The Power of Opposite Action: Managing Emotions and Changing Behaviour

Our thoughts and emotions are deeply intertwined and often reinforce each other. When we experience a particular emotion, our thoughts tend to align with that emotion, intensifying our feelings. Similarly, our behaviour is influenced by our emotions. For instance, when we feel sad or depressed, we may find it difficult to engage in daily activities, withdraw from social interactions, and have a strong urge to avoid responsibilities. However, acting in ways that align with our emotions often perpetuates negative cycles and exacerbates our emotional state.

Opposite Action and Emotion Regulation

Opposite action is a powerful technique that can help us manage our emotions and change our behaviour. It involves intentionally acting in ways that go against our immediate emotional urges. Doing so can moderate our emotions, disrupt negative cycles, and allow our feelings to subside. Just as changing our thoughts can impact our emotions, our actions can also influence our feelings.

Using Opposite Action to Manage Sadness or Depression

When feeling sad or depressed, the natural inclination is to withdraw from the world, stay in bed all day, or engage in passive activities like watching TV. However, these behaviours only reinforce our sadness and make breaking free from negative emotions harder. Instead, opposite action suggests taking proactive steps to counteract these urges. For example, making plans with friends, engaging in physical activity, or pursuing hobbies can help shift our mood and alleviate symptoms of sadness or depression.

Opposite action encourages us to challenge the inertia of sadness or depression. By actively engaging in activities that bring us joy or provide a sense of accomplishment, we disrupt the negative cycle and create opportunities for positive emotions to emerge. It may require effort and motivation initially, but over time, opposite action can become a powerful tool in managing our emotional well-being.

Applying Opposite Action to Anxiety, Stress, and Anger

  1. Anxiety: When faced with anxiety-provoking situations, our instinctual response is often avoidance. However, avoidance only strengthens our anxiety over time. Opposite action involves gradually facing our fears and exposing ourselves to what triggers our anxiety. By doing so, we can build resilience and reduce anxiety levels.

For example, let’s consider the case of Sarah, a 30-year-old woman who experiences anxiety when her partner is late coming home. Her initial impulse is to call and text repeatedly, seeking reassurance. However, Sarah recognizes that this behaviour only fuels her anxiety further. Instead of resisting her urge to seek constant validation, she practices opposite action by engaging in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or journaling her thoughts and worries. Through this process, Sarah learns to manage her anxiety by challenging her immediate emotional response and adopting healthier coping mechanisms.

  1. Stress: In times of stress, we tend to push ourselves harder, multitask, and rush through tasks to alleviate the pressure. Paradoxically, these actions only increase stress levels and decrease productivity. Opposite action suggests slowing down, practicing mindfulness, taking regular breaks, and allowing ourselves time to relax and recharge. This not only reduces stress but also enhances overall productivity and efficiency.

Consider the case of Alex, a 30-year-old professional who experiences high stress levels at work. His initial response is to work longer hours and sacrifice his personal time to meet deadlines. However, he realizes this approach leads to burnout and negatively impacts his well-being. In practicing opposite action, Alex starts implementing self-care strategies like taking short walks during breaks, practicing mindfulness exercises throughout the day, and setting boundaries around his working hours. By prioritizing self-care and incorporating breaks into his schedule, Alex becomes more focused and productive while experiencing less stress.

  1. Anger: When anger arises, the automatic response may be to react aggressively or suppress our emotions. However, these approaches often escalate conflicts or lead to internal turmoil. Opposite action recommends stepping back from the situation and removing ourselves if possible. This allows us to calm down and regain perspective. Alternatively, assertively rather than aggressively expressing our concerns can lead to healthier resolutions and help dissipate anger.

Let’s consider the case of Emily, a 30-year-old woman who frequently argues with her partner over household chores. Her initial reaction is to yell and engage in heated confrontations. Recognizing the negative impact this has on their relationship, Emily practices opposite action by taking a step back when she feels anger rising. She gives herself time to cool down before engaging in a calm and constructive conversation with her partner about their shared responsibilities. By adopting this approach, Emily finds that they can resolve conflicts more effectively and maintain a healthier dynamic in their relationship.

The Transformative Power of Opposite Action

Opposite action allows us to challenge our automatic responses and break free from negative thought patterns and behaviours. We can create positive feedback loops that enhance our emotional well-being by consciously choosing actions that go against our immediate emotional urges.

Moreover, opposite action helps us develop emotional regulation skills. Rather than being controlled by our emotions, we become active participants in regulating and managing them. Over time, this practice strengthens our emotional resilience and empowers us to navigate life’s challenges more easily.

Incorporating opposite action into our daily lives requires self-awareness and intentionality. It may feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar initially, but with practice, it becomes a natural part of our emotional repertoire. Here are some tips to effectively utilize opposite action:

  1. Recognize your emotional state: Pay attention to your feelings and how they may influence your thoughts and behaviour. Awareness is the first step towards implementing opposite action.
  2. Pause and reflect: Before acting on your immediate emotional urges, take a moment to pause and reflect. Ask yourself if your actions align with your long-term goals and values. Consider alternative actions that go against your initial impulses.
  3. Plan and commit: Once you’ve identified the opposite action, plan to carry it out. Commit to following through, even if it feels challenging or uncomfortable initially.
  4. Practice self-compassion: Be gentle with yourself as you navigate this process. Changing deeply ingrained patterns takes time and effort. Celebrate small successes along the way and acknowledge your progress.
  5. Seek support if needed: If you find it challenging to implement opposite action on your own, consider seeking support from an STG Mental Health therapist here at DBT Saskatchewan. They can provide guidance and help you develop personalized strategies for managing your emotions.


Opposite action is a powerful tool for managing emotions and changing behaviour. By consciously choosing actions that go against our immediate emotional urges, we can disrupt negative cycles, regulate our emotions more effectively, and improve our overall well-being. Whether managing sadness, anxiety, stress, or anger, opposite action empowers us to take control of our emotional responses and create positive change in our lives.

As we incorporate opposite action into our daily routines, we develop greater emotional resilience, enhance our relationships, and cultivate a more balanced and fulfilling life. So let’s embrace the transformative power of opposite action and embark on a journey of emotional growth and well-being.

DBT Saskatchewan offers the DBT for Emotional Relief program, a 12-week program designed to provide support and guidance for individuals seeking emotional relief. Through evidence-based techniques and practical exercises, this program aims to help participants develop essential skills for managing emotions effectively. Whether you want to reduce stress, improve relationships, or enhance overall well-being, the DBT for Emotional Relief program can be a valuable resource. Please visit this page to learn more about this program and how it can benefit you.


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