Four TIPP skills to manage strong emotions

In times of crisis, emotions can be overwhelming. If you feel overwhelmed, like your emotions are out of control, it can be very helpful to use the TIPP technique.


TIPP stands for Temperature, Intense exercise, Paced breathing, and Progressive muscle relaxation. It’s a technique from dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), a modified form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) widely used to treat people who find it difficult to regulate their emotions. The TIPP technique can be used at times of high emotion, calming things down so that you can then use other coping skills.


The four TIPP techniques should first be practised, so you know what to do. They can then be used in times of difficulty, when you feel you need them.



Our heart tends to be beating faster when we feel emotionally overwhelmed, but cooler temperatures decrease the heart rate. To quickly bring down the intensity of your emotions, dip your face in a sink of cold (but not too cold) water, making sure your temples are covered. Try to hold your breath for 30 seconds. Then remove your head from the sink to breathe again.


Putting your full face into cold water causes the ‘dive response’ to occur, resulting in your heart slowing down, reduced blood flow to non-essential organs, and redirecting blood flow to the brain and heart. Importantly, this dive response can quickly help you to regulate your emotions. It is very useful when you are in the grip of strong, distressing emotions, or when you have a strong urge to engage in dangerous behaviours (for example, an urge to self-harm). Please note you should not attempt this TIPP skill if you have cardiac problems or a medical condition or an eating disorder.


Other variations on this include having a cold shower; rubbing your face with an ice cube; putting a zip-lock bag with cold water on your eyes and upper cheeks; or splashing your face with cold water.



Engaging in intense exercise, even if only for a short while, will help you calm down your body in times of strong emotion. Engaging in a physical activity like running, jumping jacks, very brisk walking, or using a skipping rope, helps to dissipate excessive energy and regulate emotions. When you expend that energy, you will feel more tired and more emotionally stable.



Pace and control your breathing by slowing it down. Breathe deeply into your belly. Now noticeably slow your pace of inhaling and exhaling, to about five or six breaths per minute. Breathe out more slowly than you breathe in (say, five seconds in and seven seconds out). Do this for one or two minutes. It will communicate yo your body that you are safe.



Pairing muscle relaxation with breathing out will help calm you down. Deeply tense your body muscles while breathing into your belly. Feel how tense you are as you inhale. While it’s time to exhale, say the word “relax” in your mind. Let go of the tension and notice the difference in your body.

The four TIPP skills are especially useful when you feel emotionally aroused, when your ability to think clearly is diminished. They allow you to act quickly and effectively in times of emotional turmoil, calming down your body chemistry so that you move from a very emotional to a more balanced state, getting you to a position where you are better able to think clearly and problem solve.

(First published in Southern Star on 29/2/2024).