During this extraordinary time, it is hard to know how to manage. Our typical coping strategies may no longer work which can make us feel even more helpless and confused. Our access to support systems may be limited which can lead to a sense of isolation and loneliness. Learning new skills to help combat these feelings is vital to our emotional and physical well-being. Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT is a wonderful roadmap to help.
DBT is a therapy approach that focuses on increasing mindfulness, promoting distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Within those four modules there are approximately 25 skills which can help promote and hone these competences. During this pandemic there are specific DBT skills which might be even more applicable. Even if you’re not literate in the entire DBT model, the following set of skills outlined in this article will be particularly helpful during this time.
The first DBT skill that when practiced can provide immense relief is called radical acceptance. The term radical means complete and total and when added to the idea of acceptance it asks us to completely and totally accept the current reality we find ourselves in. What is important to remember is that we can totally accept reality as it is, without agreeing with it. Practicing radical acceptance means acting on the information as it is, versus the way we wish it was. We cannot move forward and thrive in an environment that we are constantly fighting against. So, step one is to radically accept that we must practice social distancing at this time and do what we can to maintain our mental and emotional health within these new parameters.
The second DBT skill that is very important to practice during this time is building structure. The building structure skill encourages us to follow an 8/8/8 format. This means having eight hours of productive time, “play” time, and sleep. Productive time could include work or school at home activities, chores, cleaning, volunteering and working on our hobbies or areas of mastery. Additionally, it might include exercise or other things that we “need” to do versus things we “want” to do. Finding eight hours of play might be challenging given the social distancing and stay at home requirements. This is a time to get creative. Now is a great time to get back in touch with hobbies or activities that used to bring us joy that we have put down due to lack of time or increased responsibilities. It’s more important now than ever to get outside when you can. So, if possible spend a portion of this play time outside. Another important part of our well-being is good sleep hygiene. During times of unease our sleep can significantly suffer. Practicing some mindfulness and relaxation routines can be particularly helpful.
The final DBT skill I will focus on today is improve the moment. This skill can “help you manage difficult emotions during stressful situations and regulate your emotions in the present moment.” Using the acronym I.M.P.R.O.V.E. as a guide, improve the moment allows us to take the current situation and not only make it more tolerable, but make it potentially even enjoyable. The “I” in I.M.P.R.O.V.E. stands for imagery. This is the idea of using guided imagery to soothe, relax or calm ourselves. Is there a particular place you have been or would like to go? Imagine all aspects of this in your mind to bring about positive and relaxing feelings. “M” stands for finding the meaning in a situation. When we look back on this time what will we have learned or gained? Instead of focusing on all the perceived negatives of this time period, what are the positives? Maybe this is a good time for you to slow down, return to a state of balance, allow our rivers to run clean, and have stronger connections with family members. The “P” in I.M.P.R.O.V.E. is for prayer. This can include any kind of spiritual or metaphysical connection that allows us to feel a sense of peace and gratitude. “R” is for relaxation. We can improve the moment by practicing things that allow us to feel relaxed. This could be listening to music, taking a bath, or lighting a candle. If you are in your at-home workspace or trying to teach your children their time tables is there a way to improve the moment with relaxation? Yes, even taking a slow deep breath during these times sends anti-stress chemicals to your brain encouraging you to calm down. “O” stands for one thing at a time. This skill is asking us to slow down and very literally do one thing at a time. When you are walking down the street focus on putting one foot in front of the other. When you are washing your hands (which I hope you are doing a lot of) you are only focusing on the sensations of the water and the bubbles without focusing in on your mind trying to derail you from the task at hand. “V” means take a vacation. At this point in time the idea of taking a literal vacation is practically impossible. However, reworking this in our mind might make it more of a possibly than originally thought. A vacation could look like going outside or even a different part of the house. A vacation could mean stopping what you are doing which is creating distress and focusing on another task that is soothing or enjoyable. Lastly, the “E” stands for using words of encouragement to improve the moment. This can be quotes or sayings or things we tell ourselves or others to lift our spirits or feel better. In the words of Brene Brown “talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.”
We can and we will get through this time. And we have an opportunity to continue to grow and thrive, despite the challenges. These skills offer us a guide in how to do that and how to support those around us too as well, from a safe distance of course!