Try These DBT Skills to Alleviate COVID-19 Distress

In the wake of coronavirus pandemic, one can learn some dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills to help dealing with the death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness, and other traumatic circumstances.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a psychotherapy that was initially developed in the late 1980s to treat borderline personality disorders (BPD); it has since been used by practitioners to treat people with depression, drug and alcohol problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), binge-eating disorder, and mood disorders.

Behavioral skills training is an important component of DBT treatment. More than 50 such skills are grouped into four modules: mindfulness skills, emotional regulation skills, interpersonal effectiveness skills, and distress tolerance skills.

Whether you have a mental issue or not, you can benefit from learning these skills and incorporating them into your life. Specifically, some of the distress tolerance skills can be of practical uses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

TIP Skill

This is one of the fastest and most popular of the distress tolerance skills:

  • Tipping the temperature of one’s face with very cold water. The idea is to bring on the dive reflex and bring the physiology down to slow it down.

  • Intense exercise of approximately 20 minutes.

  • Paced breathing as well as paired muscle relaxation.


This is a skill used to distract oneself temporarily from unpleasant emotions:

  • Activities – Use positive activities that one enjoys.

  • Contribute – Help others or the community.

  • Comparisons – Compare oneself either to people that are less fortunate or to how one used to be when in a worse state.

  • Emotions (other) – cause oneself to feel something different by provoking one’s sense of humor or happiness with corresponding activities.

  • Push away – Put one’s own situation on the back-burner for a while. Put something else temporarily first in one’s mind.

  • Thoughts (other) – Force one’s mind to think about something else.

  • Sensations (other) – Do something that has an intense feeling other than what one is feeling, like a cold shower or a spicy candy.


This skill is used in moments of distress to help one relax:

  • Imagery – Imagine relaxing scenes, things going well, or other things that are pleasing.

  • Meaning – Find some purpose or meaning in what one is feeling.

  • Prayer – Either pray to whomever one worships, or, if not religious, chant a personal mantra.

  • Relaxation – Relax muscles and breathe deeply; use with self-soothing.

  • One thing in the moment – Focus one’s attention on what one is doing. Keep oneself in the present.

  • Vacation (brief) – Take a break from it all for a short period of time.

  • Encouragement – Cheerleading oneself, telling oneself that it is possible to make it through a situation and cope as it will assist resilience and reduce vulnerability.


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