Regulating our emotional reactions to stress, in a healthy and adaptive way, does not happen easily or magically. But, it seems most of us assume that it “should" happen easily and effortlessly.  Like any skill, it is only from PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, that this becomes second nature.

Even with repeated review and practice, strong emotions make recollection of the steps difficult. So, I have created this short cheat sheet for the THREE PHASES AND STEPS OF EMOTION REGULATION.

Practice these steps daily, or through out the day, to prevent dysregulation due to stress, and develop your skillfulness so you are prepared when you need to be skillful.


A. First Steps for Emotion Regulation: ASSESS the elements of what is happening

1. ACTION: Stop doing whatever you are doing, so that you may reflect on your own experience
2. EMOTION: Label the emotion you are experiencing in the moment.
     a. A one word answer, such as anger, sadness, disappointment, fear, anxiety.
3. THOUGHTS: What types of thoughts are you having related to the emotion?
     a. All or None
     b. Judgmental
     c. Catastrophizing
     d. Mind Reading
     e. Assuming the worst
     f. Time Traveling

B. Second Steps for Emotion Regulation: Application of SKILLS

1. ACTION: Inhale, expanding the belly, for a count of 3; Exhale, contracting the belly, for a count of 5.
     a. Repeat 6 times
2. EMOTION: Validate it; Practice KIND – NON JUDGMENTAL- COMPASSION towards yourself for having the emotion.
     a. Say to yourself “It makes sense that I am having this emotion, based on….”
        i. My history
        ii. Anyone would feel this way in the same situation
        iii. My current biological disposition (e.g. sleep deprivation, PMS, recent alcohol consumption, medical illness, other stressors)
3. THOUGHTS: Let go of sticky obsessive thoughts, REDIRECT ATTENTION to the present moment.
     a. Move attention to the physical sensations of breathing (see step 1b).
     b. Next, notice the feeling of being inside your mind-body vehicle.
     c. Hear sounds around you

C. Third Steps for Emotion Regulation: LEVEL II SKILLS

1. ACTION: Identify and take the action OPPOSITE to the action tendency of the emotion. NOTE: Only if the emotion has little chance of actually being justified
     a. Anger
Gently avoid, and then practice compassion towards person or situation.
     b. Sadness
Get up, get moving, get active! Go for a workout, be social.
     c. Fear/Anxiety
Move toward the source of the fear, over and over again!
     d. Shame
Share, discuss, out yourself
2. EMOTION: Develop a better relationship with your emotion by Practicing Willingness to have the emotion you are having in the moment.
     a. Repeat the MANTRA “I am willing to have this feeling of…. In this moment

3. THOUGHTS: Check your thoughts for accuracy. Are your thoughts 100% true?
     a. Seek to find an ALTERNATIVE INTERPRETATION of the facts, which is…
            i. Less all or none
            ii. Non-judgmental
            iii. Believable to you!

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