DBT Skills For Stress

And…breathe out

Is it just me or does it seem like there is more and more to do every day? It is like a perpetual conveyer belt of tasks! When I’m not able to find ‘off switch’ to that conveyer belt at the end of the day and begin to relax and wind down, I turn to my DBT skills. I’ve shared two of my go-to skills below in hopes they help you out too.

Paced Breathing

Being aware and returning to your breath is a tool you always have no matter where you find yourself or the situation. Focusing on and intentionally slowing down your breath activates your soothing system (called the parasympathetic nervous system). Essentially, it communicates to your brain and body that it is time to slow down and entered into a relaxed state. How cool!? To practice this skill, it is important to breathe in through your nose for approximately 4 to 6 counts and then exhale through your mouth for approximately 5 to 7 counts. Follow this sequence of breathing for several breaths. Do your best to focus your full attention on your breath and let go of thoughts of worry and stress. You can play around with these numbers until you find what is comfortable and effective for you. The only principle to follow is the out breathe (exhaling) is longer than the in breath (inhaling). Your exhale is what triggers that soothing system.

Accumulate positive activities

stress dbt skills coffee book blanket

I think to think all of us have some sort of energy meter inside of us. Different things will charge up or deplete these meters for different people. Nonetheless, it is important to stay charged up as much as possible so when a situation, event, or interaction that is highly stressful to us, we have the energy to cope with it. You may be thinking, great, I agree. Now how do I keep my energy reserve up given I’m always stressed and ‘running on empty?’ Glad you asked! You find things in your life that brings you joy. They do not have to be extravagant things. Examples for me are holding a nice fresh hot cup of coffee in the morning and taking a nice whiff of it right before I take the first drink, curling up on the couch with my favorite blanket about to watch a movie with my family, feeling the spring sun on my skin while watching my favorite outdoor sporting game, hearing the laughter of my child, eating at a new restaurant, camping in the mountains…..I could go on and on but I think you may get the point. The trick is to be mindful of these things occurring in my life (e.g., trust and believe I could gulp down a cup of coffee running out the door to work any day of the week). If we aren’t mindful these things are happening we will not reap the full, or any, benefit. Last piece of encouragement for this skill is to schedule for pleasant events to occur every single day of your life. This is how we build up that reserve! 

stress dbt swimming relax

About the Author

Desirae Allen (she/her), Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist that specializes in dialectical behavior therapy. Desirae works with teens and adults, creating a compassionate and judgement-free space, where clients can find wellness and recovery. Desirae believes that DBT can make a long-term difference in people’s lives, and she strives to work collaboratively with her clients to provide adherent DBT. Click Here to learn more about Desirae’s experience and therapeutic style.