The primary value of DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) is that it arms us with practical skills that we can call upon when needed. If ever there was a perfect season for testing these skills out, the holidays would be it. Whether it’s managing expectations, acting comfortably in social settings or navigating the waters of family dynamics – the holiday season is replete with challenges that call for maintaining a balanced mind.
A Mindful Holiday Season
When calling upon our DBT learnings for guidance, a good place to begin is with mindfulness. By practicing mindfulness, we can remind ourselves that the holidays do not happen to us. We have the power to observe and participate as we wish. How we choose to approach each situation that the holidays present us will certainly impact our experience. Think for a moment about a part of this season that feels stressful, even before you’re fully immersed in it. Maybe it’s the office holiday party, a family dinner or shopping for gifts. Try imagining any of these events from a non-judgmental view. After all, if the event hasn’t even taken place yet, then any stressful feelings are coming from a prejudiced viewpoint. Remove judgement and you’ll likely remove the stress that comes with it. We also have the wonderful concept of our wise mind to keep us in check. Our wise mind lives in the center, perfectly balanced between the reasonable mind and the emotional mind. Most of us know where our predisposition lies – which side of the brain we spend most of our time. If you’re typically more emotional than logical, then you know that to maintain balance, you can lean upon your reasonable mind to provide factual information. If you’re regularly a bit too detached, then you spend most of your time in the reasonable mind, and you know that to connect better with people, you may want to pay extra attention to your emotional mind. DBT concepts help us to understand the oppositional forces within us, allowing us to take the right steps to maintain balance.
Ability to Tolerate Stress
Fortunately, when we find ourselves feeling stressed, we have DBT skills to help us practice distress tolerance. As we learn from our mindfulness practice, the emotions and situations that cause stress are temporary, so if we buy ourselves some time, a little distraction, we’re halfway home. In a situation that feels awkward or uncomfortable, no worries – make a choice to turn your mind toward radical acceptance and realize that it is what it is. Preparation helps us tolerate stress. Approaching situations with a feeling of willingness rather than willfulness is a DBT practice that provides this productive framework. Realize that this holiday season will be filled with unexpected experiences and be willing to take the ride. The opposite approach, being willful and expecting to control things that you actually can’t is a good way to set yourself up for a stressful experience. And don’t forget that we can use the five senses to recall happier or calmer times, and pleasantly distract ourselves, when we land in uncomfortable situations. A little distraction can go a long way in giving our mind time to calm down and process new stimuli with clear head.
Investing in Relationships
If the holiday season is perfect for honing a particular set of DBT skills, it’s those that promote interpersonal effectiveness. Whether you have a favorite acronym among DEARMAN, GIVE or FAST – the point is the same – be respectful of others and be equally respectful of yourself. Interpersonal effectiveness is about fairness and honesty. Whether you’re choosing to disagree with a relative, negotiate with a boss or persuade a friend, you are empowered to do so with compassion. Much of interpersonal effectiveness is about the act of validation. Every person deserves to have their thoughts and emotions validated, especially you! When we validate ourselves, we give ourselves permission to feel what we feel, think what we think and want what we want. This understanding that we have with ourselves is a form of radical acceptance and self-compassion. The holiday season often marks personal milestones and moments of transition. Using our DBT skills, we have improved tools for creating and enhancing the relationships we want – with others and with ourselves. What this mindful therapy teaches us most is that we have the capacity to act with compassion. A wonderful gift for us to be able to give and receive, this and every holiday season!