DBT skills for anxiety

4 DBT Skills for Anxiety: Mastering Your Emotions for a Calmer Life

If you have ever heard of DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), you may know it as one of the most effective treatments for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Since its inception in 1993, it has proven beneficial for various life issues, particularly anxiety.

Living in the midst of a stressful climate, heightened by recent events like elections and the ongoing pandemic, it’s common to struggle with overwhelming emotions. In such times, DBT becomes a valuable tool for coping with anxiety and finding healthier ways to navigate life.

4 DBT Skills for Anxiety

Mindfulness: Staying Present for a Healthier You

In our hustle and bustle society, staying in the moment is a challenge. Mindfulness, a core DBT skill, offers a solution. It doesn’t eliminate negative thoughts and emotions, but it empowers you to cope more effectively. Guided meditation, a popular mindfulness technique, is readily available on platforms like YouTube. Starting with shorter sessions and gradually extending them helps build your mindfulness muscle. Eventually, you may find yourself tuning out external noises even in crowded places, minimizing anxieties.

Distress Tolerance: Overcoming Obstacles with Ease

Life throws unexpected challenges, potentially increasing stress and anxiety. Developing distress tolerance tools is essential for coping effectively without resorting to self-destructive behaviors. One valuable strategy is distraction. Creating a list of activities that take up a few minutes of your time allows you to act quickly when distress strikes. From taking a walk to engaging in creative pursuits like scrapbooking, these distractions help break the cycle of escalating stress.

Increasing distress tolerance not only aids in handling minor situations but also boosts self-esteem, reduces self-directed anger, and prevents burnout among your loved ones. The key is to create your distraction list when your mind is clear. This proactive approach ensures you have concrete ideas ready when you need them most

Emotional Regulation: Understanding and Expressing Emotions

Expressing emotions in unhealthy ways can create difficulties in various aspects of life. Recognizing and regulating emotions are crucial components of DBT. Often, people don’t accurately identify their feelings, leading to unexpressed emotions that manifest as anger and aggression.

Start by paying attention to how often you dismiss your true feelings with generic responses like “I’m fine.” Dig deeper and explore your emotions. Positive affirmations can be a helpful tool to ease overwhelming feelings. Verbalizing positive statements about yourself daily contributes to emotional well-being. Additionally, journaling serves as an effective outlet. Putting your thoughts and feelings on paper removes them from your mind, preventing them from circulating and intensifying.

Interpersonal Effectiveness: Building Healthy Relationships

Relationships can be a source of anxiety, often stemming from ineffective communication. DBT emphasizes assertiveness, an ideal communication style for fostering healthy relationships. There are four communication styles: passive, passive-aggressive, assertive, and aggressive. Striving for assertiveness involves understanding your needs, communicating them effectively, and acknowledging the needs of others.

The assertiveness process begins with knowing what is important to you and what you want. Communicate this information to your partner, family member, or friend, describing the situation without judgment. Differentiate between your thoughts and feelings, explaining how you feel about the situation. The final step is asserting yourself while recognizing the thoughts and feelings of both parties. This approach promotes mutual understanding and strengthens relationships.

As anxieties are expected to rise significantly during the holiday season, winter months, and the ongoing pandemic uncertainty, seeking help becomes paramount. If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or escalating confusing emotions, reaching out to licensed mental health therapists is crucial.

Research on DBT

As a behavioral intervention, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) places a strong emphasis on gathering empirical data to assess its efficacy and effectiveness. Aligned with its dialectical philosophy, the treatment strives to adapt to new theoretical and technical advancements in psychotherapy. The following sections provide an overview of the current empirical foundation for DBT and explore potential avenues for future research.

DBT for Adult Women with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Suicidal Behavior

Five randomized clinical trials have investigated the effectiveness of DBT for women with BPD and suicidal tendencies. Notably, three trials were conducted by researchers other than the treatment developer. The initial trial (Linehan et al., 1991) demonstrated that DBT recipients, compared to those receiving treatment as usual (TAU), exhibited fewer and less severe parasuicidal acts, higher treatment retention rates, and reduced time as in-patients in psychiatric hospitals. Subsequent replications supported these findings, with DBT clients showing lower anger scores and improved social and global functioning. A later study (Comtois et al., 2007) validated the efficacy of DBT in a community mental health center, aligning with outcomes from randomized trials.

DBT for Adult Women with BPD, Suicidal Behavior, and Substance Dependence

DBT was adapted for individuals with BPD and concurrent drug dependence or abuse, addressing challenges in service delivery. In randomized controlled trials, this modification resulted in significant reductions in substance misuse, superior treatment retention rates, and sustained improvements in global and social adjustment compared to TAU. Additional trials with women diagnosed with BPD and opioid dependence also demonstrated positive outcomes, emphasizing the effectiveness of DBT in addressing co-occurring conditions.

DBT for Diagnoses Beyond BPD and Other Age Groups

Researchers have explored adaptations of DBT for various conditions and age groups. Promising evidence has emerged for the treatment of binge-eating disorder, older adults with co-morbid personality disorders and depression, as well as adolescents. Controlled trials indicate positive outcomes, including fewer psychiatric hospitalizations, improved treatment completion, and reductions in symptoms of BPD, suicidal ideation, and general psychiatric symptoms.

In summary, the accumulated evidence supports the effectiveness of DBT as a valuable treatment approach for a range of conditions and age groups. Ongoing research is essential to further refine and expand its applicability in diverse therapeutic contexts.

Empowering Emotional Resilience

DBT emerges as a powerful and effective tool, especially in the context of addressing anxiety amid the challenges of our modern world. The four key skills – mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness – provide a comprehensive framework for individuals to cope with overwhelming emotions and build a healthier, more resilient life.

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