How to use Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) technique to help regulate emotions and ease anxiety and stressful thoughts.

When experiencing high levels of stress and/or anxiety, emotions are typically running high, which can make it difficult to think rationally. In fact, anxiety/stress can even be known to "trick" you into thinking you are in fact thinking rationally. It is only after you take a step back or "come out the other side" so to speak, that you may realize that the thoughts you were previously having, were not based on facts/logic, but rather driven by emotions, anxiety and/or fear. 

This is a classic example of something Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (a popular form of psychotherapy) calls our "Emotional Mind". 

A rational mind is when a person uses logic, hard facts, reason, etc., to guide their actions. This can be helpful in certain situations, such as baking for example, where we want to follow measurements or specific recipes to get the exact outcome we desire. However, we cannot expect ourselves to be in a rational state of mind 24/7, as emotions, feelings, and fears are all present for a reason - they serve a purpose. 

So how can we engage our rational mind mind and our emotional mind at the same time? The answer: the wise mind - where facts and experience are combined with emotions and feelings. Where we use intuition, listen to our gut/heart/mind to decide what's best. It is important that we acknowledge and honour our feelings, in a way that allows us to accomplish our goals. 

So how can you get out of an emotional mind and into a wise mind? There are many tricks taught in DBT to help with this. One is the STOP technique. Another, is using distractions - the topic of this article. 

Distractions come in many forms. DBT splits them up into several categories: Activities, Contributing, Comparisons, Emotions, Pushing Away, Thoughts and Sensations. To help remember the various categories, they also created the following saying: "A wise mind ACCEPTS". 

The examples listed below are adapted from DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan. Copyright 2015


  • Focus attention on a task you need to get done
  • Rent movies; watch TV
  • Clean a room in your house
  • Play computer games
  • Go for a walk or exercise
  • Call or video chat a friend
  • Download and/or listen to music
  • Build/create something
  • Spend time with those you're living with
  • Play cards
  • Read magazines, books, comic
  • Do crossword puzzles or Sudoku.


  • Find volunteer work to do
  • Help a friend or family member
  • Surprise someone with something nice (a
    card, a favor, a gift, etc.)
  • Give away things you don’t need
  • Check in on a friend or loved one 
  • Make something nice for someone else
  • Do something thoughtful.


  • Compare how you are feeling now to a time when you felt differently (ie. a week ago, an hour ago, etc.)
  • Think about people who may be going through something similar, but may have things more difficult (find gratitude in your situation)


*Choosing an activity that elicitis a different emotion than what you are currently feeling (ie, if you're feeling fearful, don't watch a scary movie. Watch a comedy perhaps). Activities could include:

  • Reading emotional books or stories, old letters, cards etc. (ie. happy books, funny cards, comic books etc.)
  • Watch emotional TV show or movies (ie. comedy, romance, scary movie, action, etc.)
  • Listen to emotional music (ie. motivational, religious, calming, energizing, etc.)

Pushing away

Trying to stay grounded while pushing away stressful thoughts. When we have a lot going on in our minds, it's important that we compartmentalize our thoughts. Sometimes that means putting some thoughts aside for now, so you can address them at another time. Pushing away could look like:

  • Push the situation away by leaving it for a while
  • Leave the situation mentally
  • Build an imaginary wall between yourself and the situation
  • Block thoughts and images from your mind
  • Notice ruminating thoughts: Yell “No!”
  • Refuse to think about the painful situations
  • Put the pain on a shelf. Box it up and put it away for a while
  • Deny the problem for the moment


  • Count to 10; count colors in a painting or poster or out the window; count anything
  • Repeat words to a song in your mind
  • Puzzles
  • Watch TV or read


*Find a way to fully immerse yourself in your senses. Examples could include:

  • Squeeze a rubber ball very hard
  • Listen to very loud music
  • Hold ice in your hand or mouth
  • Go out in the rain or snow
  • Take a hot or cold shower
  • Practice the 5,4,3,2,1 Technique
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