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How We Treat

DBT for Anxiety

Table of Contents

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural stress response that is characterized by feelings of fear, worry, and nervousness. It’s a normal reaction to uncertain or challenging situations and can help us stay alert and focused. However, when these feelings become overwhelming, persistent, and excessive to the triggering event, they can interfere with daily activities, signaling the presence of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions that cause excessive fear, anxiety, and related behavioral disturbances. These disorders include various specific types such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.

Unlike the occasional anxiety everyone experiences, anxiety disorders are persistent and can grow progressively worse if not addressed. They often require treatment, which may include therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of these to help individuals manage their symptoms and lead productive lives.

How DBT Addresses Anxiety

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive cognitive-behavioral treatment that was originally developed to address borderline personality disorder (BPD). DBT’s core principles are centered around mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness, and have proven to be highly effective in treating a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety disorders.

DBT’s unique approach to anxiety involves understanding and accepting one’s anxious feelings while simultaneously working to change the thought patterns and behaviors that perpetuate anxiety. This dialectical process—embracing acceptance and change—helps individuals find a balance between accepting their anxiety as a part of their emotional experience and actively working to modify their response to anxious stimuli.

Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness, fundamental to DBT, helps those with anxiety observe their thoughts and feelings non-judgmentally, enhancing their ability to manage anxiety by reducing its intensity and increasing emotional control.

Distress Tolerance Strategies

Distress tolerance skills teach individuals with anxiety to handle intense emotions without harmful behaviors, and to use techniques like self-soothing and distraction for more effective management of anxious episodes.

Emotion Regulation Techniques

DBT’s emotion regulation teaches individuals to identify, understand, and manage their emotions, including anxiety, enabling them to recognize early signs and apply strategies to prevent overwhelming anxiety levels.

Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills

Interpersonal effectiveness skills in DBT for anxiety, focusing on assertive communication and healthy relationships, alleviating social anxiety, and enhancing feelings of connection and support.

Individual and Group Therapy

DBT for anxiety combines individual therapy for personalized attention and group skills training for communal learning and practice, addressing similar challenges in a supportive environment.

By integrating these components, DBT offers a holistic approach to treating anxiety disorders. DBT not only addresses the symptoms of anxiety but also the underlying emotional and interpersonal issues that contribute to its development and persistence. With its emphasis on skill-building and personal growth, DBT empowers individuals to manage their anxiety more effectively and improve their overall quality of life.

DBT vs Other Therapy for Anxiety

Choosing DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) over other therapies for anxiety might be particularly beneficial for several reasons, especially for individuals whose anxiety is intertwined with other complex issues such as emotional dysregulation, intense relationships, or behaviors that other treatments have not successfully addressed.

  • Holistic Approach: DBT provides an all-inclusive framework that addresses the multifaceted nature of anxiety. It not only focuses on the cognitive and behavioral aspects of anxiety, like traditional CBT but also incorporates mindfulness and distress tolerance, offering a broader set of tools for managing anxiety.
  • Emphasis on Acceptance and Change: DBT’s unique dialectical approach balances acceptance of one’s current situation with the drive to change. This can be particularly effective for individuals with anxiety who may struggle with accepting their emotional experiences.
  • Skills for Life: DBT teaches practical, life-long skills that can be applied in various situations. Mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness skills are not only useful for managing anxiety but also beneficial for navigating life’s challenges more broadly.
  • Structured and Supportive Environment: DBT typically includes both individual therapy and group skills training sessions, offering a structured and supportive environment for learning and applying new skills. This dual approach can be particularly helpful for those with anxiety, providing multiple avenues for support and learning.
  • Targeted Strategies for Complex Cases: DBT was originally developed for individuals with borderline personality disorder, many of whom also struggle with intense emotional responses and anxiety. For individuals whose anxiety is part of a complex psychological profile, DBT’s targeted strategies for emotional dysregulation can offer more nuanced support than therapies focusing solely on anxiety.
  • Evidence-Based: Research supports DBT’s effectiveness for a range of mental health conditions, including those where anxiety is a significant component. This evidence base provides reassurance that DBT is a valid and effective option for managing anxiety.

While DBT offers unique benefits, the choice between DBT and other therapies should be based on individual needs, preferences, and specific anxiety manifestations. Consulting with one of our therapists can help determine the most appropriate therapeutic approach for each person.


Implementing DBT Skills in your Everyday Life

Applying DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills in daily life involves integrating key practices from its core modules—mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness—into your routine to manage emotions and enhance relationships:

  1. Mindfulness: Practice being fully present in the moment during daily activities. This could mean paying close attention to your senses while eating or listening intently when speaking with someone, helping to center your thoughts and reduce impulsivity.
  2. Distress Tolerance: When faced with intense emotional discomfort, use techniques like deep breathing or distraction to help you cope without resorting to harmful behaviors. This aids in navigating through difficult moments more effectively.
  3. Emotion Regulation: Learn to identify and label your emotions, then apply strategies to change unwanted feelings. For example, if you recognize signs of rising anger, engage in a calming activity or rethink the situation to prevent escalation.
  4. Interpersonal Effectiveness: Use assertive communication to express your needs and handle conflicts. Techniques like DEAR MAN (Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, Mindful, Appear confident, Negotiate) can be invaluable for maintaining healthy relationships and self-respect.

Regularly practicing these skills can help you become more resilient, emotionally balanced, and capable of handling life’s challenges with greater ease.


We Can Help.

Should you or someone close to you find value in DBT or CBT, our team is ready to offer assistance. 

Learn How DBT for Anxiety Works When All Else Fails

Key Takeaways:

DBT is a method of treatment that is giving the medical community and people with mental illness a great deal of hope. Almost 7 million adults in the United States suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. That’s roughly 3% of the population, yet less than half receive medical help. 

One reason so many sufferers go untreated is that many treatments don’t help much, if at all. Talk therapy is making a difference, and DBT is leading the way. This guide will explain DBT, how it fights anxiety, and how to try it yourself. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of science-based psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, that was created to treat mental illness. It is much like cognitive behavior therapy and was derived from its fundamental properties to teach patients to live in the moment and regulate their emotions with healthy coping mechanisms. 

DBT and Anxiety

Many patients find that DBT is the most effective treatment for anxiety. This is because DBT focuses on four modules of psychological function that help people with anxiety cope with life stressors and manage their feelings. Learn more about these DBT strategies for anxiety below.

The 4 Modules of Focus:


Mindfulness is the most fundamental of the four modules. Mindfulness means being aware of the present – the now – and your place in it. 

It strengthens self-awareness and helps stop constant thoughts and regret of the past and worry for the future. It’s easier to filter out past trauma when a patient is grounded in the present moment.

Distress Tolerance

Fear, anxiety, and panic can be overwhelming. The distress tolerance module teaches patients to deal with intense feelings and not act in a way that may make the situation worse. 

This module shows people how to breathe and move their muscles to avoid panic attacks and increased anxiety. These behaviors are used in place of risky behaviors that had previously been used as coping mechanisms. 

Emotional Regulation

This third module of DBT deals with emotions, both positive and negative. It teaches patients to manage overpowering emotions by understanding them and using tools to reduce their emotional vulnerability and suffering. 

Negative emotions don’t have to be avoided. DBT emotional regulation tools allow people with anxiety to deal with negativity and then let it go. 

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Anxiety often stops people from saying no or standing up for themselves when they need to. This module teaches people with anxiety about others how to deal with their relationships. Interpersonal effectiveness exercises help patients to better deal with such instances when they happen in real life. 

DBT techniques are incredibly beneficial to people suffering from anxiety. They confront the critical issues head-on with exercises created to elicit change. 

How to Try DBT for Anxiety

DBT is an effective strategy for anyone to combat anxiety, but especially for those who have tried other talk therapies to no avail. Unfortunately, therapists qualified to teach this type of psychotherapy might be hard to find, depending on where you live, but you can follow these steps to try DBT for yourself:

1. Understanding the Cost

Check with your insurance agent about the costs of using a psychotherapist or, if you don’t have insurance, check research fees and payment options with individual therapists. Another option is to use a credit card, such as Care Credit, that makes only medical payments. 

2. Get a Referral for a Therapist

Friends, family, doctors, and health insurance agents can all be trusted sources for a therapist referral. Some employers also offer counseling and referral services for their employees. You can also find a therapist through online directories and searches.

3. Assess Your Fears

Think about what issues and concerns you’d like to address before your first appointment. You will work out this later with your therapist, but they will ask you what brings you to them and what’s on your mind during the first appointment.

4. Make Your Appointment

Making a therapist appointment can be scary and difficult for many people. Some people fear the stigma, and others don’t know what to expect. The important thing is to remember that this is the first step to emotional health.

There are many resources that explain how DBT works and how to use the techniques at home. It’s essential to see a DBT therapist, especially if symptoms are severe or the anxiety is chronic. 

The bottom line is that DBT is a valuable and successful treatment for anxiety. 

Getting Help for Anxiety Is Easier Than You Think

Anxiety can be debilitating and strike when you least expect it. DBT is a nonaggressive form of treatment that helps many people who have tried everything else. 

The Counseling Center Group is dedicated to helping you live a life you love. We are committed to providing relatively short-term treatments designed to achieve positive, long-lasting results. 

Our team of therapists uses defined, evidence-based methods to help you reach realistic goals most effectively. We recognize that you need sensible strategies to achieve your desired outcomes, not years of open-ended therapy that simply validates your concerns.

Each member of our team operates with that core value in mind and can work with you one-on-one or in group therapy in an environment that embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion. We take pride in helping individuals, couples, and families make life-enhancing changes and transitions.

The Counseling Center Group can help you discover your authentic self; understand the emotions, thoughts, and actions that keep you stuck in place; and master the tools you need to live a fulfilling life.

Check out our services on our website and give us a call today to learn more about how DBT helps treat anxiety.

Frequently Asked Questions About DBT for Anxiety

DBT is a science-based psychotherapy, similar to CBT, but it focuses on teaching patients to live in the moment and regulate their emotions with healthy coping mechanisms.

DBT is considered the most effective treatment for anxiety because it addresses four modules of psychological function that help people cope with life stressors and manage their feelings: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotional Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness.

Many anxiety treatments may not be effective for everyone, leading to untreated anxiety, possibly due to individual differences and the complexity of anxiety disorders.

Mindfulness in DBT involves being aware of the present moment and one’s place in it, which can help ground patients, reduce constant thoughts about the past or worries about the future, and filter out past trauma.

The Distress Tolerance module teaches patients how to deal with intense feelings, fear, anxiety, and panic without engaging in behaviors that may worsen the situation.

The Emotional Regulation module helps patients manage overpowering emotions, both positive and negative, by understanding them and using tools to reduce emotional vulnerability and suffering.

The Interpersonal Effectiveness module in DBT teaches people with anxiety how to navigate relationships better and handle situations where assertiveness is required.

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