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Feeling Overwhelmed? These DBT Skills Can Help

Hannah Hopper

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is an approach that helps to cope with overwhelming and intense emotions. DBT helps people build four major skills including mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness and emotional regulation. Mindfulness and distress tolerance will help with skills that work towards acceptance of thoughts and behaviors. 

Sometimes the most difficult part of overwhelming emotions is that we try to fight them and push them away, instead of allowing them to just be. Emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness skills help you to work towards changing thoughts and then behaviors in order to have more positive relationships. This blog will specifically be focusing on the distress tolerance skills that can be used to cope with overwhelming and intense emotions. These skills can be used in isolation or they can be used until the distressing emotions begin to go away. 

1) TIPP Skill

This is one of the most popular of the distress tolerance skills because it can be done pretty quickly.

  • Temperature – use something cold to decrease your heart rate like splashing cold water on your face or holding ice cubes in your hand. This will decrease your physiological responses as you work to calm emotions.
  • Intense exercise – increasing your heart rate for 20 minutes will help your physical responses to match the emotional reaction so your body feels more balanced. 
  • Paced breathing – slow your breathing down and breath in for 5 seconds and out for 7 seconds. Do this for several minutes until your body begins to calm down. 
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – tense and then relax each muscle group starting from your toes and moving up to your face. 

2) ACCEPTS Skill

This skill can be used when you’re needing to distract yourself from uncomfortable or distressing emotion.

  • Activities – do an activity that you enjoy like playing with a pet or going for a walk.
  • Contribute – volunteer, give back to the community, or help someone that you know.
  • Comparisons – compare yourself to when you were in a worse situation and notice what you can be grateful for. 
  • Emotions (different emotions) – cause yourself to feel a different emotion by watching a funny movie or doing a fun activity.
  • Push away – put your situation on the back-burner of your mind and think of something unrelated
  • Thoughts (other) – think about what’s around you instead of what’s in your mind
  • Sensations (other) – do something that has an intense sensation other than what you’re feeling emotionally. Take a cold shower or eat something spicy. 

3) Improve Skill

 This skill can be used to relax from distressing feelings. 

  • Imagery – imagine relaxing scenery, things going well in the future or a favorite memory.
  • Meaning – find some purpose or meaning about the emotions you’re feeling. 
  • Prayer – pray to whatever you worship or say a personal mantra several times. 
  • Relaxation – slowly relax your muscles and take deep breaths in and out. 
  • One thing in the present – focus attention on what you’re doing in the moment and having mindful awareness. 
  • Vacation (briefly) – take a quick break from whatever is causing distressing emotions.
  • Encouragement – be your own cheerleader by telling yourself it’s possible to make it through this situation. Remind yourself of the strength and resilience you have to make it through difficult circumstances.

If you’re ready to take that first step and schedule a counseling session with Symmetry Counseling, you can browse our therapists to find someone that’s the right fit for you. We also have intake specialists to find a therapist that specializes in what you’re wanting to work through. You can also contact Symmetry Counseling today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with someone.

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