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DBT Skills Coach

Use the following prompts to coach you through problem solving and coping when you are going through a difficult moment and experiencing strong emotions. Please note that this is not intended to be therapeutic advice, crisis support, replace skills coaching with your therapist, or treat all problems, but to assist you with coping and soothing your emotions with DBT-informed skills.

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1) Bring awareness to your emotions and their intensity.

Rate the intensity of your emotions on a scale from 0-10.

  • 0-3: Mild

  • 4-6: Moderate

  • 7-10: Severe

If possible, label the emotion(s) you're experiencing (e.g. anxious, angry, sad, etc.). Validate your emotion by acknowledging the experience and giving yourself permission to be feeling this emotion. All emotions are valid, even when they're uncomfortable and hard to understand. Try some of the following skills to help you cope with your emotion.

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2) Take a mindful pause.

Before doing anything else, bring awareness to what is happening in the moment and be intentional with your actions by doing the following:

  1. Stop before acting impulsively on your emotions.

  2. Temporarily remove yourself from the situation, if possible.

  3. Notice what you are experiencing right now (e.g. thoughts, emotions, urges, things happening around you, and the cause of the emotion).

  4. Ask yourself: Are my emotions encouraging behaviours or actions that are effective and consistent with my values and long-term goals? If not, please continue.

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3) Consider your current vulnerability factors.

Ask yourself the following questions to determine if reducing your current emotional vulnerability might help.​

  • Have I taken my prescribed medications?

  • Do I need to eat something?

  • Am I experiencing any physical discomfort or pain that needs to be treated?

  • Would it be helpful to engage in exercise or physical activity?

  • Could I benefit from catching up on sleep?

  • Do I need to nourish myself by engaging in self-care activities?

Take any needed actions to reduce your emotional vulnerability. If you are still experiencing strong emotions after attempting to reduce your vulnerabilities, please continue.

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4) Bring down your emotional intensity.

If your emotions are moderate to severe in intensity, it may be helpful to try a few of the following coping skills to settle your emotions and racing thoughts. Keep in mind that you may need to use multiple coping skills or use these skills repeatedly in order to reduce your emotional intensity. 

  • Take a cold shower, splash cold water on your face or hold onto an ice pack.

  • 4-7-8 Breathing: 4 second full inhale through the nose; 7 second hold; 8 second exhale through the mouth; repeat.

  • Box Breathing: 4 second inhale through the nose; 4 second hold; 4 second exhale through the mouth; 4 second hold; repeat.

  • Engage in intense exercise until you can't anymore (e.g. jumping jacks, burpees, cycling, go for a run or speed walk).

  • Do activities that occupy your attention like puzzles, counting, or singing songs you know the lyrics too.

  • Do something that generates different emotions, like putting on a scary or sad movie, streaming a joyful or nostalgic music playlist, or watching comedy or cute animal videos.

  • Focus your attention on the wellbeing of others by sending a kind message to someone, mailing someone a card, feeding your pets or watering your plants.

  • Use visualization to take yourself to a calming, relaxing or positive place.

  • Use encouraging and compassionate statements, using the words you would tell someone else who is struggling.

  • Put the moment into context by remembering times when you have felt worse than you do in the current moment; recalling moments of resilience in previous stressful moments; or recognizing how the present situation is not as bad as it could be.

Still overwhelmed? Please continue.

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5) Soothe the senses to find relief.

If you are still feeling emotionally overwhelmed, try to soothe yourself with the following skills.

  • Soothe your sense of touch by: Feeling the softness of a fuzzy blanket, cozy sweater, or heating pad.

  • Soothe your sense of taste by: Tasting a warm beverage, sweet treat or salty snack. 

  • Soothe your sense of hearing by: Listening to a recording of nature sounds, bird calls while at the park or city sounds from your home.

  • Soothe your sense of smell by: Smelling an essential oil, scented candle or the fragrance from clean clothes.

  • Soothe your sense of sight by: Viewing nostalgic photos, observing wildlife, or watching a sunset.

If your emotions have not settled, consider repeating the skills in steps 4 & 5. If your emotions have come down, consider problem solving through the following steps.

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6) Move on to problem solving.

Problem solving is easier when your emotions are manageable and within your control. If there is a problem to be solved consider the following steps.

  1. Factually describe to yourself what the problem is, without judgments.

  2. Consider what your goal is right now, and what values these are linked to.

  3. Think about what needs to happen in order to change or resolve the problem (e.g. change the circumstances, remove yourself from the situation, address an interpersonal conflict, etc.).

  4. Put this into action.

  5. If this does not work, try other potential solutions.

If the problem cannot be solved, please continue.

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7) When the problem cannot be solved immediately.

If there is a problem that remains that cannot be solved in the moment consider the following skills.

  1. Embrace the circumstances with openness and acceptance, without fighting it.

  2. Embody an open, relaxing posture and release any body tension.

  3. Tolerate the painful emotions you are having and engage in soothing strategies.

  4. Find meaning or something to be grateful for, or look for the positives in the present situation.

  5. Express encouraging words to yourself or do something kind for yourself.

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8) Emergencies and ongoing difficulties.

If after attempting to use coping skills you continue to be an emergency or cannot stay safe:

  • Call a local emergency services (e.g. 911).

  • Call a local crisis line.

  • Visit your nearest emergency room.

Sometimes we need extra help from a professional to process and cope with our strong emotions. If you regularly find yourself experiencing overwhelming emotions that are difficult to cope with on your own, consider finding a therapist for professional support. Working with a DBT therapist can help you learn coping skills and understand when it is best to use them.

Contact us if you would like to work with one of our DBT therapists.

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