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Practicing Opposite to Emotion Action: A Skill to Help with Intense Emotions

Practicing Opposite to Emotion Action: A Skill to Help with Intense Emotions

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On any given day, humans can experience a wide array of emotions: happiness, sadness, hope, despair, anxiety, guilt, and joy. The list could go on and on. Emotions come and go – they are not stagnant. That being said, we can unintentionally get stuck in or perpetuate an emotion by the way that we respond to emotion through our actions. Oftentimes, when we are experiencing emotions such as sadness, anxiety, guilt, or frustration, we respond in ineffective ways that increase the intensity of emotions, rather than help us move through them skillfully.

Opposite to emotion action is an emotion regulation skill to improve mood.  With any emotion comes an action urge or behavior. The goal of the opposite to emotion action is to identify unhelpful behaviors and urges and to respond in the opposite way to improve mood.

Below are a few examples of how to apply opposite to emotion action:


With anxiety, our action urge may be to avoid what makes us anxious, to procrastinate, or to isolate.  This, in turn, increases our anxiety because we are not facing what makes us anxious. Subsequently, our anxiety increases the next time we are in a similar situation. A great example is calling into work sick due to anxiety around having to speak during a meeting. In the short-term, we feel relieved and relaxed. In the long-term, we are going to be all the more anxious the next time we have to speak in a meeting because of that initial avoidance. The more we approach what makes us anxious, the more we will experience mastery and a sense of self-efficacy in approaching our fears.


When we are feeling sad, our action urge may be to stay in bed, withdraw from social supports, and to engage in compare and despair. In the short-term, it may feel easier to isolate ourselves from supports and break our routine; however, we know that this actually increases feelings of sadness. Instead, we want to do the opposite to boost our mood. This means getting out of bed, even though it feels difficult, reaching out to social supports, and engaging in activities that build a sense of mastery such as engaging in a hobby, working, or giving back.


When we are feeling angry, our action urge may be to yell, lash out, or internalize our emotions only to explode when we hit our breaking point. When we engage in these behaviors, often times, we elicit defensiveness and even anger from those we may be frustrated with. Consequently, we are not able to have an effective conversation around the situation at hand. Doing the opposite action in this situation means taking a ‘time-out’ to calm our body and mind, approach the person or situation gently, and to use assertive vs. aggressive or passive aggressive language to communicate our feelings or needs. By doing so, we increase the likelihood of effectively communicating and coping with anger instead of exacerbating it.

Opposite to emotion action is just one of many skills that our therapists at The OCD & Anxiety Center teach clients to help them manage anxiety and discomfort. If you are struggling with intense feelings of anxiety or sadness, feel free to reach out to us at (630) 522-3124 or info@theocdandanxietycenter.com.

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2805 Butterfield Road suite 120
Oak Brook, IL 60523

(630) 522-3124

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