The 5 most effective DBT skills

Using Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills is an effective way of remaining calm in a charged situation and acting rationally. You may have already used some DBT techniques without even realizing it. If you’ve ever paused to take a few deep breaths before responding to a situation or splashed your face with cool water to calm down, you’ve practiced DBT skills.

Anyone can develop and use DBT methods to improve their life. Here are five of the most effective DBT skills you can use to swap your negative thinking patterns for positive ones and enjoy better mental health. Many people are trying to find DBT therapy near them while others resort to online therapy.

1. Radical acceptance

Radical acceptance is one of the core concepts of DBT. It means acknowledging that some circumstances are beyond your control without judgment. By understanding that you have no power in a specific situation, your suffering and anger levels are reduced.

This DBT skill works because the suffering you experience in some situations doesn’t come from the pain itself, but from your attachment to the pain. When you accept that you simply can’t control some things, you can detach yourself from them and move on.

Radical acceptance is particularly effective when considering painful times from your past. Your past is your past — you can’t change it. By accepting this reality, you can move on with your life, away from the pain and suffering caused by past events.


TIPP stands for Temperature change, Intense exercise, Paced breathing, and Paired muscle relaxation. It’s a helpful acronym to remember in times of crisis. When you feel overwhelmed, it can be easy to act irrationally and impulsively. TIPP encourages you to calm down and approach the situation with a clear mind. 

  • Temperature change: splashing your face with cold water or holding ice cubes can force your heart rate to decrease.
  • Intense exercise: running, swimming, rowing, etc can get rid of negative energy and encourage your brain to create calming endorphins.
  • Paced breathing: meditation or even just taking slow breaths while counting can make you feel more relaxed and level-headed.
  • Paired muscle relaxation: going through each part of your body in your mind and physically tensing then relaxing each muscle can reduce physical and mental stress.

It’s not always convenient or appropriate to use TIPP techniques in all circumstances. But when you can, they provide an effective solution when your emotions are running very high.

3. Self-soothe

Self-soothing works by focusing your primary senses to restore a sense of calm. Unlike TIPP, self-soothing is less effective in times of crisis. Instead, it’s better to practice it before a difficult situation hits, when you can find out which method works best for you when you already have a relatively clear and calm mind.

  • Sight: take a look around you and notice any beauty, people-watch, or watch a video that makes you happy.
  • Smell: go out and smell nature, cook something that smells great, or use essential oils you particularly like.
  • Touch: pet an animal, hug a friend, or touch something warm and fluffy.
  • Taste: eat your favorite food, enjoy something you associate as a treat, or eat a snack as mindfully as you can.
  • Sound: listen to birdsong or other animal sounds, play your favorite music, or sing at the top of your lungs.

If you struggle with anxiety, you’ll find self-soothing to be a great way of calming yourself down before a panic attack strikes. The more senses you focus on at the same time, the faster you’ll calm down and regain power.


IMPROVE is another acronym that can reduce intense emotions when they get out of control. It stands for:

  • Imagery: focus on the problem being resolved positively with the outcome that you want.
  • Meaning: find meaning in the situation, such as looking for a chance to learn and grow, making it more tolerable.
  • Prayer: prayer doesn’t always have to be religious — it can be asking for strength from a higher power or connecting with your wise mind.
  • Relaxation: relax your body by taking deep breaths or going for a walk, with the final goal of relaxing your mind.
  • One thing at a time: concentrating on one thing at a time can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Vacation: take a break from the things that cause you stress in your everyday life, such as social media or members of your family.
  • Encouragement: be your own cheerleader and boost your mood with positive affirmations.

Just like the self-soothing technique, it’s best to practice different IMPROVE methods to find out which one works best for you. Then, when you’re presented with a crisis, you’ll be better equipped to handle the situation.

5. Mindfulness

There are many different ways to be mindful. Whichever technique works best for you, these mindfulness skills will support you to practice more effectively for better results:

  • Examine: how you feel inside and outside, observe the experience, and allow your thoughts and feelings to occur.
  • Describe: identify what you noticed in the previous stage. Do you feel scared? Are you finding it hard to breathe? Is your heart racing?
  • Engage: be fully present in the moment, even if it means you have to experience challenging emotions.
  • Avoid judgment: examine how you feel, but don’t judge your feelings. Avoid labeling experiences and instead, describe them.
  • Concentrate: stay focused and don’t let distractions from the past, present, or future get in your way.
  • Follow the results: do what works for you in your current situation, regardless of things that may work for other people.

By learning how to be mindful in your everyday life, you’re giving yourself the power to take charge of yourself in a new way. The more you understand yourself, the better positioned you are to accept your current self and make changes for the better.

Read more about the differences between CBT and DBT >>

It can be difficult alone

You can practice DBT skills on your own at home, but you can also try improving them in a DBT clinic since it can be difficult to get started without any external support. Our trained therapists are experienced and qualified to help you develop the DBT skills and techniques you need to improve your everyday life.

Through individual therapy sessions, group workshops, and on-demand phone advice, our team is here to help you at every step of the way. Make your first appointment today and take the first step to discover the methods you need to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741