How 4 (relatively simple) DBT skills can help you through the pandemic

We’re living in some tough times, that’s for sure. When the pandemic hit us at full force with nation-wide shutdowns from schools to daycares and workplaces, it felt like we were bombarded with messages about “how to cope in the pandemic” with advice like “create a routine” and “find a way to be physically active” etc. Now that were almost 11 months into the pandemic, it seems that advice is losing its power.


At this point, facing the upcoming winter months with activities closed/reduced and we’re all stuck at home, we may need to revamp our tools in order to help us cope with this next phase of the pandemic. Luckily for us, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) has some very practical tools to help us cope with difficult emotions that can be very helpful for us all, in times like these.


I will be outlining 4 specific DBT skills that might be helpful to you at this point during the pandemic. While you’re reading this, please remember that the goal is not to perfect each of these skills. The aim is to be aware of them, practice them, and hopefully use them when needed. You might be surprised at the effectiveness of some of these DBT skills that are used for emotion regulation and applicable to all of us.


1) The ABC PLEASE skills are actually two sets of skills that are combined? to help ensure we spend our time doing things that can improve our mood, and to make sure we take care of our bodies. The overall goal is it minimize vulnerability factors that make us more susceptible to anxiety, depression and overall dysregulation.


The acronym stands for:


A– Accumulate positive experiences: Try to find one enjoyable thing to do each day, even from home.

BBuild mastery: Do something each day that gives you a sense of accomplishment (Clean out that junk drawer? Get rid of some old clothes? Try a new recipe you’ve been eyeing?)

CCope ahead: Problem solving ahead of time for difficult situations that may increase stress. Remember you can ask others to help brainstorm solutions for difficult problems. Your DBT therapist can also help you put a plan together.

PLPhysical illness: Be sure to take care of your physical health by seeing a doctor when necessary and taking medications as prescribed. Remember that this category also includes mental health!

EBalance eating: Not too much, and not too little. Be sure to have a moderate balance of healthy food with some treat-options as well.

A Avoid mood-altering substances: Try to limit excessive use of drugs and alcohol

S- Balance Sleep: Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep by altering your sleep schedule, limiting exposure to screens right before sleep, and only using your bed for sleep and sex.

E-Get Exercise: Consider home workouts on Youtube or simple walks around the block.


2) INTERPERSONAL EFFECTIVENESS skills can come in handy after being cooped up for days on end with our loved ones. In times of high stress, it’s nice to have a reminder of how to speak effectively to others, in order to get our message across. We’ve all experienced times when emotions run high, and we can’t seem to get our point across.


DEAR MAN skills are designed to help us communicate our needs and wants to other – helping us attain our objective.


Describe the situation objectively- remember to stick to the facts
Express your feelings and opinions about the situation
Assert yourself by asking for what you want, or by saying no
Reinforce the request by rewarding people who respond well. This can be as simple as a smile and a “thank you”.
Mindful of objectives without distraction from others – keep the conversation on course. It can be easy to get distracted and lose focus of the objective.
Appear confident- keep your head up, make eye contact and speak clearly
Negotiate alternative solutions- No one can get everything they wants of of an interaction all the time. Be open to negotiation.


3) A key component of DBT skills for emotion regulation is that of mindfulness, which is the practice of living in the present moment. More specifically for DBT, it is the technique of noticing when the mind is caught up in a thought, and bringing it back, intentionally, to the present moment. DBT also introduced another important element to mindfulness practice, that of mindfulness without judgment. When we are able to attend to our thoughts, feelings and behaviours without judging them, we are better able to be limit our suffering by letting natural emotions run their course. Emotions pass, as naturally as they came-without all the suffering and attempts to control them in between.

While it may sound simple, mindfulness is actually very a very difficult to master. Remember that it is referred to as a practice for a reason- we don’t generally “attain” it- we keep working at it, constantly aiming to improve. Keep in mind that our brains are biologically hard-wired to make judgements, and to create stories in attempt to feel control.


We are literally working against biology with this skill, so always keep in mind that there is no such thing as perfection, only consistency and practice.


4) I’ve saved my personal favorite skill for last- one that I find myself using quite often, in varying capacities. The skill of RADICAL ACCEPTANCE can be a tricky one to digest seeing as though one common myth is that if you accept something, you approve of it. However, Radical Acceptance in DBT simply refers to an acknowledgment of reality. It means that you will not attempt to change it or fight reality, rather you approach it with the idea that you acknowledge what is happening. Generally, when we try to fight reality, our emotional reactions are only further intensified, creating additional suffering. Therefore, by radically accepting our situation, “it is what it is”, we are in turn reducing our pain and suffering.


I may not be okay with this pandemic and the fact that my kids are missing school, crucial socialization and activities. I also may not be okay with the fact that I feel unsettled in my home workspace on a daily basis. However, I am radically accepting that this is my reality at this moment. Dwelling on it only makes me more sad. I can radically accept that this pandemic is still in full force and that life will be different for the next several months to come. The best I can do is practice my skills to live mindfully in the present moment and do my best each day.


DBT services are offered by the team at Grey Zone Psychology & Wellness. Read more about how DBT can benefit you on our website.


Author: Jennifer Sidel

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