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3 Emotion Regulation Skills to Remember During Times of Stress

A depressed woman at home is looking away with a sad expression

We all have a range of emotions, and they can be wonderful, painful, and anything in between. Emotions are one way people understand the world and how they want to live. For example, the joy someone feels when they’re falling in love helps them decide if they want to commit to a relationship with this person. Another example of emotions is stress.

However, these feelings can be very difficult and intense sometimes, and dealing with them can seem overwhelming. Strong emotions can trigger responses that make you feel worse and aren’t helpful. If a frustrating day at work leads you to yell at your boss, you’re no longer benefitting from your emotions, you’re suffering from them. 

Psychotherapy can help people face painful feelings, but it can also do more than that. We’ve all had moments when our emotions got the better of us, but for some people, this is a persistent struggle that affects their lives. For these people, therapy can help them learn the skills they need for healthier emotion regulation.

What is emotion regulation?

Emotion regulation is the ability to deal with your feelings healthily. As Psych Central explains, this means that you’re able to recognize your emotions, manage them, and respond appropriately, even when emotions are difficult and intense.

This doesn’t mean that you can stop yourself from feeling difficult emotions. But having the skills you need to address how you’re feeling can help prevent emotional spirals that feel out of control. The goal isn’t to mute your feelings but to be aware of them and experience them in healthy ways. 

Why do people struggle with emotion regulation?

There are lots of reasons someone might have a hard time managing their emotions. They might have grown up in a home where the adults lacked these skills, so they weren’t able to teach them. Or they may have had traumatic experiences that affected their emotional reactions. Emotion regulation can be a component of mental illness, such as anxiety disorder or borderline personality disorder. 

A stressed and tired woman is sitting in the living room.

Whatever the reason, people who struggle with emotion regulation often feel shame about it. Not being in control of your reactions can be scary or embarrassing, and it rarely improves your life. 

But struggling with emotion regulation isn’t a moral failing; it just means that there are skills that you could learn to help you better navigate difficult feelings. There are different layers to this process, but it can be done. Here are some skills you can start working on today.

Stress and Emotion Regulation Skills for Difficult Moments

The work of learning emotion regulation is something we recommend you do with the support of a therapist. They can guide you to identify the skills you can develop and help you understand, navigate, and accept your emotional needs. Things such as mindfulness therapy are very helpful with emotion regulation.

But there are also skills that you can start using today to help you get through intense emotions when they come up. Here are some of the ways you can respond the next time you need help managing your emotions. 

1. Name the emotion.

It may seem obvious, but simply defining what you’re feeling enables you to focus your attention in helpful ways. When someone experiences intense feelings like stress, their thinking can become distorted. For example, if you’re upset because you were passed up for a promotion at work, it’s easy to focus on how unfair that is, so your anger grows until yelling at your boss seems justified. But simply taking a moment to identify your emotion can help you change your inner dialogue.  

2. Accept the emotion and experience it.

Trying to repress what you’re feeling rarely works. Bottled-up anger or fear usually just escalates until you lose control of it. 

A beautiful girl is learning to accept and experience her emotions

But if you can sit with the feeling for a moment, the intensity usually doesn’t continue to grow. Instead, remind yourself that emotions aren’t “right” or “wrong,” and give yourself some compassion for how difficult the moment is. Notice how your body feels. Where are you experiencing the emotion? Just observe how you feel in the moment.

3. Try to TIPP

One approach that’s commonly used in dialectical behavioural therapy is called TIPP. This stands for Temperature, Intense exercise, Paced breathing, and Paired muscle reaction. These skills can help you refocus when you’re feeling overwhelmed by emotions. They don’t just distract you; they activate the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body. Here’s how it works.


This step refers to changing the literal temperature of your body. You can do this by splashing cold water on your face or even dunking your face in cool tap water. You can also hold an ice pack on your face or eyes. This triggers a reaction called the mammalian diving reflex, which causes your heart rate to drop and a relaxation response in your body. Intense exercise

If you can exercise hard enough to get your heart pumping for at least 20 minutes, it will help you burn off some of that heightened energy. Go for a jog or a brisk walk. You can even do jumping jacks or walk up and down stairs in your home. 

Paced breathing

A beautiful and young woman is doing breathing exercises at home to reduce stress
Paced breathing

Stress often triggers a breathing pattern of short, shallow breaths. This sends signals to the brain that you’re not safe, increasing the sensation of stress. You can interrupt this self-feeding cycle with paced breathing. Simply inhale slowly, counting how long it tasks. Then exhale even more slowly, extending it at least a second longer than the inhale. Try to work your way up to a five-second inhale and 10-second exhale. 

Paired muscle relaxation

During emotional stress, people tend to tense muscles all over the body without even realizing it. Again, this triggers a brain response to prepare your body for fight or flight. To combat this, tense your muscles and then relax them, paying attention to how they feel as you release the tension. You can work your way up from your toes to your head, tensing and relaxing different muscle groups as you go. 

Emotion Regulations Skills Can Help

If you struggle with your emotions, therapy can help you learn the skills you need to feel calmer and in control. At Trillium Counselling, our therapists have helped many people discover how they can live happier, healthier lives. If you’re ready to face your emotions with us by your side, please contact us today. 

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