Mindfulness and DBT for Mental Health

Mindfulness and DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) are two related and powerful practices that you can cultivate by following some simple self-care exercises.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness arises from non-judgemental attention to the present moment. It involves tuning in to what is happening right now, both within yourself and in your external environment. Learning to slow down and cultivate this level of heightened awareness will help you to become happier and healthier.

Mindfulness Exercises

Connect with your breath – Take a few minutes to notice your breath, paying attention to the way that it enters and exits your body. Inhale deeply through your nose and feel your breath make its way into your belly, causing your torso to rise. Exhale through your mouth and feel your tummy and torso lower. Breathe in and out deeply 5 times, holding your breath for a count of 5
in between inhalation and exhalation.

Do a body scan – This exercise is an expanded version of connecting with your breath,
and it’s best to do this exercise while seated or lying down. While breathing deeply and
calmly, imagine your breath flowing all throughout your body. Guided by your breath, focus on
relaxing each part of your body in turn.

Ground yourself – Again, this exercise is one that you can do while seated or lying down. Turn your focus to your surroundings by working with each of your 5 senses in turn. Look around you for 5 things that you can see. Next, listen for 4 things that you can hear. Find 3 things that you can touch. Identify 2 things that you can smell. Notice 1 thing that you can taste.

Express gratitude – Make a list of five things that make you feel grateful. If you have the tools available, write them down so that they feel more concrete. You might consider making this a daily practice, either first thing in the morning or last thing before bed.

Compassionate self-talk – Check in with your thoughts and feelings. Recognize and affirm that your emotions are valid, even if they are difficult. Give yourself permission to simply be as you are, and hold on to a mantra that offers yourself compassion (e.g. “I am enough” or “May I love and accept myself just as I am”). If your situation allows for it, say this statement out loud.

What is DBT?

DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) is a modified form of CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy). “Dialectical” refers to the synthesis or integration of opposites. When you practice DBT, you combine acceptance and change. This method of therapy focuses on bringing the rational and the emotional mind into balance: the wise mind. As with mindfulness, DBT requires you to work in an observant and non-judgemental manner. DBT can help you to manage difficult situations, regulate your emotions, and build strong interpersonal skills.

Use ACCEPTS to distract yourself from intense and unhelping feelings or situations:

A = Activities (do something that interests you to take your mind off the problem)

C = Contributing (focus on helping other people)

C = Comparisons (reframe your situation by remembering that it could be worse)

E = Emotions (find something that will prompt the opposite emotion – e.g. if you are feeling sad, listen to uplifting music)

P = Push Away (get distance from negative situations, possibly by using visualization techniques such as imagining them disintegrating)

T = Thoughts (turn your attention to other neutral or positive thoughts)

S = Sensations (engage with your physical sensations to forget negative feelings)

Separate feeling from acting – Remember that experiencing a strong emotion is not the same thing as acting on it. When you feel a strong impulse, pause and identify it. Then, decide whether this a feeling that you should follow, manage, or set aside.

Ride the wave – Work with the metaphor of the tide to manage your feelings. Although it may feel like a difficult emotional state will last forever, remember that it will eventually shift and change, just like the weather. Visualize yourself riding the wave of your emotions (or play with a related metaphor such as surfing, snowboarding, skiing, or skating, if these are experiences
that resonate with you).

Both mindfulness and DBT can be powerful tools to help you cope with stress and mental health challenges. A counsellor or therapist can also help you put these tools into practice. Remember that understanding the theory is useful, but putting in the practice is what will really make the difference!