Gross's Process Model of Emotion Regulation

We all have certain tools for regulating our emotions. Unfortunately, not all of them are equally effective or guarantee the safety of our psychological health. In this article, we propose a useful strategy backed by scientific evidence.
Gross's Process Model of Emotion Regulation
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 24 April, 2024

There are many ways to influence how you feel and exercise proper control over yourself. Perhaps you manage your feelings of anger or frustration by reviewing your thoughts and passing them through a reflective filter. Or, maybe you channel them by playing sports. Alternatively, you might allow yourself to get completely carried away by them.

However, if you’re unable to regulate your emotions, this can result in maladjusted behaviors. Not only does your discomfort intensify, but your relationships lose quality. Moreover, you run the risk of suffering a psychological disorder. In fact, anxiety and depression are often triggered by ineffectiveness when it comes to regulating emotions.

As adults, we’re expected to be proficient in this matter. But, are we? As a matter of fact, we often see important people in positions of power reacting in the same way that a three-year-old would. For this reason, it’s important to develop good emotional regulation. There’s one particularly useful theory that can help.

One of our greatest habits when it comes to emotional matters is to bottle up what we feel and hide our most adverse and difficult states.

mother and daughter enacting the Gross Model of Emotion Regulation
Good emotional regulation allows us to experience higher-quality relationships.

Gross’s process model of emotion regulation

One of the most interesting contributions to the field of emotions is the process model of emotion regulation proposed by Gross. This psychologist and professor at Stanford University claims that much of what we feel is a consequence of our reactions to the world. Our environments are highly complex scenarios and it’s difficult to adapt to every circumstance.

Gross’s theory proposes that to find balance we must generate changes. Thinking and acting differently reduces emotional tension. We’re active beings who must take responsibility for what we feel through healthier behaviors and mental approaches. Gross wants us to become emotionally intelligent people.

To do this, he suggests we act in two areas: in what generates difficult emotions (triggers) and in our emotional reactions. If we work on these two variables, our psychological well-being will likely improve. We’re going to explore the components of this model.

James Gross divides his model into two areas: strategies to control the antecedents of our emotional reactions and those focused on the responses themselves.

Addressing emotional triggers

We live in highly complex scenarios that often trigger personal challenges. For example, some situations are distressing (public speaking, medical appointments, job interviews, etc) and it isn’t always easy to manage the emotions they provoke.

Gross’s process regulation model places the focus on this variable and offers tools for the regulation of emotions. Here’s how you can put his ideas into practice.

Modulate your exposure to certain events

Not all situations are pleasant and they can take their toll on you. For example, work can be a source of stress, as can visiting certain relatives. You must analyze the situations you’re exposed to so you can learn how to modulate them.

There are certain scenarios that it’s best to avoid for your well-being. On the other hand, some will require that you make decisions to regulate your emotions.

Modify aspects of the situation

In Dr. James Gross’ book, published in 2014, Handbook of Emotional Regulation. He explained that emotions govern us, but we have tools to learn to govern them. One way of achieving this is by bearing in mind that you can change the way you relate to whatever’s distressing you.

If you identify the situations that cause you stress and anxiety, you can develop strategies to better address them. There’ll always be certain aspects that you can change like putting new skills into practice. For instance, if speaking in public blocks you and makes you nervous, you can learn techniques for dealing with the situation.

Choose where to direct your attention

You can regulate your emotions if you learn to focus your attention in the right place. In a world full of a thousand stimuli, your mind has infinite outstanding things to think about. This takes its toll on you. Daniel Goleman, in his book, Focus, states that training more selective attention favors well-being and quality of life.

If you’re aware of all your circumstances and the information around you, you become overloaded. This impacts your emotional universe. You need to train your attention.

Address your emotional responses

Gross’s process model of emotion regulation also addresses emotional responses. When it comes to becoming a good manager of your internal states, it’s not enough just to work on their triggers. After all, there are many situations that you can’t control and events that appear unexpectedly.

So, how can you handle those experiences that generate difficult and intense emotional reactions? Here are some guidelines:

Think differently: cognitive change

When something overwhelms you or blocks you, try to reason and reflect. Reinterpret the situation. This will make your emotions more manageable and allow you to respond more appropriately.

Reinterpreting your thoughts and applying a more rational approach allows you to better regulate your emotions.

Regulate your emotional responses

Gross emphasizes that the suppression of an emotional response is neither useful nor convenient. You can’t repress or silence what you feel, no matter how much you may have been programmed to do so. You need to regulate your emotions. Therefore, you need to understand where they come from, what causes them, and why they’re there.

Once you’ve investigated their origins and motives, you must find an appropriate response to channel it and ensure you learn from the experience. This and no other is the key to your well-being.

Couple discussing the Gross Model of Emotional Regulation
We can all improve our emotional competencies by taking care of both the triggers and our responses to them.

Gross’s process model of emotion regulation is a detailed, valid, and effective strategy for managing your emotions. It helps you to learn new mechanisms to better navigate states such as anger, frustration, sadness, and even anxiety.

While you may have other strategies for regulating your emotions, they may not always be as successful as you think.

Therefore, it’s worthwhile considering this proposal and making it your own. You’ll undoubtedly find it to be beneficial.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Gross, James J. 2014. Handbook of Emotion Regulation. New York: Guilford.
  • Massah O, Sohrabi F, A’azami Y, Doostian Y, Farhoudian A, Daneshmand R. Effectiveness of Gross Model-Based Emotion Regulation Strategies Training on Anger Reduction in Drug-Dependent Individuals and its Sustainability in Follow-up. Int J High Risk Behav Addict. 2016 Feb 20;5(1):e24327. doi: 10.5812/ijhrba.24327. PMID: 27162759; PMCID: PMC4859936.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.