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  • Utilizing Crisis Survival Skills

    By: Ashley Kraut, MA, LPC, NCC

    Experiencing emotions is a natural human experience, but sometimes these emotions can be extreme and difficult to tolerate in the moment. When emotions are extreme and impairing functioning, or acting on the extreme emotions would be harmful, then some skills can be utilized to reduce the intensity of the emotions and prevent acting on harmful urges. The skills listed below are specifically for surviving an emotional crisis. 

    • Make a pros and cons list. Be sure to include the pros and cons of acting on crisis urges, and the pros and cons of not acting on the urges.

    • Utilize the TIP skills that change the chemistry in your physical body. T-Tip the Temperature of your body by holding cold water on your face for 30 seconds. I-Intense exercise to expend energy. P-Paced breathing by breathing deep into your belly. Make sure you inhale slowly, and exhale even slower. Make sure your belly and ribs expand with each breath. 

    • Utilize paired muscle relaxation involving tensing and releasing each muscle group. To start, find a quiet place and begin paced breathing. You can sit or lie down in a comfortable position without any limbs crossed. For each muscle group, tense the muscles for 5-6 seconds while inhaling, then release the muscles as you exhale. Observe the sensations in your body as you tense and release. Try starting with these areas: the hands and wrists, lower and upper arms, shoulders, forehead, eyes, nose and upper cheeks, lips and lower face, tongue and mouth, neck, chest, back, stomach, buttocks, upper legs and thighs, calves, and ankles. Paired muscle relaxation is a practice, so the more it is utilized the easier it will become to relax the body in different environments, and to relax all muscles at once.

    • Effective rethinking can be used by paying attention to what you are telling yourself in the moment and challenge the self-talk. For example, instead of telling yourself “I can’t handle this,” you can say instead “I am uncomfortable but I can handle this emotion/experience.”

    • Body scan meditation involves muscle groups again, but without tensing. While utilizing paced breathing, focus on one part of your body. Imagine you are breathing through that area of your body and notice the sensations in that part of your body. You can focus on each part for several minutes. You can include every body part including your toes and the top of your head. 

    • Pay attention to you five senses to self-soothe. What are the small details you can see, hear, feel, smell or even taste? Can you create a sensory experience for yourself by eating your favorite snack, lighting your favorite candle, taking a bath, or gazing at the clouds? Be creative with this surviving skill.

    • Distract yourself by doing something that will take your mind off of the situation such as coloring, reading, writing, watching funny videos, calling a friend, doing something nice for someone else, organizing, or creating. 

    These skills are to be utilized for short term distress. If you are having urges to harm yourself or others during the crisis and the urges do not subside after attempting these skills, please call 911 or go to your local emergency room. For more information please refer to Marsha Linehan’s DBT Skills training or make an appointment at our office for guidance (586-213-5505). There is no need to go through a crisis alone.

    Linehan, M. (2015). DBT skills handouts and worksheets, second edition. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.


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