Building a Life Worth Living

by Stacy Ekmark, LCSW, NGPG

Many of the skills that are used in therapy for people dealing with depression, anxiety and PTSD can apply to everyone, both adults and children and can have huge benefits on an individual’s daily life. Listed below are some ideas as to how to become more engaged, emotionally regulated, and present by practicing some of these techniques, while gaining four main types of skills:

Mindfulness – Developing an awareness of the present moment, without judgment or attachment, in a way that allows you to be more aware and more effectively manage emotions, thoughts, feelings, etc.

Emotion Regulation – Improving awareness of emotions, causes, and consequences, in a way that allows us to choose how to manage them and improve the effectiveness of the way that we manage them

Distress Tolerance – Practicing tolerating, rather than avoiding or changing, extreme and/or distressing emotions

Interpersonal Effectiveness – Learning how to advocate for yourself and improve management of relationships and relationship issues, even in difficult scenarios

Learning to use these skills can be intense, as it has many parts and techniques; however, as you read and learn more about it, you will likely find that anyone who tries any of these strategies can benefit from them. For instance, who hasn’t done something they regret without thinking first? Who hasn’t felt overwhelmed and unsure of what next steps to take? Who hasn’t been so caught up and in their head that they forget to turn off the highway?

Whether you are currently in crisis mode or an average stable and healthy individual, you will no doubt find that the beneficial skills that Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches can improve your everyday functioning and mental health. So, if you aren’t someone who is already in or has received DBT treatment, what do you do and where do you begin? Below you can find a few easy ways to start using aspects of DBT skills daily.

Make a Self-Soothing Stress Relief Kit

Tapping into your five senses is a powerful way to calm your emotions and distract yourself from current distress. By creating a self-soothing stress relief kit (preferably one small enough that you can take anywhere with you) filled with various items that can be grounding or calming you can empower yourself by knowing that you have the tools to get through a situation that is distressing. For example, you could put into the kit one thing to engage each of the five senses. For smell, one bottle of peppermint or lavender essential oil. For taste, a peppermint candy. For touch, a stress ball or thinking putty. For sound, a reminder of your favorite calming music or guided relaxation script. For vision, a card with a meaningful affirmation or encouraging verse or saying. When you find yourself in a distressing moment or situation, take out each of these preselected items and allow yourself to be brought back into the present moment.

Name Emotions In Everyday Conversation

Most everyone has had the experience before of feeling upset but not quite sure why they are having this feeling. Unfortunately, when you don’t know the reason why you’re upset, there is often little you can do about it. This can be where DBT is useful. One of the best things about DBT is that it encourages patients to improve their ability to be more aware of their emotions, thoughts, behaviors, etc. in such a way that it empowers them to be able to manage life situations more effectively. This may sound somewhat complicated, but in reality it doesn’t have to be. The skill of being able to name your emotions as you are feeling them is a great place to start, and a great place to start is in naming your feelings in everyday conversations. For example, “I’m so happy you came over to see me today!” or “It frustrates me when you leave your dirty socks on the floor.”

The mantra of DBT is “Building a Life Worth Living”, and that is exactly what it can help you learn to do by applying the skills to everyday moments. Whether you are using your homemade self-soothe kit to calm yourself during a distressing moment or you are practicing naming the emotions you are feeling in an ordinary daily conversation, DBT skills can be put to good use and can help you more effectively and more thoughtfully navigate the issues life presents.