Navigating 3 Essential DBT Skills for a Joyful Holiday Season

If you or someone you know is experiencing unwanted emotions throughout the holiday season, such as grief, loss, loneliness, or
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If you or someone you know is experiencing unwanted emotions throughout the holiday season, such as grief, loss, loneliness, or anxiety, you are not alone. The holiday season looks different for everyone. It is a time of year when we may be reminded of what we have lost or what we are missing in our lives. Here are three Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills that can be utilized to help manage any stressors that may arise this holiday season.

Cope Ahead

A DBT concept that can be useful for you to use this time of year is Cope Ahead. This concept teaches you to prepare for emotional situations before they occur so that you are better prepared to manage triggering situations in the moment. This is a great skill to use this holiday season before activities such as travel, holiday gatherings, and increased family time.

To put this skill into practice, start describing the triggering situation. Label the emotions that are tied to this situation, such as fear or worry. Be as specific and detailed as possible in this step. After you have described the situation, decide what coping skills will be the most effective for you to use at that moment. Some examples of healthy coping skills are taking space, saying no, practicing deep breathing, and listening to music. Choose coping skills that feel authentic to you. The last step is to rehearse. Rehearse this situation in your mind and how you are coping effectively. Repeat to yourself how you will cope, what your actions will be, and how you will respond to the anticipated stressors. This DBT skill is used to increase your emotional regulation and confront challenging situations. 

Walking the Middle Path

The uncomfortable emotions that we experience during the holiday season are sometimes triggered by relationships we’ve lost and, even more commonly, by the relationships that remain, time spent with family members that stir up differences, resentments, invalidation, and frustration. Walking the Middle Path helps us to balance the concepts of acceptance and change so that we may accept what is while also feeling effective and courageous to change that which is in our power.

Walking the Middle Path consists of the use of dialectics, validation, recovery from invalidation, and strategies for changing behaviors to fortify our emotional strength and bring us closer in relationships. With the use of dialectics, we protect ourselves from all-or-nothing thinking by considering that two opposites can be true simultaneously (my political viewpoints and the viewpoints of my seemingly opposite, outspoken uncle can both be true). Finding a kernel of truth in another person’s perspective and acknowledging that truth helps bring us closer to others and reduces conflict (even if I would not have handled things the same way, I can see why my mother-in-law would want everyone at her house promptly at 1 pm). Recovering from invalidation can be one of the most difficult and painful strategies because invalidation is often deeply rooted and recurring. DBT teaches us how to validate ourselves through positive self-talk and self-soothing. Finally, strategies for changing behavior implement reinforcing and extinguishing tactics to communicate our personal boundaries toward the behavior of others. This strategy takes patience, practice, and finesse. It can be useful to spend some time thinking about how our reactions may help to either reinforce or extinguish the actions of others and what changes we can make to have the opposite effect. Consider thanking others for the use of gentle language and kind words and actively ignoring or stepping away from insults or rigidity.


Mindfulness is one of many great DBT skills. It can benefit each of us in many ways, especially during this hectic season at the end of the year. Mindfulness refers to being fully present, being aware of our thoughts and feelings, and identifying and labeling them without judgment. Mindfulness also consists of finding ways to slow down and take time for yourself. When doing so, you are not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is happening around you. Mindfulness provides you with tools to engage with the world rather than having many negative thoughts that can be draining. We cannot control it all, though when we choose to engage in mindfulness practice, we are working to improve our awareness and focus, building our ability to feel more in control of our attention and reactions. Many elements of the holiday season may trigger anxiety and distress, such as being around more people than usual, meeting new people, being in loud spaces, etc. You can manage stress and emotions by taking a moment to pause. How are you feeling? Allow yourself to connect with yourself by acknowledging how you feel physically, emotionally, and mentally without judgment. Observe your surroundings, make observations, and describe what is going on in your space. Pay attention to the interactions you have with others. What are you saying and doing? What are people around you saying and doing? Doing so will empower you to be more assertive, less reactive, and less impulsive. 

Remember, as you immerse yourself in this holiday season, be kind to yourself, listen to your needs, and give yourself grace.

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