Affect Regulation (AR)


I use this phrase – Affect Regulation – a lot around my work. Therefore, I am writing this page to consider what it means, why it is important and how it might be used to good effect.

There are complex explanations of affect regulation (AR). To help with the art of safe experimenting, I want to call it emotion regulation – that is, our ability to make deliberate and noticeable 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 impact on how their child ‘affect regulates’

Parents have an influence on the mood of small children – for good or for ill. An important role of a parent is to model affect regulation.

Infants – and even adolescents –  lack the neural feedback systems to control some of their reactions. Parents often develop intuitive skills to engage directly with a child in the management of their feelings. Play can slow them down – not by instruction – but by example and actions. An infant, when tickled, will giggle and that changes their breathing pattern. That change is likely to impact on how they feel – exhilarated or fearful, or something else.

Affect Regulation (AR) is a practise associated with Martial Arts, meditation, Mindfulness and breathing control. Take a look at this web site for some detailed guidance on practising these small safe experiments. As you do so, consider whether the ‘small’, in small safe experiments, can let you do these exercises quietly, without ritual and for a brief period of time.

In particular, I would encourage you to do these experiments randomly; not in the heat of the moment. It is difficult to change the established habits in a crisis. In my view, the most effective experiments are done ‘on the hoof’, frequently and for a brief moment of time.

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 stereotypical strategies such as catastrophising and ritualising.

Getting started with regulating our own ‘affect’

Controlled breathing is one way to start Affect Regulation (AR). These hyperlinked pages offer safe experiments for relaxation and thinking-about-breathing. In addition, the use of Subjective Units of Discomfort (SUDS), to monitor how our body is responding should be valuable. Affect Regulation can become very sophisticated if you want it to: for instance, consider diaphragmatic breathing at:;

where you can look for relaxed breathing within their substantial resources.

Affect regulation has now been developed into a manualised 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.

Emotional Regulation Therapy (ERT)

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 in our communications and 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 relating 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).

Further leads to consider

What is a nudge

Designing a nudge

Categories of safe experiments

Controlled breathing as a small, safe experiment