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IMPROVE the Moment DBT Skills for Stressful Times You Cannot Change

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is an evidence-based therapeutic modality that was founded by Dr. Marsha Linehan. One DBT strategy is IMPROVE the moment and uses the acronym for IMPROVE to offer practical mental and emotional tools specifically for moments of high stress, that you do not have the power to change. Sounds a lot like our current climate, doesn't it?

I – imagery: Imagery is a powerful mental tool. Your mind using images that are soothing and meaningful to you, to transport you to a more peaceful emotional state. For example, you may bring to mind the mental image of a happier, safer place and time. Another good way to utilizing imagery is through vision board. Create a vison board using magazine cut-outs that feels happy, comforting to you, can be images of what you are longing for, hoping for, whatever is meaningful to you. Then during times of high stress, bring to mind images from the vision board. Meditate on these comforting images, draw inspiration, and guidance from them.

Example: I am feeling stressed and restless because I haven’t been able to leave my house in almost a month. I’m going to meditate on a picture in my head of a mountain I love to hike during happy vacations.

M – meaning: Consider what is most important to you, your values, and how the current situation could lead you into deeper connection with your values. This does not necessarily mean that you like the circumstances – but that there is meaning and reason for them in your life – to grow you, to teach you, to allow you to help others.

Example: It’s a value of mine to care for those who are hurting. I know my uncle who works at a grocery store is having a stressful time. I’m going to send him a gift card and a hand-written thank you note for the work he is doing during this time. I'm going to find meaning in staying home because it's something I can do to care for the vulnerable in our community.

P – prayer: Taking pause to connect with God and the spiritual part of yourself allows for a deepening of perspective, comfort, purpose, and meaning. Spirituality and prayer help to connect you to yourself, to God, and to those around you with compassion.

Example: When so little makes sense right now, it’s grounding and comforting for me to pray to God. It helps remind me that we are all in this together and all looking to believe in something bigger than us, especially right now. God, please give me a peacefulness of spirit as I navigate the changing emotions of this time.

R – relaxation: A global pandemic is a form of trauma. When we experience trauma, we find ourselves in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze. The body is exhausted. You might have even noticed yourself more tired, there is a reason for this. Rest is vital. Rest is productive. It helps strengthen your mental/emotional/physical state, including your immune system – which we all need help from right now! Find some ways to regularly rest and relax. Good options are deep breathing, meditation, yoga, listening to music, reading, doing art, or journaling.

Example: I have been comparing myself to those on social media who appear to be using this time to write books and cook elaborate dinners. This makes me believe that I have to use this time to be constantly productive. Instead, I’m going to honor my body and it’s emotional exhaustion and care for myself today, knowing that too is productive. Today I choose to spend the morning in mediation and journaling.

O – one thing in the moment: Feeling overwhelmed? It’s often because your mind is trying to do too many things at once. Using mindfulness is practicing presence to deliberately slow the mind and focus just on one thing, in the present moment, at a time. Letting go of the past and the future to be fully present in the current moment.

Example: When I think about the past I become anxious about all the things I used to be able to do that I can’t do right now. When I think about the future I become anxious about how long this pandemic will last and will I ever be able to return to “normal” life. Neither thoughts about the past or thoughts about the future feel comforting to me right now. Instead, I’ll turn my attention to what I know to be true here in the present. I will put my phone away and focus on noticing my kids, noticing my surroundings, noticing the sunrise or this cup of coffee or this warm bath.

V – vacation: Set aside what you are doing and what is causing you stress in the moment to take a brief respite from regular routine. This can include stepping outside, calling a friend, taking a shower, etc.

Example: I’m going to take a break from work or from watching the news to get a few minutes of fresh air.

E – encouragement: Consider how you are speaking to yourself. Now is an easy time to criticize yourself for how you are coping. The reality is no one knows how to cope with this. It’s new for everyone. Practice giving yourself grace and space and kindness. Practice listening to what your body needs and surrounding yourself with uplifting and compassionate messaging.

Example: I’ve noticed I’ve been judging myself for taking a long time to find a new groove and rhythm. Today I’m going to post an encouraging message next to my kitchen sink to return to as many times as I need it throughout the day.

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