written exclusively for Give Yourself Kindness by Dr. Laura Berssenbrugge a licensed clinical psychologist with expertise in treating anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, autism spectrum disorder, stress-related disorders, and emotion regulation issues.


“You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn


In the realm of emotions, we often find ourselves riding waves – some gentle, others tumultuous.

As a clinical psychologist, I've seen firsthand the transformative power of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a cognitive-behavioral approach that emphasizes mindfulness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance.  


DBT's 'Opposite Action' technique


One of my favorite DBT skills is called “Opposite Action,” which helps us to ride emotional waves skillfully.

By intentionally acting in opposition to the impulse fueled by the emotion, Opposite Action provides a way to disrupt harmful behavioral patterns.


5 steps of 'Opposite Action'


Step 1: Identify the emotion you're experiencing.


Step 2: Recognize the emotional urge - Pay attention to the impulse or urge that accompanies the emotion. 


Step 3: Choose to do the Opposite Action - Intentionally choose to do the opposite of what the emotion is compelling you to do. 


"intentionally choose to do the opposite"


Step 4: Engage in the opposite action mindfully and fully immerse yourself. Notice any resistance or discomfort that arises. 


"notice any resistance or discomfort that arises"


Step 5: Reflect on the outcome - How did engaging in Opposite Action make you feel? Did it help you ride the wave of your emotion? 


Using 'Opposite Action' to ride the wave of emotions


In session, I teach clients to use Opposite Action with five primary emotions: sadness, anger, fear, guilt, and shame.

You’ll find common urges and opposite actions below.



Instead of retreating into ourselves, practice self-compassion and engage in self-soothing activities. Journaling, talking to a friend, going for a walk, or simply allowing ourselves to feel can be helpful.



Anger can be a challenging emotion to navigate. It’s important to pause and assess the situation before acting impulsively.

Grounding techniques, such as taking 5 deep breaths or naming things you can see from A to Z, can help diffuse the intensity of anger. 



It's essential to acknowledge fear without allowing it to dictate our actions.


"approach, rather than avoid, uncertainty"


We can expand our comfort zones by taking small, bite-sized steps and approach, rather than avoid, uncertainty.



While acknowledging our mistakes is important, dwelling on guilt can keep us feeling stuck.

Try to offer yourself forgiveness and self-compassion, make amends where necessary, and focus on taking positive action. 



Challenging the negative beliefs and self-talk that fuel shame is essential for reclaiming our self-esteem.


"essential for reclaiming our self-esteem"


Surrounding ourselves with supportive people who affirm our inherent worth can also be a great source of validation.


Let emotions empower you, not control you


The next time you find yourself riding an emotional wave, remember: you have the power to choose your response and the agency to see it through.


licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Berssenbrugge

Dr. Laura Berssenbrugge is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Coach in private practice, who specializes in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and positive psychology. Dr. Laura works with Gen Z and Millennial clients who are experiencing anxiety, depression, OCD, and relationship issues. She is the creator of ‘Dr. Laura B’s Release, Regulate, & Relax Aromatherapy Inhaler Set,’ a trio of aromatherapy inhaler tools designed to reduce physical and emotional stress at different emotional intensity levels. She is also the author of the workbook "Beyond the Blush: A CBT Approach to Overcoming Social Anxiety.” Dr. Laura provides free emotion regulation tools, worksheets, and ebooks on her website at www.drlaurab.com, and on Instagram @drlaurabtherapy.