10 Key DBT Skills to Survive and Thrive with Everyday Emotions

DBT stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy and it’s a form of therapy commonly used to treat Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is a mental health condition that includes symptoms like intense emotions, unstable sense of self, impulsive behaviors, and difficulty regulating emotions. DBT works by teaching people how to manage their emotions, improve interpersonal skills, and develop coping mechanisms to manage difficult emotions when they arise. This type of therapy involves teaching mindfulness techniques as well as practical skills like emotional regulation (learning how to “cool down” when feeling overwhelmed) and interpersonal effectiveness (how to communicate effectively).

The skills learned in DBT can actually be applied to a wide range of different mental health struggles, not necessarily just individuals living with BPD. Anyone can learn and utilize DBT skills.

Let’s talk about a few examples of DBT skills that can help you survive and thrive with everyday emotions.


  1. Self-Soothing.

The self-soothe DBT skill is a technique that is designed to help individuals who are struggling with overwhelming emotions manage and regulate their reactions. It involves identifying activities or behaviors that bring about a sense of comfort and pleasure, such as taking a warm bath, engaging in relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, or reading a book. By engaging in these activities, individuals can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to calm the body and mind.


  1. “IMPROVE” Skill.

The “IMPROVE” DBT skill stands for “Imagery, Meaning, Prayer/Relaxation, Objectives, Verbalization, and Encouragement.” This skill is specifically designed to help individuals improve their emotional regulation through a variety of techniques. Through imagery exercises, individuals can focus on positive experiences and create a peaceful mental environment for themselves. The meaning exercise involves focusing on the bigger picture and creating a sense of purpose within oneself. Prayer or relaxation encourages meditation and stress-management techniques while objectives keep individuals focused on achieving their goals through a logical process. Verbalization and encouragement involve self-validation and supportive communication.


  1. Radical Acceptance.

Radical Acceptance is a skill that involves accepting reality as it is, without judging, resisting or trying to change it. It requires acknowledging and validating difficult or painful emotions, thoughts and experiences rather than pushing them away. Radical Acceptance enables individuals to let go of their suffering, and to let go of the things they cannot control in a given situation. The practice of Radical Acceptance can provide people with a greater sense of self-awareness and emotional regulation, helping them better manage overwhelming situations.


  1. “ACCEPTS” Skill.

The “ACCEPTS” skill stands for Activities, Contributing, Comparisons, Emotions, Pushing away, Thoughts and Sensations. This skill teaches individuals to distract themselves from negative emotions or harmful behaviors by engaging in healthy activities like exercise or hobbies, contribute positively to their environments as a way of boosting mood, make comparisons with positive experiences rather than dwelling on negative ones, identify and label their emotions accurately, push away negative thoughts or impulses using visualization techniques, and focus on mindful sensations such as taste, touch, or smell as an alternative anchor to the present moment. Incorporating these methods can ultimately lead to more effective emotion regulation and improved overall mental health.


  1. Turning your Mind.

Turning your mind is a key skill in DBT that involves learning to change one’s thoughts or emotions intentionally, with the objective of shifting from an unhelpful state to a more positive one. This means recognizing when negative emotions or beliefs arise, accepting them without judgment, and then redirecting attention towards more positive ones. The technique emphasizes the importance of focusing on the present moment rather than dwelling on past negativity or worrying about future events. Turning your mind requires practice and patience as it can be challenging to regulate internal states initially. However, consistent practice can lead to increased emotional awareness and self-control.


  1. “TIPP” Skill.

TIPP is a skill that stands for Temperature, Intense exercise, Paced breathing, and Paired muscle relaxation. This evidence-based technique is helpful in coping with intense emotions and promotes self-soothing. The first step involves any action that changes your body temperature, such as submerging your face in cold water or holding ice cubes, which helps in reducing emotional intensity. The second step involves engaging in physical exercise to release endorphins that decrease emotional vulnerability. Paced breathing helps regulate heart rate and reduce anxiety symptoms while paired muscle relaxation targets tension by systematically tensing and releasing muscle groups throughout the body.


  1. Observe, Describe, and Participate.

This skill involves bringing attention to our surroundings and experiences by actively observing the present moment without judgment or interpretation, describing our observations using factual language while avoiding emotions or assumptions, and lastly participating fully in the current situation. This technique has shown significant success in reducing anxiety, depression, and stress symptoms by allowing individuals to become more mindful of their thoughts and actions. By implementing this skill, individuals can improve their ability to communicate effectively with others while also developing a greater sense of self-awareness.


  1. “DEAR MAN” Skill.

The “DEAR MAN” is designed to help individuals communicate assertively and effectively while maintaining healthy relationships. DEAR MAN stands for Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, Mindful, Appear confident, and Negotiate. This acronym serves as a guide to help individuals clearly express their needs and desires in a respectful manner. The skill encourages the use of specific language to describe observable behaviors or events rather than making judgments or assumptions. It also suggests the use of “I statements” instead of blaming others or making accusations. By reinforcing positive behaviors and showing appreciation for efforts made by others, DEAR MAN helps maintain positive relationships while still asserting one’s needs and respecting those of others.


  1. Opposite Action Skill.

The Opposite Action Skill involves recognizing and managing intense emotions by deliberately choosing behaviors that are opposite to the urges associated with those emotions. For example, if someone feels an overwhelming urge to lash out in anger, they may instead choose to practice calming strategies such as deep breathing or taking a walk. DBT therapists work with clients to develop personalized Opposite Action plans that align with their specific needs and challenges, enabling them to make better decisions for their long-term well-being.


  1. Ride the Wave.

This DBT skill is about recognizing the surge of intense feelings as they arise, and then allowing them to pass without resisting or giving in to them. The concept of riding a wave exists because it teaches one to recognize that like waves, emotions come and go, which ultimately means that difficult emotions will pass. By accepting, rather than fighting emotional states and allowing oneself to experience them fully until their intensity subsides, one can prevent a situation from worsening. In essence, this skill enables individuals to choose how they react when faced with overwhelming negative feelings.


These 10 DBT skills are just a few of the dozens of skills and techniques employed in dialectical behavioral therapy. The more they are practiced, the more effective they will be for managing your mental health and also for improving your overall quality of life. While these skills are not a “quick fix,” learning participating in DBT can result in significant changes for those who struggle with emotional dysregulation. If you’re facing emotional turbulence or struggling with ingrained negative patterns of thought and behavior, please reach out to us. With the support of an experienced professional who understands the intricacies of DBT, you can cultivate healthier relationships with yourself and others and be prepared for anything that comes your way.


Written by Lauren Presutti

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