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

The DBT Skill: Intense Exercise to Regulate Emotions

Table of Contents

I want to tell you about a game-changer in managing intense emotions: the DBT skill intense exercise. You might be thinking, “Exercise? Really?” But trust me, it’s not just about getting your heart rate up. It’s a powerful tool for regulating emotions and increasing distress tolerance.

Picture this: you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or just plain stressed out. Instead of letting those emotions consume you, you channel that energy into some serious physical activity. Whether it’s running, jumping jacks, or even dancing like no one’s watching, intense exercise can shift your focus and help you find emotional balance.

But how does it work? Let’s explore the science behind this DBT skill and discover how you can make it a part of your emotional toolkit. Get ready to sweat, laugh, and feel a whole lot better!

What Is the DBT skill Intense Exercise?

Intense exercise is a game-changer when it comes to managing overwhelming emotions. It’s a key part of the TIPP skills in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). TIPP stands for Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation. This powerful set of distress tolerance skills helps regulate your emotional state during times of crisis or high emotional arousal. And the more you practice them, the better you get at weathering life’s storms.

How Intense Exercise Helps Regulate Emotions

Ever notice how a good workout can completely shift your mood? There’s a reason for that. Intense exercise helps regulate emotions by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural mood-boosters. It also increases heart rate and breathing in a way that mimics emotional arousal. By engaging in vigorous activity, you’re giving your body a healthy outlet to release the pent-up energy and tension that comes with strong emotions. It’s like hitting a reset button to restore emotional balance. As one DBT expert puts it, “One of the essential functions of emotions is to prepare us for action. When emotions are intense, the body is primed for intense activity; intense exercise can release that part of the emotional experience.”

Benefits of Using Intense Exercise as a Coping Mechanism

Intense exercise is more than just a quick fix for overwhelming emotions. When used regularly as a coping mechanism, it can have some pretty impressive long-term benefits:

  • Improved mood and reduced stress levels
  • Better sleep quality
  • Increased self-esteem and confidence
  • Healthier coping strategies to replace self-destructive behaviors

Plus, the TIPP skills are designed to be used in the moment, when you need relief from distressing emotions ASAP. No fancy equipment or prep needed – just you, some space, and a willingness to move your body. So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try channeling that energy into some intense exercise. You might be surprised at how much better you feel afterwards.

How to Practice Intense Exercise for Distress Tolerance

Ready to give intense exercise a try as a DBT distress tolerance skill? Here’s how to get started. First, check in with yourself before and after the exercise. Rate your emotional intensity on a scale from 0-100. This will help you gauge how effective the exercise was at reducing distress. The key is to choose an activity that gets your heart pumping and can be done on the spot, without much prep or equipment. Remember, TIPP skills are all about in-the-moment relief.

Examples of Intense Exercises to Try

Not sure where to start? Give one of these intense exercises a go next time you need to blow off some emotional steam:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Running in place or around the block
  • Burpees
  • Mountain climbers
  • Dancing like no one’s watching
  • Punching a pillow or mattress

The goal is to really challenge yourself physically for a short burst of time. Aim for about 10-15 minutes of heart-pounding activity. If you’re somewhere you can’t exactly bust out 50 burpees, try taking a brisk walk or climbing a few flights of stairs. Any activity that gets you breathing heavily and working up a sweat counts.

Tips for Incorporating Intense Exercise into Your Daily Routine

The more you practice intense exercise as a coping skill, the more effective it becomes. Try these tips to make it a regular part of your emotional wellness routine:

  • Schedule it in. Block off 10-15 minutes a day for intense physical activity, whether you’re feeling distressed or not.
  • Make it convenient. Have some go-to exercises you can do anywhere, like jumping jacks or running in place.
  • Use music. Create a playlist of high-energy songs that motivate you to move.
  • Recruit a buddy. Everything’s more fun with a friend. Plus, you can hold each other accountable.

With a little creativity and commitment, intense exercise can become your new secret weapon for managing even the most challenging emotions.

Precautions and Considerations When Using Intense Exercise

As effective as intense exercise can be for managing distress, it’s not always appropriate for everyone in every situation. Here are some important precautions and considerations to keep in mind.

When to Avoid Intense Exercise

Intense exercise may not be suitable if you have certain medical conditions, injuries, or physical limitations. It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine, especially if you have:

  • Heart problems
  • Asthma or other breathing difficulties
  • A recent injury or surgery
  • Eating disorders
  • Pregnancy

It’s also important to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard. If you feel pain, dizziness, or nausea during intense exercise, stop and rest. Pushing through discomfort can lead to injury.

Consulting with a Mental Health Professional

If you’re struggling with overwhelming emotions or urges to engage in self-destructive behaviors, it’s important to work with a mental health professional. They can help you develop a comprehensive plan for managing distress that may include DBT skills like intense exercise. This is especially crucial if you have a history of self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Intense exercise should never be used as a substitute for professional treatment in these cases. A DBT therapist can guide you in using intense exercise and other distress tolerance skills safely and effectively. They’ll help you process the underlying emotions and work on building healthier coping mechanisms. Remember, the goal of DBT skills like intense exercise is to help you better tolerate distress, not to eliminate the root causes of your emotional pain. That’s where therapy comes in.

Combining Intense Exercise with Other DBT TIPP Skills

While intense exercise is a powerful tool on its own, it’s even more effective when combined with the other TIPP skills. According to Sunrise Residential Treatment Center, “The TIPP skills in DBT include Temperature change, Intense exercise, Paced Breathing, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation. This DBT skill set is used to regulate your emotional state during times of crisis or high emotional arousal. Practicing these regularly can improve your distress tolerance over time.” Let’s take a closer look at how intense exercise complements the other TIPP skills. After an intense burst of exercise, your body naturally wants to slow down and recover. This is the perfect opportunity to practice paced breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Paced breathing involves slowing down your breath to a steady, controlled rhythm. This helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” response. Try inhaling deeply through your nose for a count of four, then exhaling through your mouth for a count of six. Repeat for a few minutes until you feel your heart rate and breathing start to normalize. Next, try a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. Starting with your toes, tense and then relax each muscle group in your body, working your way up to the top of your head. As you release the tension in your muscles, imagine the stress and emotional intensity leaving your body as well. This powerful combination of intense exercise, paced breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help you feel grounded and centered in even the most challenging moments.

Creating a Comprehensive Distress Tolerance Skill Set

The beauty of DBT skills is that they’re designed to work together to help you build a comprehensive toolbox for managing distress. The more TIPP skills you have in your back pocket, the better equipped you’ll be to handle whatever life throws your way. In addition to intense exercise, paced breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation, you might also try:

  • Taking a cold shower or splashing your face with cold water
  • Holding an ice cube in your hand or running it over your face
  • Sipping a hot cup of tea or taking a warm bath
  • Practicing mindfulness meditation

The key is to experiment with different skills and find what works best for you. What helps you tolerate distress in one situation may not be as effective in another. By building a diverse set of distress tolerance skills, you’ll be better prepared to navigate even the toughest emotional challenges with resilience and grace.

Real-Life Examples of Using Intense Exercise for Distress Tolerance

It’s one thing to read about intense exercise as a DBT skill, but it’s another to see it in action. Let’s take a look at some real-life examples of how people have used this powerful tool to manage distress and build emotional resilience. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition characterized by intense, unstable emotions and impulsive behaviors. Many people with BPD struggle with chronic feelings of emptiness, fear of abandonment, and difficulty regulating emotions. 

DBT was originally developed to treat BPD, and has been shown to be highly effective in reducing self-destructive behaviors and improving overall functioning. One woman with BPD shared how intense exercise has been a game-changer for her in managing emotional crises: “When I’m in the middle of an emotional storm, it feels like I’m drowning in my own pain. But when I force myself to go for a run or do some burpees, it’s like a life raft. The physical intensity gives me something to focus on besides my own thoughts, and the endorphins help me feel more stable and in control. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s a valuable tool in my DBT toolkit.” 

Another man with BPD described how he uses intense exercise in combination with other TIPP skills: “I start with some intense cardio, like jumping jacks or mountain climbers, to get my heart rate up and release some of that pent-up energy. Then I shift into paced breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to help my body and mind settle. It’s a one-two punch that helps me ride out even the toughest emotional waves.” These stories illustrate the power of intense exercise as a distress tolerance skill, especially for those who struggle with intense, chronic emotional pain.

How Intense Exercise Helped Manage Substance Abuse and PTSD Symptoms

Intense exercise isn’t just helpful for people with BPD. It can also be a valuable tool for those struggling with substance abuse, trauma, and other mental health challenges. Research has shown that regular exercise can help reduce cravings, improve mood, and promote overall brain health in people recovering from addiction. It can also be a healthy coping mechanism to replace substance use. 

One woman in recovery from alcohol addiction shared how intense exercise has been instrumental in her healing journey: “When I first got sober, I didn’t know how to deal with all the emotions that came flooding back. I was used to numbing out with alcohol. But my sponsor encouraged me to try exercise as a way to cope with stress and cravings. I started with short bursts of jumping jacks or running in place whenever I felt triggered. Over time, it became a daily habit. Now, exercise is a key part of my recovery toolkit. It helps me stay grounded and focused on my goals.” Similarly, intense exercise can be a powerful adjunct to trauma treatment for people with PTSD. The physical intensity can help release trapped trauma energy and regulate the nervous system. 

One veteran with combat-related PTSD described how intense exercise has helped him manage his symptoms: “After I came home from deployment, I struggled with hypervigilance, nightmares, and flashbacks. I felt like I was constantly on edge. But when I started doing high-intensity workouts, I noticed a shift. The physical challenge helped me feel more in control of my body and my mind. It didn’t make the PTSD go away, but it gave me a healthy outlet for all that pent-up energy and anxiety.” These examples show how intense exercise can be a valuable coping tool for a wide range of mental health challenges. Whether you’re struggling with overwhelming emotions, addiction cravings, or trauma symptoms, moving your body can help you find relief and build resilience. Of course, intense exercise is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to mental health treatment. It’s important to work with a qualified professional to develop a comprehensive plan that addresses your unique needs and goals. But for many people, intense exercise is a powerful addition to their mental health toolkit – a way to tolerate distress, regulate emotions, and build a foundation of physical and emotional wellness.


Key Takeaway: 

Intense exercise isn’t just a workout; it’s a DBT skill that can shift your mood and help you handle tough emotions. It releases endorphins, reduces stress, and boosts confidence without needing any special gear. Just pick an activity, like running or jumping jacks, and go for 10-15 minutes to feel the change.

Elevate your emotional resilience with our DBT skill intense exercise. Contact the Counseling Center Group today to start your journey toward a balanced life.

Intense exercise as a DBT skill is like having a secret weapon against overwhelming emotions. It’s not about becoming a fitness guru or pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion. It’s about harnessing the power of physical activity to regulate your emotions and build distress tolerance.

Remember, the key is to choose an exercise that you can do immediately, without much preparation. Whether it’s jumping jacks in your living room or a quick jog around the block, the goal is to engage your body and shift your focus away from the emotional distress.

But as with any new skill, it takes practice. Be patient with yourself and don’t hesitate to seek guidance from a mental health professional if needed. With time and consistency, intense exercise can become a valuable tool in your emotional regulation toolkit.

So the next time you feel those intense emotions bubbling up, remember: you’ve got this. Take a deep breath, get moving, and let the power of intense exercise work its magic. Your mind and body will thank you.

We Can Help.