences in life. Individuals are encouraged to plan out one or two activities that they can look forward to daily and engage in mindfully.

The last part of this module is about decreasing emotional suffering, which is made up of two skills: letting go and taking opposite action.

We’ll go into more detail on how these skills can be applied.

The Importance of Emotion Regulation Skills

Emotion regulation skills can help us pause between what we feel and our reactions to these feelings. These skills help us slow down and then act more objectively after we have assessed our feelings. These may include primary or even secondary feelings like anger. For instance, a child who yells and hits their friends has less developed emotion regulation skills than a child who tells the teacher about their problems instead of engaging in angry behavior.

Emotional regulation skills also give us the power to stay calm under pressure. This allows us to act objectively and avoid going against our core values and ethics.

(Video) Cooling Down Your Emotions With DBT Emotion Regulation Skills

Understanding our Emotions

Understanding our emotions is essential to emotion regulation. Every emotion that we feel serves a specific purpose. They provide us with valuable information on how to feel about a certain situation so we can react accordingly. However, our emotions are not always accurate assessors of our experiences. It is here where it is valuable to pause and understand our emotions more thoroughly so we can regulate and respond in the best way.

Whenever you notice that you are experiencing a certain emotion, try to observe it without judgment. Some emotions might be more unpleasant than others, but each one is valuable. As you begin to understand what the emotion is telling you, you can then decide whether to listen to it or to let it go.

DBT Emotion Regulation Skills

Developing emotional regulation skills is best done with an integrated approach. Below are a few skills that you can try. Figure out which combination of strategies work the best for you.


ABC PLEASE skills are meant to decrease your vulnerability to experiencing unpleasant or unwanted emotions.

Accumulate Positive Experience: “A” stands for accumulating positive experiences. It is important to regularly participate in activities that you enjoy as well as setting and working toward long-term goals.

Build Mastery: “B” stands for building mastery. This is a skill that encourages us to constantly improve our talents and ourselves. Building mastery can help us feel successful and accomplished, which in turn makes us feel more confident and able to succeed in other areas.

Cope Ahead: “C” stands for cope ahead, which helps us prepare in advance for uncomfortable situations. This helps us decrease anxiety before and throughout the uncomfortable experience. One common example is studying before taking a test.

(Video) DBT Skills: Emotion Regulation and Calming Your Emotions

Physical Illness: It is important to treat physical illness to allow us to pay attention to our emotions properly.

Eating: Balanced eating allows us to regulate our moods more effectively.

Avoid Mood-Altering Drugs: Avoiding non-prescribed mood-altering drugs can keep us in control of our emotions.

Sleep: Balanced sleep also regulates mood.

Exercise: Getting enough exercise can improve our emotions significantly.

PLEASE skills are guidelines we can follow to help us take care of our physical health, which is closely linked to our mental health. Caring for our bodies increases the likelihood of a positive emotional experience.

DBT Check the Facts Skills

The Check the Facts skill is one that guides us to think before reacting to our emotions. It allows us to take a step back, assess, and decide if what we are feeling is appropriate given the situation. The Check the Facts skill asks if the way that you are feeling about a situation is factual to find a fitting response.

(Video) How to Deal with Negative Emotions - Distress Tolerance

You can use mindfulness to build an awareness of your thoughts and emotions. Use words to describe your experience and the corresponding emotion without judging, reacting, or attaching any labels to your feelings. Next, you can ask yourself if the factual situation justifies the intensity of the feeling response. Ask yourself questions, such as “What is the emotion I want to change?” and “Do my assumptions or interpretations of events fit the facts?”

DBT Problem Solving

The DBT Problem Solving skill is extremely useful once you have determined that you have a problem that needs to be solved. When we experience unpleasant emotions resulting from the actions of others or situations we cannot change, we can then collect information and take steps to solve the problem in front of us.

First, define the problem in detail. Then, describe how the problem interferes with your goals or what you want to happen. Issues that do not interfere with your goals are likely not your problems. List down all the alternatives or options that you have and weigh the consequences of each. Have at least three potential solutions; this helps to avoid black-and-white thinking.

Identify the steps you need to take action and how you will execute them. Evaluate the results. If you successfully solved the problem, make sure to give yourself some credit! If the problem was not resolved, then learn more about what is needed to solve the issue until you can fix it.

DBT Ride the Wave

Emotions, especially intense ones, can feel like a rollercoaster ride that isn’t always pleasant or fun. Learning how to ride the wave of rising and falling emotions can help you self-regulate and cope with intense feelings. First, be aware of the emotion and recognize it is something you are feeling rather than something that defines you. Allow yourself to experience the feeling while maintaining this awareness. Remember that the feeling is only a part of you, not your whole being. Then, accept and tolerate your emotion. Try not to assign positive or negative attributes to the feeling. Instead, accept that the feeling is part of you at the moment but recognize that it is only temporary.

DBT Opposite Action Skills

One of the skills that DBTteaches us is how to take the opposite action. We are hardwired to respond to our emotions in a certain way, but we can also take the opposite action to form a more appropriate response. For instance, we might initially respond to the fear of failure with panic, but the opposite action would have us remain calm and wait for the outcome.

The Bottom Line

In order to control your emotions, you can use some of the skills listed above. Each skill may be more effective for some people than others. Some people may experience results quickly while others may not; the key here is consistency. Incorporating basic grounding strategies and using tools like DBT worksheets can help you adapt emotion regulation skills into your life. Trust the process as you go along, and never give up.

(Video) DBT Skills: Changing Unwanted Emotions


DBT Emotion Regulation Skills: How to Cope with Intense Feelings? ›

First, be aware of the emotion and recognize it is something you are feeling rather than something that defines you. Allow yourself to experience the feeling while maintaining this awareness. Remember that the feeling is only a part of you, not your whole being. Then, accept and tolerate your emotion.

What strategies could be used to manage the more intense emotions? ›

Here are some pointers to get you started.
  • Take a look at the impact of your emotions. Intense emotions aren't all bad. ...
  • Keep a mood journal. ...
  • Know when to express yourself. ...
  • Try meditation. ...
  • Talk to a therapist.
Apr 28, 2020

How do you deal with extreme emotional dysregulation? ›

The main forms of treatment are: Psychotherapy. Also known as mental health therapy, this treatment involves working with a mental health professional. They can help you understand how and why you experience emotional dysregulation.

How do you deal with emotions in DBT? ›

Below is a brief overview of six tips you can utilize to aid in this process:
  1. Be mindful of current emotions. ...
  2. Try the 0-10 distress rating scale. ...
  3. Give distress tolerance skills a try. ...
  4. Utilize emotional regulation skills to manage emotion. ...
  5. Practice, practice, practice. ...
  6. Finally, trust the process.
Feb 2, 2020

What is self regulation with intense emotions? ›

Emotional self-regulation refers to a person's ability to manage their emotions and impulses. It is an important part of overall mental and physical well-being. Emotional self-regulation is a skill that people learn and develop throughout childhood and adolescence and into adulthood. Feeling strong emotions is healthy.

What are the 4 steps to manage strong emotions? ›

4 Steps To Managing Your Emotions
  1. Identify What You're Feeling. d. ...
  2. Push the Pause Button [pullquote]The key difference between responding and reacting is that when you respond, you are making a choice.[/pullquote] ...
  3. Think Through Your Options. ...
  4. Respond (Don't React!)

What are three ways to manage difficult emotions? ›

Dealing With Difficult Emotions
  • Step 1: Identify the Emotion. Learning to notice and identify your feelings takes practice. ...
  • Step 2: Take Action. Once you've identified and understood what you're feeling, you can decide how you need to express your emotion. ...
  • Step 3: Get Help With Difficult Emotions.

What is at the root of emotional dysregulation? ›

What causes emotional dysregulation and who's at risk? Some causes can be early childhood trauma, child neglect, and traumatic brain injury.

Why are my emotions so intense and unstable? ›

Causes of Emotional Instability

These include genetics, mental health history (including past trauma), and exposure to certain stimuli such as drug use and abuse. Some of these risk factors cannot be controlled, while some can only increase the likelihood of developing emotional instability.

What is the difference between emotional regulation and emotional dysregulation? ›

These displays of extreme emotion can affect relationships, work, school, and daily life. Someone who is able to regulate their emotions can adapt their behavior when the situation demands. A person who is unable to do so may have a condition called emotional dysregulation.

What is the most important emotional regulation skill taught in DBT? ›

Understanding and Labeling Emotions

The first skill in emotion regulation involves recognizing and naming emotions. Clients are taught to use descriptive labels such as “frustrated” or “anxious,” rather than general terms like “feeling bad,” because vaguely defined feelings are much more difficult to manage.

What is the best therapy for emotional regulation? ›

One approach that can help with emotional dysregulation is dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that seeks to identify negative thinking patterns. Individuals work with a therapist to replace these patterns with positive behavioral changes.

What are the coping affirmations for DBT? ›

"I give myself permission to do what is right for me." "I'm not in danger right now." "I'm strong, and I can deal with this." "I'm in control of how I react to others."

Why is emotional regulation so hard for me? ›

There are many reasons why someone might not be able to control their emotions. Emotional lability not only affects those with mood disorders, but also people with cognitive disorders, and those who have experienced traumatic brain injuries.

What are the three components of emotional regulation? ›

Emotional regulation involves three components:
  • Initiating actions triggered by emotions.
  • Inhibiting actions triggered by emotions.
  • Modulating responses triggered by emotions.
Aug 13, 2019

What are some strategies to help improve emotional skills? ›

How to improve emotional intelligence in 9 steps
  • Be more self-aware. Being aware of your emotions and emotional responses to those around you can greatly improve your emotional intelligence. ...
  • Recognize how others feel. ...
  • Practice active listening. ...
  • Communicate clearly. ...
  • Stay positive. ...
  • Empathize. ...
  • Be open-minded. ...
  • Listen to feedback.
Feb 27, 2023


1. We Feel Our Emotions in Our Body - DBT Emotion Regulation Skill
(Self-Help Toons)
2. DBT Skills Model of Emotions
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3. DBT Skills Checking The Facts (Emotion Regulation)
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4. DBT Skills Emotion Regulation | Counselor Toolbox Podcast with Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes
(Doc Snipes)
5. Trauma Causes Emotional Dysregulation: Here's How to Heal It
(Crappy Childhood Fairy)
6. Coping Skills For Kids - Managing Feelings & Emotions For Elementary-Middle School | Self-Regulation
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