What's New New Groups are now forming. Signup Now
The Counseling Center Group Logo

How DBT Skill Improve Can Transform Your Life

Table of Contents

Imagine standing in the eye of a storm, your heart racing as fast as the swirling chaos around you. Now imagine having a toolbox, one filled with tools not for fixing leaks or squeaky doors, but for securing peace and clarity amidst that storm. That’s what DBT Skill Improve offers.

The stakes are high; mental health challenges don’t pause when life gets tough—they often intensify. With strategies rooted in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), IMPROVE stands as an acronym representing techniques designed to help individuals manage emotional distress more effectively. From finding comfort through Imagery, to gaining strength from Prayer, each component plays its part.

Why does this matter? Because every day people find themselves battling stressors that could easily push them over the edge without these skills at their disposal. Think about it—having access to such powerful tools can mean the difference between spiraling out of control and reclaiming your calm.

Enhance your emotional resilience with DBT Skill IMPROVE! Start practicing today to gain better control over your thoughts and feelings. Contact our team to learn more and take the first step towards a calmer, more balanced life.

What is the DBT IMPROVE Skill?

Life is full of surprises. While some are pleasant, others can be challenging situations we do not expect. We all get thrown these curveballs from time to time, and it’s natural to feel overwhelmed as we adjust to the changes they bring. But here’s the thing: we can hone our ability to deal with unexpected, and sometimes frustrating, circumstances. Enter the DBT IMPROVE skill, a powerful set of strategies to help us manage difficult emotions during stressful times.

How IMPROVE Helps with Distress Tolerance

IMPROVE is one of the many distress tolerance skills taught in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). It is like a toolkit for coping with emotionally trying situations. When we’re hit with overwhelming feelings, IMPROVE provides techniques to enhance our emotional state and reduce suffering. By practicing these skills regularly, we build resilience and improve our overall well-being.

Benefits of Using the IMPROVE Skill

The IMPROVE skill is a game-changer for navigating life’s challenges. IMPROVE empowers us to tolerate distress more effectively. Rather than getting caught up in painful thoughts and feelings, we learn to accept reality as it is. We find healthy ways to self-soothe and care for our mental health. Studies show that using DBT skills like IMPROVE can lead to better emotion regulation, increased distress tolerance, and improved interpersonal relationships. So not only do we feel better in the moment, but we’re also building long-term coping skills.

How to Use the IMPROVE Skill in DBT

Alright, so we know IMPROVE is a valuable skill for managing distress. But how do we actually put it into practice? Let’s break it down.

Breaking Down the IMPROVE Acronym

IMPROVE stands for:

  • Imagery
  • Meaning
  • Prayer
  • Relaxation
  • One thing in the moment
  • Vacation
  • Encouragement

Each letter represents a specific distress tolerance strategy. The idea is to work through this list, experimenting with different techniques until you find what’s most helpful for you in the moment.

Tips for Applying IMPROVE in Difficult Situations

Here are some quick tips for using the IMPROVE skill effectively

  1. Start with the strategies that resonate most with you. There’s no right or wrong place to begin. 
  2. Practice the skills regularly, even when you’re not in crisis. This helps them become second nature. 
  3. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build distress tolerance. Celebrate the small victories. 
  4. Combine IMPROVE with other DBT skills like mindfulness and emotion regulation for even greater benefit. 
  5. Reach out for professional support if you’re struggling to cope on your own. 

DBT therapists can guide you in using these skills. Remember, the goal isn’t to eliminate uncomfortable emotions altogether. It is to learn how to tolerate and manage them in a healthy way. With the IMPROVE skill in your back pocket, you will be better equipped to handle whatever challenges come your way.

Imagery: Using Visualization to Cope with Distress

During an emotional storm, the mind can feel like a turbulent sea. Imagery, or visualization, is a powerful tool for finding inner calm amidst the chaos. The idea behind imagery is simple: using the imagination to conjure up soothing mental images. This could be a memory of a peaceful place, like a quiet beach or a cozy cabin, or an entirely imagined scene that evokes feelings of safety and relaxation.

By engaging the senses and focusing on these calming visualizations, the mind gets a much-needed break from distressing thoughts. It is like taking a mini mental vacation during tough times. One effective imagery technique is to picture being in a tranquil garden, feeling the warmth of the sun on the skin, smelling the sweet scent of blooming flowers, and hearing the gentle rustle of leaves in the breeze.

With each detail added to the scene, the body and mind start to relax. Imagery works because it taps into the power of the mind to influence emotional states. Immersing in a soothing image signals to the brain and body that everything is safe and at ease. Using Imagery can help lower stress hormones, slow the heart rate, and promote feelings of well-being.

So, the next time feelings of overwhelm arise, try closing the eyes and escaping to a relaxing place within the mind. With practice, this simple visualization skill can become a go-to tool for coping with distress.

Meaning: Finding Purpose in Challenging Times

When life throws us curveballs, it’s easy to get caught up in negative thoughts and emotions. We might feel like we’re drowning in a sea of stress and uncertainty. But even in the darkest of times, there is always an opportunity to find meaning and purpose. 

The “M” in IMPROVE stands for meaning, and it is all about looking for ways to create a sense of significance amidst challenges. When we’re able to find meaning in our struggles, we build resilience and hope. So how do we go about finding meaning when things feel meaningless? 

Here are a few strategies that are helpful: 

  1. Reflect on your values and priorities. What matters most to you in life? How can you connect your current challenges to those core values? 
  2. Look for opportunities to learn and grow. Ask yourself what lessons you might take away from this difficult experience. How can you use it to become a stronger, wiser version of yourself? 
  3. Find ways to help others. Sometimes the best way to get out of our own heads is to focus on being of service. Can you offer support or kindness to someone else who is struggling? 
  4. Practice gratitude. Even in the toughest times, there are usually small things we can be thankful for. Make a habit of noticing and savoring those moments of joy or connection. 
  5. Lean on your support system. Surround yourself with people who can offer perspective, encouragement, and a listening ear. 

Knowing we are not alone can make even the heaviest burdens feel a bit lighter. When going through a challenging time, a helpful way to find meaning is through journaling. This simple practice helps to process emotions and find glimmers of hope amidst the darkness. 

Remember, finding meaning is an ongoing process. It is not about having all the answers or reaching some grand epiphany. It is about staying open to the possibilities for growth and connection, even in the most difficult moments. With practice, we can learn to find purpose in the face of any challenge.

Key Takeaway: 

IMPROVE is a DBT skill that helps manage distress by offering strategies like imagery, meaning, and relaxation. It teaches you to accept reality and find healthy ways to self-soothe. By practicing regularly, you’ll build resilience and better handle life’s challenges.

Prayer: Connecting with a Higher Power for Support

For many, prayer is a lifeline during times of distress. It is a way to seek comfort, guidance, and strength from a higher power. But here’s the thing – prayer doesn’t have to be religious. It can be a moment of self-reflection, intention-setting, or self-compassion. 

A brief pause to acknowledge and address your emotions in a way that aligns with your beliefs and values. Prayer can come in any form that works for you. It can be to God, the universe, or your higher self. 

The key is to surrender your problems and ask for the strength to tolerate the situation a little longer. According to Marsha Linehan, acceptance can also be a form of prayer. It is an intelligent way of acknowledging and being mindful of your distress. You are not fighting it, but you are also not okay with it. 

Praying is seeking the compassion of your deity to give you the strength to accept and manage your ordeals. Incorporating prayer or repeating affirmations (mantras) can be a powerful source of comfort and resilience. It is a way to tap into something bigger than yourself and find the courage to keep going. So whether you are religious or not, consider adding prayer to your distress tolerance toolkit. It just might be the lifeline you need to weather the storm.

Relaxation Techniques to Reduce Stress

When stressed, the body tenses up due to the fight or flight response. That is where relaxation techniques come in—they help calm the psychological distress being experienced. Deep breathing is one highly effective relaxation technique. 

By focusing on taking slow, deep breaths from the diaphragm, the heart rate slows and a feeling of calm is promoted. Another effective method is taking a warm bath, as soaking in hot water relaxes tense muscles and provides a mental escape. Yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation are also great stress reduction exercises. They help tune into the body, release tension, and quiet racing thoughts.

The key is to find stress reduction exercises that resonate personally. It could be taking a relaxing walk in nature or listening to calming music. Experimenting until finding the go-to stress reduction techniques is important. Incorporating relaxation into the daily routine can make a significant difference in managing stress. The mind and body will thank you.

One Thing at a Time: Focusing on the Present Moment

When we are overwhelmed by painful emotions or stressful situations, our minds tend to spiral. We get caught up in worries about the future or regrets about the past. That is where the skill of focusing on one thing at a time, in the moment, comes in. It is a mindfulness technique that encourages you to fully engage with your current surroundings or a specific activity. By zeroing in on the present moment, you can quiet racing thoughts and find a sense of calm amidst the chaos. 

So how do you practice this DBT skill? Start by bringing your attention to one thing in the present moment. It could be the sensation of your feet on the ground, the sound of birds chirping outside, or the taste of your morning coffee. Really tune into that one thing with all your senses. Notice the details and fully immerse yourself in the experience. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring your focus back to the present. 

You can also apply this skill to tasks or activities. Instead of multitasking or letting your mind drift, give your full attention to one thing at a time. Whether it is washing the dishes, taking a walk, or working on a project, be fully present and engaged. With practice, this moment skill can help you find pockets of peace and calm throughout your day. It is a powerful way to anchor yourself in the present and let go of distressing thoughts, even if just for a little while.

Vacation: Taking a Mental Break from Distress

When we are in the thick of a distressing situation, it can feel all-consuming. That is where the idea of taking a mental vacation comes in. It is not about physically going somewhere else (although that can help too), but rather giving yourself permission to mentally step away from the distress. Creating a safe space in your mind can be a powerful tool for coping with difficult emotions. 

It is a place you can go to find a sense of peace, comfort, and reprieve from the chaos. To take a mental vacation, start by visualizing a place that brings you a sense of calm and happiness. It could be a favorite beach, a cozy cabin in the woods, or even a fictional world from a book or movie. 

Engage all your senses as you imagine this safe space. What do you see, hear, smell, and feel? Really immerse yourself in the details and let yourself be transported there in your mind. You can also engage in activities that mentally take you away from the distress. Reading a good book, watching a funny movie, or diving into a creative hobby can all provide a much-needed mental escape

The key is to give yourself full permission to take this mental break. Let go of any guilt or “should of” and allow yourself to fully embrace this time for self-care and emotional respite. Taking regular mental vacations can help you build resilience and cope with distress in a healthy way. It is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is still beauty and joy to be found – even if it is just in our imagination.

Key Takeaway: 

Prayer can be a lifeline, whether religious or not. It is about seeking strength and acceptance from something bigger than yourself.

Encouragement: Practicing Positive Self-Talk

When we are going through a tough time, it is easy to get caught up in negative self-talk. We might beat ourselves up, call ourselves names, or convince ourselves that we cannot handle the situation. But the truth is, the way we talk to ourselves has a huge impact on our mood and our ability to cope with stress. 

That is where the “E” in IMPROVE comes in – Encouragement. The Mayo Clinic suggests that we can shift our thinking in a more positive direction by giving ourselves permission to smile or laugh, even in tough times. We can also try saying kind, supportive statements to ourselves, like “I’m doing my best” or “This is hard, but I can get through it.” One simple hack is to ask yourself, “Would I say this to a friend who was going through a tough time?” If the answer is no, then it is probably not something you should be saying to yourself either. 

Positive self-talk might feel awkward or forced at first, but with practice, it can become a powerful tool for managing distress. Studies have even shown that trying to be happier can actually work – so why not give it a shot? The next time you catch yourself spiraling into negative thoughts, try countering them with some words of encouragement. Remind yourself of your strengths, your past successes, and your ability to handle difficult situations. A little bit of kindness and compassion towards yourself can go a long way in helping you feel good and get through tough times.

Real-Life Examples of Using IMPROVE for Distress Tolerance

It is one thing to learn about the IMPROVE skill, but it is another to actually put it into practice when you are in the middle of a stressful situation. Here are a few real-life examples of how you might use IMPROVE to tolerate distress: Let’s say you are dealing with a painful breakup. Your current thoughts might be something like, “I’ll never find love again” or “I’m not good enough.” Using Encouragement, you could counter those thoughts with statements like, “This is really hard, but I know I have a lot to offer in a relationship. I will get through this.” 

Or maybe you are facing a difficult situation at work, like a looming deadline or a challenging project. You might be thinking, “There’s no way I can get this done in time.” But using Imagery, you could visualize yourself successfully completing the project and impressing your boss. You could also use Meaning to remind yourself of why this project matters in the grand scheme of things. Even small, everyday stressors can benefit from the IMPROVE skill. 

Let’s say you are stuck in traffic and feeling your anger rising. You could use One thing in the moment to focus on your breathing, or Vacation to mentally transport yourself to a peaceful place. The key is to experiment with the different IMPROVE skills and find what works best for you in each situation. It might feel unnatural at first, but with practice, you will start to build your distress tolerance muscles. 

Remember, the goal is not to make the painful situation go away – it is to help you get through it without making things worse. By using skills like positive self-talk, finding meaning, and focusing on the present moment, you can ride out even the toughest emotional waves. If you are struggling to manage distress on your own, do not hesitate to reach out for help. Mind Chicago offers guidance on using the IMPROVE skill and other DBT techniques. With support and practice, you can build your resilience and weather any emotional storm.

Key Takeaway: 

Positive self-talk can shift your mood and help manage stress. Encourage yourself with kind words like “I’m doing my best” or ask, “Would I say this to a friend?” Practice makes it easier.


So, there you have it. The DBT Skill Improve is not just a bunch of letters; it is your secret weapon against the chaos of distress that life throws at us. From Imagery to Encouragement, each component is designed not only to help but also empower you in times when peace seems like a distant memory.

This skill set does not promise an overnight fix—nothing worthwhile ever does—but what it offers is something even more valuable: tools for resilience and recovery that last a lifetime. Whether using Visualization techniques on tough days or harnessing the power of Positive Self-Talk to boost your confidence, IMPROVE has got your back.

The journey through distress is not easy; we all know that much too well. But with strategies from DBT Skill Improve, suddenly those winds don’t seem so harsh—they are merely challenges waiting for solutions you now hold in hand. And remember, this toolbox is yours anytime you need it because mental health matters every single day—not just during the stormy ones.

Stay connected as we explore further how practical applications can truly transform our daily experiences and overall wellbeing.

Unlock a calmer, more balanced life with DBT Skill IMRPOVE! Contact our team today and start enhancing your emotional well-being.

We Can Help.