Many of us have distress and frustration in our lives. Your car keys are lost. You don’t have enough money to pay the bills. A friend rejects you when you ask to go out on Saturday night. You get a flat tire on the way to a big meeting. Stuff happens in life. Sometimes you can do something about it. Sometimes you can’t.
The IMPROVE DBT skill is for when you have to tolerate the distress or frustration that you’re facing. It’s for those times when you can’t do anything about the crisis at hand or can’t do anything right away to solve the problem. When there is no immediate solution to a problem, you can improve your mental and emotional situation using the IMPROVE skill. Like many skills in DBT IMPROVE is an acronym. It stands for:
Meaning: Sometimes old crises can provide meaning to new ones. What meaning did you find in getting through other previous trials? If you’re a spiritual or religious person meaning can come through understanding the spiritual meaning or the will of God. You can ask yourself “How can I grow?” or “How can I prove to myself that I can get through hard situations?”
Prayer: Prayer can be talking to God or to the spirit of the universe. It can be opening yourself up to God’s will and accepting the situation as is. It can be asking for guidance from your Higher Power, however you perceive that power.
Relaxation: Do you tighten your muscles in a crisis? Many people do. The physical pain and exhaustion that this causes can worsen a crisis. Relax you muscles. Breathe. My dentist or doctor tells me that it will hurt less if I relax my muscles. Tense your muscles and then release the tension. Breathe in and out slowly and deliberately.
One thing in the moment: If you bring old emotional issues into the situation, you’re likely to make things worse. If you say, “This always happens to me!” or “Why do bad things continually happen to me?” This compounds the issue. Focus on this moment, this issue. Do what you can do to focus on the now and not bring in old problems. If you’re suffering in the moment, adding old suffering just throws fuel on the fire. Stay in the moment.
Vacation: Have you ever said to yourself, “I need a vacation from all of this!” Well, take one, however brief. It doesn’t have to be in Hawaii or in a far-flung place. You can take a brief vacation at home, doing something you enjoy. Don’t take a mind vacation though. Drugs and alcohol, for example, will likely make any problem worse. Sometimes a vacation can be a walk around the block. A vacation can be a brief break from the difficult task at hand, but it shouldn’t be a complete avoidance. It shouldn’t be a permanent vacation.
Encouragement: Encouragement is like self cheerleading. Tell yourself you can do and face hard things. Come up with examples of when you’ve acted effectively in the face of a difficult situation. Validate yourself and your abilities.