Coping Skills

Coping skills are the biggest thing they teach you in therapy. By learning different coping skills, you can help yourself relax, calm down and manage your mental illness. Different skills work better than others in different situations, you just have to find the ones that work for you. Take the time to practice these skills, so that when you need to use them, you have them available for your use. *I will be posting about many of these coping skills more in detail at a later time.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

  • Observe 5 things you see, notice 4 sounds you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell & 1 thing you taste.


  • “I” Statements. Assertive communication of your feelings: “I feel __, when you __, because __. In the future, I’d like you to __.
  • Also use DEAR MAN (described here) to be assertive.

3 C’s (Catch, challenge & Change)/Thought Stopping

  • Catch the negative/unhealthy thought, challenge it, and change it. Notice the impulse or thought. Say or think “STOP” either out loud or to yourself. Replace the troubling thought with a positive alternative thought.

Challenge Distorted Thoughts (CBT Skill)

  • Notice the negative/distorted though. Ask yourself, is there evidence for my thought or am I exaggerating? Think of a few alternative, less negative possibilities.

Distract (DBT: Distress Tolerance Skill)

  • ACCEPTS: A – Activites; C – Contributing; C – Comparisions; E – Emotions; P – Pushing Away;
  • Do a puzzle, go shopping, clean one room in the house. DO SOMETHING!!!!!


  • Work out the emotion through physical exercise. Walk, weights, jog, biking, etc.

Gratitude list

  • Write down a list of 10 things you are grateful for every night. Make sure at least 5 of them are not the same as the night before.


  • Guided imagery uses your 5 senses and imagination to attempt to manage your emotions. Please visit the Inner Health Studio for more information.

Improve the moment (DBT: Distress Tolerance Skill)

  • I – Imagery; M – Meaning; P – Prayer; R – Relaxation; O – One Thing in the Moment; V – Vacation; E – Encourage


  • Write about a strong emotion you are experiencing, how you coped with it, and what you can do differently next time.


  • Taking the lemons that life hands you and making lemonade.
  • Dilute the situation (add water).
  • Find or add something positive to the situation (Add sugar).

Make/use a self sooth kit

  • Please view the separate post here on making & using a self sooth kit.

Mirror Work

  • Look at yourself in a mirror and repeat a positive self-statement out loud 3-10 times. Run the water if you don’t want anyone to hear you. “I am _______.”

Non-judgmental (DBT: Mindfulness Skill)

  • Not judging anyone or anything.
  • This includes not judging your own thoughts, actions, etc.
  • Accepts the situation as is, for the moment.

Observe breathing (4 square breathing)

  • Breathe in while counting to 4. Hold it for 4. Exhale while counting to 4. Repeat.

One Mind/Mindfulness (DBT: Mindfulness Skill)

  • Focus on something around you. Notice the details. Describe it to yourself. (Will be discussed in further detail in a future post).

Opposite to Emotion (Emotion Regulation Skill)

  • Identify your problematic emotion, and actively engage in activities that bring the opposite emotion to your awareness as well.
  • To change the emotion, acting contrary to how you feel.

PMR – Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  • Involves tensing and relaxing various muscle groups.
  • Listen to a cd or online PMR relaxation meditation.

Positive Self-Talk

  • Focusing on your positive qualities and repeating them to yourself

Pros & Cons (DBT: Distress Tolerance Skill)

  • Think about the positives and negatives to the situation. Write them down.

Radical Acceptance (DBT: Distress Tolerance Skill)

  • Accepting the situation & continuing on
  • Accept what you can’t change and let it go. Focus your attention and energy on what you can control and change: Yourself
  • Accepting is not the same as approving. Tolerate the moment.

Ride the wave

  • Emotions come and go like the waves in the ocean. When you are experiencing a strong negative emotion, visualize that you are surfing on a wave of your emotions, letting it ride.

Stop. Think. Act

  • A strong impulse or emotion is not the same as acting on it. Think it through. You can choose to engage in the impulse, use a skill to manage it or tolerate it while doing nothing. You have the choice.

Talk to Someone

  • Talk  out the troublesome emotion or situation with someone you trust. Often just getting it out verbally is all we need to improve our mood. Helpful advice can put things into perspective too.

Time Out

  • Separate yourself from the situation allowing yourself time to calm down and restore emotional balance.


  • Retreat inside yourself and then reemerge when it is safe. Use hard outer shell to let things roll off your back. When you feel knocked down, turn yourself right side up and back in balance.


  • Volunteering and helping others can take your mind out of itself by focusing on helping someone or something else.

Wise mind (DBT: Distress Tolerance Skill)

  • A combination of reasonable (logical) mind and emotional mind.

DBT Skills Handbook
Relaxation & Guided Imagery
Emergency Bag or Box (Self-soothing)


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