Everyone wants to feel like they have control over their emotions.Though people do their best to self-regulate, they sometimes find themselves in difficult situations that they cannot or should not avoid. In these situations, their emotions can become so hard to tolerate that they are unbearable, which can make people feel out of control. This out-of-control feeling is dangerous, because it can lead someone to attempt to manage his emotions in harmful ways, like engaging in a substance or process addiction, binge eating, blowing up at friends or family, or self-injuring.
For those of us who struggle to feel in control when experiencing intense emotions, we can look to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for some guidance. DBT is a type of therapy initially developed to treat Borderline Personality Disorder, but it has since been proven effective in treating many different issues, including addiction, depression, and eating disorders. Many people also find the skills DBT teaches helpful for navigating everyday life.
DBT emphasizes distress tolerance as one of its core components and offers many distress tolerance skills that can help us feel calmer and think more clearly in those difficult situations in which our emotions threaten to become out of control. Some of the most effective distress tolerance skills are the TIPP skills. TIPP stands for:
Temperature: Changing your body’s temperature can change your emotions. DBT therapists know something that most people do not: when you are submerged into very cold water for 30-60 seconds, you will trigger the mammalian dive reflex, which automatically slows your body’s heart rate and relaxes you. A good way to simulate submersion is to dunk your head in a bucket of water, to press frozen items, like ice packs or citrus fruit against your eyes, or to hold ice cubes in your hands.
Intense Exercise: Quick bursts of intense exercise can help make you feel better. Running up and down stairs, jumping jacks, burpees, sprints, or even a power walk can help calm your body down.
Paced Breathing: Focusing on taking long, deep breaths can also help you feel relaxed. Try taking five or six slow breaths per minute and making sure your exhalations last longer than your inhalations.
Paired Muscle Relaxation: Focusing on each individual body part can help center you and calm you down. While taking slow deep breaths (or even practicing paced breathing), tense each of your body’s muscles, one by one, and then relax. For instance, you can start with your toes and work your way up to your face and scalp.
These skills are a great way to make it through a distressing situation. The next time you feel like your emotions may be getting out of control, give them a try!
*If you have any medical conditions, such as a heart conditions, breathing difficulties, brain injuries, allergies to cold, or pregnancy, please consult a medical professional before utilizing these skills.