DBT Skills: Chillaxin

Last time on DBT skills we got to think about all the ways that we deal with it when things suck. Today we’re going to focus a little more on how to make those things feel slightly less sucky in the moment. Yes, this is possible to do without ignoring your feelings, pretending your feelings don’t exist, or repressing your feelings. One technique for this is called “self-soothing”, which amounts to finding things that feel comforting or relaxing to you in order to shift your focus away from what is distressing and calm yourself enough that you can deal with the problem.

This particular skill focuses on the five senses. Each of us have things that feel good in a purely physical way. Taking a hot bath feels great to some people, while others really enjoy getting a nice meal. There are certain scents that feel comforting to most of us, and soft fabrics can be incredibly calming. This is the kind of skill that it’s easy to dismiss because it seems overly simplistic. No, these footie pajamas will not fix my panic attack. But if I mindfully focus on how it feels to be wearing them, and when I do that my body will relax, my breathing will slow down, my muscles will untense, and my heart rate will slow down a bit. That will give me the space to feel ok for a little bit.

The choice to focus on something that feels good to your senses is important. It’s easy to make yourself comfort food and binge on it without really thinking about what you’re doing. That kind of behavior tends to result in feeling guilty and not alleviating the distress that you were already feeling. Instead, choosing one thing to focus on and letting yourself bask in it will go a lot further. Sometimes doing something as simple as lighting a candle and watching the wax drip can jolt me out of a stressful mental space. More often than not, there is nothing dangerous or anxiety provoking actually happening in your physical space. By focusing on the world in your immediate surroundings, you can bring your mind back to what’s happening in the here and now. But this skill goes one further than mindfulness by making your immediate surroundings a soothing place to be.

Again, it can be helpful to create a list of things that are helpful for this skill. Another option is to have a drawer or box with all the things you might want to use: candles, silly putty, lotion, a soft blanket, pretty pictures. This makes it easy to pull out the skill at a moment’s notice if things start to get overwhelming or frustrating. Your homework for tonight: do one thing that makes your senses feel good.


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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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