5 Ways to Regulate Using DBT
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a treatment that helps people feel more regulated and specifically related to emotions. This is particularly useful for those that are more sensitive or reactive to emotions.
Goals of emotion regulation in DBT
- Understand emotions (know what emotions you are experiencing and what emotions do for you).
- Decrease unwanted emotions. You have the power to change any emotion you don’t want.
- Decrease vulnerability to emotions by increasing your capabilities.
- Decrease emotional suffering. Learn how to experience emotions and urges in a way that is not causing misery. They may be painful but not causing a state of suffering.
Solutions to Stay in Control of Emotions
There are many roads to Rome to change emotions! An emotion is part of a system of factors – including the event that sets them off, how we think about the event, how we feel the emotion in our body, our urges to cope with the emotion, and the way the emotion effects us after. Emotions are hardwired- meaning this system is experienced in similar ways among people. Let’s consider anger for example: common events that set off anger are a goal being blocked, common thoughts are how it is unjust or unfair and shouldn’t happen, common body reactions are tension and urges to react or lash out. The good news about emotions being part of a system is that changing any one of the parts along the way can change the emotion. A widely researched treatment for emotion regulation is DBT and the following solutions are taught to increase emotion regulation:
- Vulnerability factors: Quality self-care can mean less vulnerability to emotion mind. This is a good sleep routine, getting regular exercise, eating nutritionally, doing things you enjoy doing, acceptance and mindfulness, problem solving to reduce stress. The more all these parts of your life are in tact, the more capable you will be to manage the emotions linked to the inevitable painful event that comes along.
- Prompting event: If you can solve your problem (linked to your emotion), solve it! If you can change the event setting the emotion off, change it. This may mean removing the cues, taking a break, setting limits in situations, changing your behavior in the situation. Often prompting events have patterns, and the more you can recognize the chain of events leading up to the prompting event (the straw that broke the camel’s back and set off the emotion), the more in control you will be.
- Interpretations of event: This includes the judgments, evaluations, assumptions of the event. This is almost always what sets off the emotion, not the event itself. Any one event can have many interpretations depending on the person it happens to or even yourself in the given moment. A break-up, a new assigned project at work or school could create disappointment, anger, curiosity, excitement, etc. based on the interpretation (thought) about the event. Thinking skills that increase emotion regulation include: factual thinking (what are the facts about this person, this situation), non-judgmental thinking (avoid assumptions, name them as just a thought, describe behaviors instead of judge them), and dialectical thinking (what is another way to look at this thinking).
- Body reactions: All emotions have body reactions, and a highly effective way to change emotions is to change facial expressions (i.e., a half smile when angry or tense). Your body communicates to your brain about your emotions. The more you observe (just notice) your body, the more separate you are, and the more regulated you can be.
- Aftereffects: Powerful emotions can have powerful aftereffects: extreme behaviors, changes in relationships, new emotions, and even new prompting events. The goal is to decrease secondary emotions (evaluations or judgments about your primary emotion) to increase emotion regulation. People may get mad that they’re sad. Instead validating and accepting your emotion can be the way through it – just saying “yes” to the emotion. Understanding that the feeling can make perfect sense given the history or the current events. This doesn’t mean that you can’t change your emotion; of course you have to accept it in order to change it.