When we experience overwhelming emotions in life, it is important to have a toolbox that can help us manage our emotions and make wise choices.
I often utilize dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) both in my personal life and with my clients. Thanks to Dr. Marsha Linehan (The genius behind DBT), I am able to share 2 of these skills below.
- Shift your mind by shifting your body chemistry: Understanding the body/mind connection is key when we are in emotional overload. It is essential for our bodies and minds to work together to signal our brains to calm down so that we can make effective choices. Some methods for doing this include:
*Stop & Breathe– When you breathe, make sure you are inhaling deeply and exhaling deeply. Try counting to 5 when you inhale, stopping for a second at the top, and counting to 7 when you exhale. Make sure your shoulders are down; put your hand on your belly to help you feel the movement.
*Do some intense exercise– I know it may seem silly, but encourage yourself to do some jumping jacks or a few push-ups! If you have the time and ability, go outside and run or lift weights.
*Shift your body’s temperature by taking a cold shower, submerging your face in water, or rubbing cold packs on your face for 15-30 seconds. Fun fact: this causes the “dive response,” in which the heart slows down, blood flow to the nonessential organs is reduced, and blood flow is redirected to the brain and heart.
- Use Radical Acceptance: One of my favorite concepts from DBT is radical acceptance. This tool can be applied to life in general, but it can also be very helpful in moments of high stress. Radical acceptance means completely accepting what life throws at you without fighting it. This does not mean that we have to approve or make light of serious pain, but it does mean that we have to accept it. Acceptance is the first step toward change. Much of the suffering that we experience in our lives is in part due to the fact that life can be difficult, unfair, and painful. Because of our evolutionary drive toward survival, our brains often respond to these painful situations by telling us to fight this reality. However, fighting facts and reality of life often turns the universal feeling of pain into a more isolating experience of suffering. Learning to live life using radical acceptance helps us to understand that life is worth living even when painful experiences happen. It also gives us compassion and connection to others.
*A simple example of radical acceptance that I practice quite often driving in LA is radical acceptance of traffic. When I am running a few minutes late and the 405 is more backed up than it usually is, I automatically have a desire to scream with frustration and think thoughts such as, “I can’t believe LA still doesn’t have a better public transportation system. This is ridiculous!” “I can’t believe I am going to be so late!” These thoughts tend to lead to more frustration, road rage, or intense anxiety. Instead, when I use radical acceptance, I catch myself in my non-acceptance of reality, take a deep breath, and say to myself, “You are feeling frustrated right now. Fighting the traffic wont help in this moment. Maybe you can write a letter later on if you still feel passionately about changing traffic issues in LA. Instead, how can you problem solve and respond effectively to the situation?” Then, as my body calms down, I decide to call a coworker and share that I will be late. I think about how I can learn to leave earlier next time. I do not judge the situation or myself, but I practice acceptance. This may seem like a trivial example, however, this concept can be applied to many more challenging situations and choices in our lives. Radical acceptance helps us to access our inner wisdom, frees us from bitterness, and helps us to grow.
To find out more DBT tips, check out the DBT Skills Training Manual – https://www.amazon.com/DBT®-Skills-Training-Manual-Second/dp/1462516998/ref=asc_df_1462516998/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=266011026192&hvpos=1o2&hvnetw=g&hvrand=1325666658134538358&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9031025&hvtargid=pla-436016876073&psc=1