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DBT: Healthy Habits for the Mind (& Body)

One’s mind is just as important to their overall health as their body. In some cases, a healthy mind is a necessary component for a healthy body. Psychological distress can cause or exacerbate many physical ailments, including high blood pressure, pain, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and others. Psychological distress can lead to the use of coping mechanisms that can can have negative physical effects, such as excessive alcohol consumption, the use of drugs (prescription and/or illicit), “emotional eating”, or the avoidance of or inability to enjoy physical activity and exercise. Psychological distress can also lead to life events that are linked to worse health outcomes, such as the loss of or difficulty with employment, the disruption of interpersonal relationships, or less positive social interactions. Dialectical behavioral therapy is a set of tools, strategies, exercises, and approaches aimed at reducing various causes of psychological distress that you can do at home on your own. It is designed, in general, to help with emotional regulation. Especially in these days where everything seems a little harder, who couldn’t use that? Traditionally, alternative approaches have included cognitive behavioral therapy (talk therapy with a licensed mental health professional) and/or pharmaceuticals. The purpose of this blog is not to minimize or replace the role of these therapies, but to give an introduction to this technique that may have the benefits of being practical, solutions and outcome based, and easy to employ with self care. It may reduce potential barriers to any treatment which may include appointments with a therapist or medication side effects or lack of response (they do not always work). Many times, a combination of therapies and approaches, or a step-wise approach, makes senses. DBT are generally skills and habits that are probably things every human should learn and could use to their benefit or comfort many times throughout their usual day. In a way, they are just health habits for your mind.

There are several main skills that embody DBT. We will touch on a couple of them today.

Core Mindfulness

Definition: the ability to slow down in the midst of emotional pain and tune into your sensations in a non judgemental way. Instead of engaging in automatic negative thought patterns.

Exercise: The “4-7-8” breathing technique is one you can do in public anytime and is very calming. To do it:

  • To begin, sit or stand with your back straight. If you are able to sit down and elevate your hips above your knees with a blanket or meditation pillow, that is preferred as it is more relaxing. You can also sit with your back against a wall if you really want to feel supported.

  • While breathing in, keep your tongue poised just against the gum line on your front teeth, and be sure to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.

  • Exhale completely making an audible sigh (you can exhale more quietly if you’re in public).

  • Close your mouth. Inhale through the nose and count to four.

  • Retain the breath and count to seven.

  • Exhale through the mouth and count to eight.

  • This completes one cycle of the breathing exercise. Repeat four to five times no more than twice per day.

  • This powerful breathing exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.

Distress Tolerance

Definition: accepting yourself and your current situation by using distraction and self soothing.

Exercise: Switch from your emotional brain to your physical brain by putting your body in charge. Whatever you are doing physically, change it. If you're inside, go outside. If you're sitting, get up and walk around. If you’re being quite, sing your favorite song loudly. If you’re yelling, meditate.

For more information, review this guide:

Distress Tolerance DBT Skills_ADA_04232020_tcm75-1598996
Download PDF • 359KB

Remember, these skills, like anything complicated, take practice. If you are in a mental health crisis, you can use the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline hotline by calling or texting "988." Remember to have a professional evaluation if appropriate, as these techniques do not take the place of medical advice or licensed mental health evaluation and management. Don’t expect to be successful right away or everytime, but just by learning more about them, you are equipping yourself to better care for yourself. We are here as your partner and guide. Let’s crush this journey of life and enjoy the view along the way!

Take Back Your State of Mind,

Valerie Hope-Slocum Sutherland, MD


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