Get Off the Emotional Rollercoaster: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Emotion Regulation Skills

Some people experience a narrow range of emotions. Certain situations arise and they may feel irritation or amusement. Others find themselves careening from one extreme emotion to another. These are the people that might respond to events with more intense feelings like vengefulness or jubilation. Although we all enjoy a little jubilation, the reality is that the rollercoaster from one extreme to the next can leave you exhausted and feeling out-of-control. To make matters worse, people who experience intense emotions often find themselves stuck in negative feelings and unable to get rid of them for long periods of time.

Emotion Regulation Skills in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) were designed to help people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder deal with the intense and painful emotions that often lead them to feel suicidal. In DBT, problem behaviors like substance abuse and self-injury are seen as attempts by the individual to escape these painful emotions. Whether you have a diagnosis of BPD, experience intense emotions or just want to improve your understanding of how your emotions function, DBT Emotion Regulation Skills can enhance your ability to regulate how you feel.

There are many components to learning to regulate emotions. Increasing positive emotional events is one practice that can reduce the negative emotions you experience. Usually when you feel stressed, angry, upset or sad, you do so for good reason. In order to gain better control of your emotions, you can control the events and experiences that trigger them. If you want to experience less negative emotion, you may need to make a more conscious effort to build positive events into your life.

In order to start experiencing positive emotions more frequently, schedule one pleasant activity into every day. Don’t underestimate the power a few immediate positive experiences will have on your mood and emotions. It could be anything: a phone call with a friend, listening to music, exercising, eating food you love, lighting candles or being alone.

To keep positive feelings coming, you need to make long-term changes that will continue to bring positive events into your life. Set goals you want to achieve and plan the small steps towards those goals. You might target your career, interests or health. Whatever goal you choose, it’s important to also pay attention to the people around you. Make sure to keep your relationships strong. If this is a problem area for you, set a goal to repair relationships or improve your connections to others.

Be attentive to where your thoughts are taking you. Negative events happen to us all, but if you’re someone who spends time ruminating on the negative, make a conscious effort to focus on positive experiences. Emotions last only a few seconds. It’s up to you to re-trigger positive or negative feelings with your attention to the events in your life.

Let go of worrying and focus on appreciating the moment. When you worry, you take away the pleasure of the moment. If you notice yourself worried about problems in your life, what is expected of you or all you need to do, tell yourself to let it go. Refocus back onto the positive aspects of your life and the goals you have set for yourself.

Don’t let negative emotions take over your life. If you have good reason to feel bad, you have the power to improve how you’re feeling. Take a look at what’s causing you problems and make some positive changes.


Linehann M. M. (1993). Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: The Guilford Press.

3 Replies to “Get Off the Emotional Rollercoaster: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Emotion Regulation Skills”

  1. I don’t have BPD, but I do live with major depression. The clinic where I see my psychologist and psychiatrist just started offering a 22 week program that incorporates a lot of the DBT skills (Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation Skills & Interpersonal Skills) but is tailored for those living with depression and anxiety. I was fortuante to be offered a place in the very first session and found the skills I learned extremely helpful. And, because I live in Canada, the cost of the course was totally covered by my health care program. I would encourage anyone having an opportunity to learn these skills take advantage of it.

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