A Simple Check-in Strategy for Emotion Regulation

About This Tool

This is a simple strategy you can use every day to checking on your emotional coping, to gain insight into the early indications that emotion is activating up so that you can utilize a coping strategy to return to the present moment. The strategy uses the Subjective Units of Distress rating scale (SUDS for short). The SUDS is a 1 to 10 rating scale widely in counselling psychology to measure the level of emotional distress a person is experiencing in a given moment. It is ‘subjective’, because you make the rating for yourself. Using the SUDS scale, 0 refers to no distress, and 10 refers to extreme distress.

This handout will walk you through learning the strategy to check-in (noticing your number on SUDS, and the physiological sensations, emotions, and thoughts that are present), in order to intervene with a healthy coping strategy as needed to reduce distress. It is a useful strategy because often we miss the early signs of emotional activation and it only catches our attention when our present moment coping is completely derailed. If we can intervene at the early stages of activation, and engage in a calming activity, we will experience a lot less distress.

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Why It Works

The ability to regulate emotion is one that we need to learn and cultivate. It does not just come naturally to us. When emotion amps up, and we feel totally out of control or panicky, without the ability to regulate emotion in healthy ways we end up doing whatever we need to at that moment to end the distress. Without healthy emotion regulation skills, we might try to numb or use avoidance, which can lead to a habit of retreating from the present moment. The more we use unhealthy coping strategies, the more we withdraw from the present moment. The more unhealthy coping strategies become a habit, the harder it can be to stay connected in the present moment. Before we know it, our unhealthy coping becomes the problem in addition to what caused us to turn toward unhealthy coping in the first place. 

The strategy offered here is one you can use to notice early signs of emotion amping up before it feels too distressing. 

Boon, S., Steele, K., & Van Der Hart, O. (2011). Coping with trauma-related dissociation: Skills training for patients and therapists. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd.

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Why It Works

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