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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.


DBT for Anxiety FAQs

Is CBT or DBT better for anxiety?

Choosing between CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) for anxiety depends on the individual’s specific needs and symptoms. CBT is highly effective for addressing the thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety, focusing on changing negative thought processes and developing coping strategies. It is well-suited for individuals with specific anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or phobias.

DBT, while initially developed for borderline personality disorder, incorporates aspects of CBT but adds a strong emphasis on emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. It can be particularly beneficial for those whose anxiety is combined with emotional dysregulation or for individuals who experience intense emotional responses and relationship issues.

Both therapies can be effective for anxiety, but the choice between them should be based on the individual’s unique emotional and behavioral needs. Consulting with a mental health professional can help determine which therapy is more appropriate for managing one’s specific form of anxiety.

DBT really shines when it comes to easing anxiety. It teaches you how to stay grounded in the moment with mindfulness, which can cut down on overthinking and worry. The skills you learn in DBT, like distress tolerance, help you face anxiety head-on without falling back on unhelpful habits. It’s also great for getting a handle on intense emotions that can fuel anxiety, making things feel more manageable. Plus, DBT can boost your confidence in social situations, taking some of the stress out of interactions with others. In essence, DBT equips you with a set of practical tools to tackle anxiety more effectively and lead a calmer, more balanced life.

DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) can be helpful for various types of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic disorder. Its focus on mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness makes it a versatile approach. However, the effectiveness of DBT for specific anxiety types can vary based on individual circumstances.

While it’s particularly beneficial for those whose anxiety is intertwined with emotional dysregulation or intense emotional reactions, it may need to be tailored or combined with other therapeutic approaches for optimal results in treating all types of anxiety. Consulting with a mental health professional can help determine if DBT is the right approach for an individual’s specific anxiety concerns.

Some self-help DBT strategies for managing anxiety include:

  1. Mindfulness: Practice being present in the moment, observing thoughts and sensations without judgment, to reduce anxious rumination.
  2. Distress Tolerance: Learn to accept and tolerate distressing emotions without reacting impulsively, using techniques like deep breathing or grounding exercises.
  3. Emotion Regulation: Identify and label emotions, understand their triggers, and use coping strategies to prevent overwhelming anxiety.
  4. Interpersonal Effectiveness: Improve communication skills and assertiveness to reduce anxiety in social interactions and relationships.

These strategies empower individuals to take control of their anxiety, providing tools to cope with and reduce their symptoms independently.

We Can Help.

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