Affect Regulation (AR)

This is a phrase I use a lot in my work. It may help if I find one place to discuss what it means and why it is important.

Affect regulation (AR), sometimes called emotion regulation, refers to our ability to make changes to our emotional state. Often we do not appreciate the changes we can make. It is easy to assume that we feel what we feel, and that’s the end of it. Parents may notice it more when playing with their small children. Infants – and even adolescents –  lack the neural feedback systems to manage their level of feelings so  parents often develop intuitive skills to engage directly with a child. Play can slow them down – not by instruction – but by example.

There are some small changes we can make that will help us meet the stresses and strains in our daily environment. Affect regulation (AR) strategies can build flexibility into our lives. This helps us move out of our Window of Tolerance (WoT) and to avoid stereotyped strategies such as catastrophising and ritualising.

Controlled breathing, as I have touched on it a number of times, is one way to start Affect Regulation (AR). My simple strategies for thinking-about-breathing  and using Subjective Units of Discomfort (SUDS), to monitor how our body is responding, can become very sophisticated if you want it to. Consider, for instance, one such development, including diaphramatic breathing, at: and look for relaxed-breathing within their helpful and substantial resources.

Affect regulation has now been developed into a manualized treatment called Emotional Regulation Therapy (ERT). Yet again you will note the further proliferation of ‘schools’ of therapy! ERT seeks to integrate components of cognitive-behavioural, ACT, mindfulness and compassion-based approaches.

The goals of ERT are to:

  • identify, differentiate, and describe their emotions;
  • increase our acceptance of the feeling experience;
  • to adapt and manage our emotions, where this is possible;
  • to decrease use of emotional avoidance strategies (often our first line of defence!)
  • to increase our ability to use emotional information to meet our needs, to make decisions and to guide our thinking and relationships;

Although it focuses on adolescence, there are some practical experiments you can translate at:

Affect regulation can be understood in greater depth when we study attachment theory; the subject of another page on this web site.

For further information and research elating to affect regulation, you could look at:


This site is helpful as it contains even more leads to safe experiments that might well relate to yourself, at this time. Some of the material is relevant to my comments on the place of anger in our lives. There is material there on controlled breathing and the workings of our autonomic nervous system (ANS).

If it helps, you can approach this topic from another direction. Dan Newby looks at the subject from a coaching perspective – in his book: the Unopened Gift.

I have said more about his work on this page.