DBT Emotion Regulation: Using Opposite Action for Anxiety

I started a new side gig this weekend with an event company (because most of us need a couple of hustles to pay the bills, ya know what I mean?)

I’ve got a bit of a background in bar 🍺 and restaurant management. When I’m in the hospitality zone, there are many aspects of this industry that I find truly enjoyable. What I’ve found though, is that whenever I take some time away, getting back into it is always incredibly anxiety inducing.

This was amplified even more as I’ve spent the last year fairly isolated. The scared little introvert inside of me hasn’t had to really interact with STRANGERS in a good while. 😨 I get self-conscious & I worry that people won’t like me.

There were a lot of times as a child, I didn’t know the right thing to say to keep conversations going. My social skillset was not as advanced as my peers for many years. So all these old insecurities come up. Quickly followed by my old familiar friend anxiety. I see him walking in the door like “Hey, ya miss me?” 🧟‍♂️

Um no! Anxiety, you are not my friend!!!

I remind myself I’m a DBT Ninja 🥋- I’ve got skills for this. Low grade anxiety (less than 6 on a scale of 1-10) is a perfect chance to practice the Emotion Regulation skill Opposite Action to Fear.

Each emotion has a primary action urge associated with it. This urge is the physical expression of the emotion. Acting upon this urge, gives the emotion what it “wants.” When our emotions are helpful & valid to the current situation, then all is as it should be.👌

However, if our emotions don’t fit the facts of the current situation. Such as…
– they are more intense than the situation calls for
– based in past trauma
– they are transference emotions (really intended for another person/situation)
– due to incorrect information (false data)

Then acting on the action urges, feeds the invalid emotion and allows it to continue refiring. Possibly intensifying and probably keeping you stuck in a thought loop from hell 🧠.

Anxiety is low grade fear.

😱Fear is a justified emotion / fits the facts when😱
There is a threat to LIFE, HEALTH or WELLBEING of you or someone you care about.

For many (if not most) of the situations we face anxiety about, there is very little actual threat. However, many of our nervous systems have become accustomed 🧬to running continuously on anxiety mode, producing stress hormones as if our bodies actually were in danger.

For my new job anxiety, was there any threat to me or someone I care about? Absolutely not! Worst case scenario – I absolutely hated it. Well then I had committed 4️⃣ hours of my life. Nothing more. Four hours of anything is tolerable!!

Since fear makes us want to avoid (if I don’t get close to it, it can’t hurt me), opposite action for fear requires embracing whole heartedly💗 the things that you are afraid of.

So what did I do to keep my anxiety in check?

1 )I used the #copeahead skill in the days leading up to my first shift. Since I knew I would have baseline anxiety that day, I tried to prepare ahead of time as much as possible. Obtaining copies of my paperwork, trying on an outfit, and googling my route were all done days in advance to keep everything the day of as low stress as possible.

2) I showed up to my shift on time. I put on my biggest smile, introduced myself & jumped right into setup. I engaged mindfully in the work. Since I was focused on the task at hand, my brain was not free to go into thought loops of “Do they like me?” or “Am I going to be good enough?” I just did my best, with a smile on my face.

And ya know what – I enjoyed it. Had a blast! Can’t wait for my next shift. I’m stoked to have found this opportunity because it fits perfectly with my current writing and client schedule. I have no doubt this job will be filled with many positive interactions and happy memories. 🎉

Opposite Action Step by Step

Opposite Action is an emotion regulation skill – thus it is for use whenever your emotions are moderately (but not extremely) elevated.

  1. Label the emotion you are currently feeling.
  2. Check the facts. Does this emotion make sense with what’s going on right now? Is it more intense than it should be?
  3. Label the action urges for this emotion. What does the emotion want to do to feed itself?
    <<When the emotion does not fit the facts, the intensity is considerably higher than it should be or if acting on the urges would not be helpful to your life >>
  4. Identify an action that is opposite to your original action urge. ( My anxiety urge is to avoid, so opposite action was to engage confidently).
  5. Do it!
  6. Do it again! Keep repeating your opposite action until the emotion has subsided. Sometimes, this is quick and easy. Other times it takes a lot of repeats. Remember – every time you do you opposite action you are choosing not to feed that unhelpful emotion. That means you are in the drivers seat. The emotions may stop by, but you have the ultimate power.

Using opposite action for anxiety, reminds me that I am in control. I will never be able to completely prevent the anxiety from showing up. But I do not have to give over to it either. Sure it’s usually uncomfortable at first, but I am a more than capable adult. I can face my fears. Each time I do, I come away knowing I am a strong woman. 💪

So how do you use #oppositeaction for Anxiety? What other emotions do you use it to help with? Share your experiences in the comments section below!

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Published by Jamie Schmidt

Just a human being on a journey of self discovery. Psychology + Spirit + Healing

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