3 Quick DBT Skills to Regulate Anxiety

While Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was originally created by Marsha Linehan in the 1980’s for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), this treatment method has since been used extremely effectively for mental health conditions of all kinds, including depression, substance abuse disorder, PTSD, and anxiety. 

The reason it is most likely that DBT works well across different conditions is that the core principle of DBT addresses the root cause of many symptoms: emotional suffering. In order to become skilled in applying DBT principles, patients must learn “dialectical” thinking, which implies the ability to simultaneously accept your situation and pursue healthy change. These two seemingly dichotomous needs can coexist harmoniously to create a happier, healthier future for the majority of patients. 

DBT is backed by years of research and evidence through the studies of DBT group skills training paired with one on one therapy. This treatment protocol contains several important modules and skill sets, some of which can significantly reduce day to day anxiety for those suffering from chronic or habitual anxiety. 

Here are 3 DBT skills you can use every day to promote better mental health and reduce the symptoms of anxiety. 

1. RADICAL ACCEPTANCE 

The idea behind Radical Acceptance is that all suffering can be tied back to our attachment to the situation or pain at hand. In theory, relief from our suffering begins with accepting our experience instead of fighting against it. 

In DBT, Radical Acceptance implies our willingness to work to accept our current situation when we have no control over it, which can in turn help reduce our sense of suffering. Rather than enact judgment on ourselves and others, fight against a situation we have no control over, avoid our emotions or spiral out of control, Radical Acceptance promotes accepting our reality and recognizing our emotions without becoming reactive. 

In order to practice Radical Acceptance to reduce your anxiety, it is important to focus on what you can control, take care of your basic needs, and use mindfulness and resourcefulness to remain grounded. When working to embrace Radical Acceptance, take the time in the moment where your anxiety is increasing to step away, breathe, reset, and approach your situation based on facts rather than emotional reactions. 

2. SELF-SOOTHING 

While it may seem like an obvious statement, your ability to soothe yourself and to calm your emotions when anxiety is rising is critical to your mental health and avoiding panic attacks and other crippling symptoms. Focusing on specific grounding exercises as a way to self-soothe can help dramatically. For instance, take time to think about your physical self. Sit calmly, avoid letting your thoughts race. Focus on your five senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, taste. One at a time, work through them with your feet firmly planted on the floor in a seated position, or laying on your back somewhere safe and comfortable. 

You could also close your eyes and visualize your favorite place, person or memory; someone or something that makes you feel safe, comforted, and at peace. This is a great time to repeat a single mantra or word to yourself, in order to slow you down and ground you. Your ability to shift focus from your emotions toward your physical self can help slow down escalating worry or obsessive thought patterns. 

3. MINDFULNESS

You may have heard of mindfulness, because of the current popularity of meditation. Mindfulness is indeed a form of meditation that can bring you back to the immediate moment when you are ruminating or obsessing over a situation or potential failure or future concern that turns worry into crippling anxiety. Mindfulness begins with choosing not to judge yourself, instead focusing on being present. 

Even those of us without anxiety disorders often spend a lot of time worrying, planning, problem solving, and dwelling on negative thought patterns. This is when it is so important to come back to the present moment. Use breathing, meditation, guided imagery, and other grounding techniques to relax your mind and body. These exercises reduce stress which can help regulate your emotions. 

Here are two simple ways to practice mindful meditation when anxiety is rising: 

  • Focus on your breathing: When emotions begin to overwhelm you, try to find a seat, place both feet flat on the ground or cross your legs, and close your eyes. Focus simply and fully on your breath as it leaves and enters your body. 
  • Body scan: Lying on your back with your legs straight/flat and arms at your sides, close your eyes and focus on each part of your body from toes to head or head to toes. Move slowly through the awareness of every part of you. 

While simple in nature, these three DBT skills can have a powerful, positive impact on the lives of those living with daily anxiety. 

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