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Crisis Situations & Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Skills

So you just discovered your spouse is having an affair. The doctor just disclosed a diagnosis of a serious medical condition you thought was just a cold. Your life has been turned upside down within seconds and you don’t know what to say, think, or do. A crisis situation is considered any major life event which occurs and overwhelms your mind and body’s ability to cope in a healthy manner. A crisis situation can often trigger shock, denial, anger, or any other intense emotional experiences which you may not be equipped to cope with. 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based practice which uses a holistic mind-body approach to treatment. It encompasses Eastern and Western approaches from mindfulness to cognitive balance. DBT teaches many skills which can help improve the overall quality of an individual’s life (regardless of diagnosis) if practiced and implemented in one’s life regularly. 

Here are skills to use when faced with a crisis situation:

DBT Skill: Distracting with Wise Mind ACCEPTS

Often when faced with a crisis situation your initial reaction or urge may to engage in disruptive behaviors. Distracting yourself from the issue short-term can give you time and space from the crisis at hand. However, it is important to remember that temporarily distracting yourself for a short time is okay; but avoiding an issue for a prolonged period of time can worsen things. 

There are various distracting techniques you can employ. One way to remember them is the acronym ACCEPTS.

  1. A – Activities: Go for a walk, bake/cook your favorite food, spend time with a loved one, watch your favorite Netflix show, play video games, or take part in a cherished hobby of yours.

  2. C – Contributing: Volunteer by walking shelter dogs or helping out an organization which aligns with your values. Help a friend or family member complete a task they need help with. Simply smile at a stranger passing by. When we help others feel better, we feel better in the process.

  3. C – Comparisons: Compare your current self to your past self. Be proud of how far you have come in comparison to your past self. 

  4. E – Emotions: When faced with intense emotions, it is important to recognize you have the ability to change your emotional experience. Watch funny youtube videos. Listen to music that reflects your feelings of sadness, despair, or even happiness. Read an article or blog which relates to or validates your emotions. 

  5. P – Pushing away: It is okay to temporarily push away the situation you are facing. If it is too much, block it out for awhile until you are ready to face it head on. 

  6. T – Thoughts: Watch your thoughts. While sometimes you may feel you do not have control over your emotions, it is important to remember you always have the ability to choose one thought over another. Some ways to break a negative thought cycle is by counting backwards from 100, speaking out loud your daily habits in order, singing lyrics to your favorite song, or watching something that is thought-provoking. 

  7. S – Sensations: Hold on to ice, or chew ice. Take a hot or cold shower. Play with textured items in your hands. Use aromatherapy to calm yourself and relieve stress. 

DBT Skill: IMPROVE the Moment

Another excellent DBT skill which can be used during times of crisis is IMPROVE.

  1. I – Imagery: Use imagery to take your mind to a relaxing and safe space. Imagine positive outcomes for your life/situation. 

  2. M – Meaning: Search for the purpose in a painful moment. Rather than using a victimized mentality of “why is this happening to me?” consider what you are meant to learn from this (i.e. a lesson triggering growth, self-worth, etc). 

  3. P – Prayer: Open your heart to a supreme being, God, or your own Wise Mind. Ask for strength and put your faith in God or another higher being. The universe is always communicating to you through signs and symbols- you must be open and willing to receive the messages. 

  4. R – Relaxing: Relax by taking a hot bath. Lay in bed and do nothing. Allow yourself to rest and relax without feeling guilty for doing so. 

  5. O – One thing in the moment: Keep yourself in the moment through mindfulness and being present. 

  6. V – Vacation: Give yourself a short vacation. Take a day off from school/work. Go on a short drive to clear your mind. Spend the day somewhere you normally would not go. Giving yourself a vacation from all technology/devices can provide you with immense relief and help build a connection with yourself and surroundings. 

  7. E – Self-encouragement and rethinking: Be honest with yourself and provide realistic, yet hopeful encouragement in order to get through a difficult time. Remind yourself – this too shall pass. Know that you have successfully overcome difficult things before and you can do it again.

If you have any questions, would like to learn more about DBT, or to schedule an appointment with Sonali or one of our other counselors, please contact us 832-421-8714.


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