This is part one of a six-part series based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a highly researched set of practical tools to help manage emotions and crises as well as replace old, ineffective behaviors with new, effective ones. Many individuals seeking DBT desire support and independence. One of the four modules of DBT is called mindfulness. It is a fundamental part of all the identified skills. Daily mindfulness practice improves the ability to focus and increase feelings of contentment.
If you have seen “Inside Out,” you may recall the main character named Riley moving across the country. At that time, her emotions, which are developed in the form of endearing animated characters, acted out-of-control. I use this example often in my work; imagine how much these characters could have used mindfulness skills to help self soothe and cope through that transition!
Mindfulness is a technique that trains your brain to be in the present moment with awareness and without judgement. It requires being able to tolerate the experience of distressful thoughts and emotions long enough to decide if those thoughts have value and figure out how best to respond. This is learned by becoming more aware of your attention and deliberately changing your focus.
Often, our pain and mental discomfort comes from the judgment we place on what we experience, rather than by what is actually happening. When we cannot control our attention, it can create problems for us.
Emotions can also feel extreme and painful. Few, if any, healthy people want to experience intense pain. Avoiding emotions usually gives them more strength and power. As difficult as it may be, for emotions to pass, you must experience them. When you experience them, you are likely to feel strong urges to take immediate action to alleviate them. These reactions are often not thought through well, and they may actually cause more harm and hurt. Managing intense emotions so that you don’t act impulsively or make the situation worse requires more than willpower alone.
When your brain is in flight, fight, or freeze mode, you cannot think clearly. This is what happens with extreme emotion; your rational mind cannot be accessed. Thus, you cannot accurately consider the consequences when you are overwhelmed by your emotional mind. A good way to be present is to identify if you are ruminating on the past or feeling anxious about the future. This is done by pausing and taking a step back from the emotion. After, you must find healthy distractions to allow your brain to return to a wise mind.
While mindfulness will not prevent unpleasant events from happening in your daily life, it allows you to view those events from an objective place, without automatic reactions or feelings. Once you have lowered the intensity of your emotions, you can use more complex skills to help manage emotions effectively until you can make wise decisions.
For additional resources, check out the following books. Also, be sure to come back for the next blog installment in this series on DBT!
- The Mindfulness Toolbox: 50 Practical Tips, Tools, and Handouts for Anxiety, Depression, Stress, and Pain by Donald Altman
- Little Book of Mindfulness: 10 minutes a Day to Less Stress, More Peace by Patricia Collard