Background Emotion regulation (ER) deficits have been linked to symptoms of anxiety in cross-sectional studies. However, the direction of the relationship between ER and anxiety symptom severity (ASS) is unclear. Methods In order to clarify the relationship between ER skills and ASS symptoms, we assessed skills and symptoms in 131 individuals twice over a 5-year interval. Cross-lagged panel analyses were conducted to test whether ER skills were a significant predictor of subsequent ASS or vice versa. Additionally, we explored whether specific ER skills differed in regard to the strength of prospective associations with subsequent ASS. Results ER skills negatively predicted subsequent ASS over and above the effects of baseline ASS (whereas anxiety symptoms did not predict subsequent ER deficits). Acceptance, tolerance, and willingness to confront had the strongest prospective effects on lower subsequent ASS. Conclusions General ER skills may play an important role in the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.