The Emotional Thermometer

Different problems require different solutions. On the emotional thermometer (let’s say – from 0 to 100), where we are on this thermometer affects the strategies that we might employ to bring the emotions down to a manageable level. Sometimes we are just at a 10 and we’re doing just fine; we don’t need any strategies – perhaps just doing some good ol’ fashioned self-care to bolster our emotional resources. On the other hand, let’s say we are at a 90 or a 100. Here, we’re on the highway to the danger zone and we are in crisis mode. Today, we talk about a couple emotion regulation strategies for what to do when we are at peak emotional intensity.

When we are in the crisis zone, we are governed by our emotions. This can sometimes be problematic because what we want to do in that moment might not be consistent with our goals and values. For example, if we are in a fight with our spouse, our emotions might be telling you to yell at your spouse and call them out on what a jerk they are being. Although this might feel cathartic in the moment, this act may be inconsistent with your long-term goal of maintaining a trusting and respectful relationship with your spouse. It may also even take away your short-term goal of being able to communicate your needs to them. Therefore, it is important to have strategies in place to bring down the thermometer just enough to act in accordance with the way that you want. Not going from 100 (crisis) to 0 (stress-free) mind you – just bringing it down to something more manageable.

Where are you on the emotional thermometer?
<a href=’’>Graph bar chart vector created by Sapann-Design –</a&gt;

What are crisis situations and when should I apply these skills?

Crisis situations are typically similar because they are:

1) Highly stressful

2) Short-term (i.e., will not last long)

3) Creates intense pressure to resolve the issue in the moment

For some, this might be a new mother finding that their baby is crying; for others, it might be a big fight with their partner (or something else!).

Therefore, you should apply these skills when:

1) You are feeling intense pain and want to act based on your emotions

2) You are aware that these emotions may not be consistent with your goals

3) When you are feeling overwhelmed

The STOP Skill

The first strategy we will talk about is the STOP skill. STOP is a way to take yourself out of the crisis in order to take stock of the situation and focus on getting to your goals.

S – Stop. Stop everything you are doing. We want to break the current pattern of behaviours to avoid escalating our distress.

T – Take a step back. This can be a physical or mental step back. The point of this step is to give ourselves space from the situation in order to evaluate the situation and give ourselves a fighting chance to navigate the stress

O – Observe. Take a moment to really observe both our internal (our thoughts, our emotions) and external (what’s going on, what is the issue?) experience. We want to do this in a very non-judgmental, objective manner to reduce our emotional response.

P – Proceed Mindfully. Once you have taken some space to observe, make a conscious decision to act in a way that is consistent with your goals. Is your goal to preserve a relationship? Is it to communicate your needs? Is it to figure out what the baby needs? Whatever your goal is, move towards it mindfully.

The TIPP Skill

The second strategy is the TIPP skill. These are behavioural strategies that leverages our body’s physiological responses to reduce stress and bring us out of the crisis zone.

T – Temperature. Putting your face in cold water or putting a cold towel on your face stimulates the vagus nerve, evokes a parasympathetic response. The parasympathetic response slows down our heart rate, creating an anxiety-reducing response. Try this for 30 seconds.

I – Intense Exercise. Intense exercise (running, doing burpees, push-ups) can also be a great way to expend some of the built-up crisis energy.

P – Paced Breathing. Paced breathing (e.g., box-breathing) is another strategy to manage our emotions by engaging in a behaviour that promotes stress-relief.

P – Paired Muscle Relaxation. This exercise involves 1) breathing into our body while tensing it 2) noticing the tension 3) when breathing out, say the word ‘relax’ in your mind 4) let go of the tension and notice the difference. Do this several times until you feel you are out of the crisis zone.

Terrible pun of the day. “It’s the danger zone! Let’s STOP and TIPP the odds back in our favour”.
Photo by Micaela Parente on Unsplash

Which strategy should I try?

Give them all a shot! Next time you notice you are in a bit of a stressful situation, try using the STOP or TIPP skill (or any combination). Stay with the ones that work well for you. To know which strategy work the best, you can take an evaluative approach:

1. Jot down the situation. The baby is wailing and won’t stop crying and I am feeling overwhelmed.

2. Jot down your distress level. 90%

3. Jot down which skill you used. STOP skill

4. Jot down your distress level after. 60%

5. Write a short blurb on how effective the skill was. “The STOP skill was fairly effective. It gave me enough space to think about what my baby needed in the moment. I tried a few different things (feeding the baby, getting her to burp, giving the baby her favourite teddy bear) and she eventually stopped crying.”

Hopefully these strategies are helpful the next time you feel like you are in a bit of a stressful situation!

Best wishes,