Dialectical Behavior Therapy Understood Learn about dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and borderline personality disorder from Christy Matta, MA. 2012-10-23T18:30:59Z https://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/feed/atom/ Christy Matta, MA <![CDATA[How Adversity Can Impact Your Success]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/?p=1526 2012-10-23T18:30:59Z 2012-10-23T17:37:11Z adversity and successFacing difficult challenges and overcoming them builds self-confidence, teaches self-control and tends to foster an attitude of conscientiousness towards others, who may also face difficulties.

Adversity, painful and something we all hope to avoid, can have a positive impact on our character.  We acquire qualities such as persistence, self-control, conscientiousness, self-confidence and curiosity from experiences with adversity.

And it is these qualities that matter, perhaps more than training and specific on the job skills when it comes to success in life.

In order to study “success” researchers often look at success in school, completion of degrees, maintaining employment, making a livable income, refraining from illegal drug use and not divorcing as markers of life success.

James Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago who in 2000 won the Nobel Prize for economics, has investigated the question of success.

The evidence he has found points not to intellectual ability as central to life success, but to non-cognitive skills or, in other words, personality traits.

But, problems can occur in developing these traits. When an individual or child is faced with overwhelming adversity or significant life challenges over which they have no control, they don’t learn self-control, nor do they learn persistence.  Instead, they are more likely to learn helplessness or hopelessness.

Abuse or experiencing multiple crisis that occur one after the next without time for recovery are two examples of overwhelming adversity that can impact those personality traits connected with life success.  According to Doctor Nadine Burke Harris, studies that show that poverty-related stress can affect brain development, and inhibit the development of non-cognitive skills.

When you are physically abused as a child, repetitively belittled and berated, or witness abuse in the home, your body releases stress hormones.  These hormones physically damage a child’s developing brain.

Too much stress leaves children hyper-vigilent, unable to focus and, as a result, unable to learn.

These adverse childhood experiences can be quite pervasive and don’t contribute to success, but rather lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, behavioral problems such as substance abuse, criminal behavior and self injury and physical health problems, such as STDs, cancer, heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes.

The good news is that our brains are capable of changing, growing and learning throughout our lives.  Counteracting and retraining the brain is not easy, but some treatments, such as mindfulness training and DBT have proved effective in helping people change emotion, behavior and, in some cases, pathways in the brain.

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Christy Matta, MA <![CDATA[How to Direct Your Own Internal Dialog]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/?p=1519 2012-09-19T21:57:07Z 2012-09-18T18:06:00Z direct your thinkingAre you stuck in negative thinking patterns? Or perhaps you’re not paying attention to you’re thoughts, and are unaware of how your thoughts impact your emotions.

Often times, we approach our thoughts as though we are actors.  Our thoughts, those little things that occur inside our heads that we don’t give voice to, often occur automatically and unconsciously.  When this happens, we respond to them as if they are our lines to be read, given to us by our mind.

What would happen if, instead of thinking like an actor, you tried thinking like a director or a writer?  Before responding to your thoughts, ask yourself “is this thought helpful?”  or “Do I really want to be thinking in this way?”

Our mind is constantly comparing our experiences with those of others, or holding others to expectations we’ve created.  These judgments happen in our minds, can trigger intense emotions and distract us from the moment.

In order to change your thinking, you must focus attention on your thoughts.  Try viewing your thoughts as an internal dialog in a movie, a conversation you’re having with yourself.  Usually, we experience our thoughts as if we’re one of the characters in the movie. But try instead to watch the movie.  Pretend you are the director or screenwriter.  Notice your internal dialog.  What do you say to yourself during the course of the day?  How do you analyze or interpret different situations?  When you’re stuck in traffic, do you tell yourself “this is unbearable?”  If you make a mistake, do you call yourself an “idiot?”

Now notice which dialog makes the actors (in this case, you), the most emotional. As you bring your awareness to the content of your thoughts, observe it’s connection to your emotions.

To change your internal dialog and tone down the intensity of emotion, try to describe the situation in your mind, rather than interpret it as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  For example, in traffic, you might say to yourself “I’m moving very slowly.” You can acknowledge whether this thought is helpful or harmful to you; for example, you might acknowledge that the traffic will make you late to work.  You can also acknowledge how it made you feel; for example, how being late to work makes you anxious.

Changing the content of your thoughts won’t eradicate emotion, but saying to yourself that you feel anxious will typically result in a lower intensity of emotion than the thought “this is unbearable” or “I can’t stand it.”

It’s very hard to think in non-judgmental terms, but it’s an important skill to learn.  Judgments have a significant effect on the way we feel.  They can also cloud our perceptions and leave us responding not to a situation as it is, but to a situation as we’ve judged it to be.

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Christy Matta, MA <![CDATA[Mindfulness in the Workplace]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/?p=1509 2012-09-12T18:15:58Z 2012-09-11T17:29:06Z mindfulness in the workplaceMindfulness is spilling into areas beyond medicine, healthcare, psychology and neuroscience. It’s moving into programs in education with children and college students, parenting, athletics, the legal profession and business.

Studies of Mindfulness in a business context have shown that increases in mindfulness are associated with increased creativity and decreased burnout and executive and corporate mindfulness leadership programs are emerging to meet the need.  A 2001 FAA study found that multitasking reduces productivity by as much as 20%-40%, while a study with business men in Korea found practicing mindfulness increased productivity. Pacific Investment Management Co and technology leaders, Apple Computer, Yahoo!, Texas Instruments, Nortel Networks and Google have all already instituted mindfulness training and wellness opportunities on-site.

How do you begin to practice mindfulness in a corporate or office environment?  In an atmosphere where you may be easily distracted habitually shuttling between the past, future and multiple projects, mindfulness may seem impossible.

Breathing Exercise for Work:

Simple breathing exercises can be practiced anywhere.  While sitting at your desk, you can inhale deeply for 10 breaths, counting on the inhale until your lungs are full (usually the count reaches around 4-5) and also counting on the exhale until the lungs are completely empty.  Repeat this deep breathing for 10-20 breaths.  Use your breath as a tool to bring yourself into the present moment.

Sitting Mindfully at Work:

Take a moment during the day and notice how you are sitting.  Are you slumped and leaning toward your desk or computer?  Try sitting with your back straight.  The neck and head should be aligned with the spinal column, straight, but not stiff.  Keep your eyes focused a yard or two in front of you.  Notice your breath and relax all your muscles.  Relax the muscles of your face, hands, arms and legs. Sit comfortably for a few minutes.  For a more on mindfulness at work try the following link: Mindfulness in the workplace

Practicing Mindfulness at work may initially feel uncomfortable, but the benefits are immense. Mindfulness enables us to more effectively listen deeply, make informed decisions, handle stress and innovate.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and here for podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

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Christy Matta, MA <![CDATA[3 Ways to Relax in the Face of Stress]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/?p=1500 2012-09-03T18:32:09Z 2012-09-03T09:32:30Z ways to relaxStress can come in many forms: overwhelming work demands, a health crisis, an argument with a loved one or wanting circumstances to be different than they are.

When we’re unable to change the circumstances that are causing stress, it can be helpful to have strategies to change how we react to the stressor.  Even when you can’t change the world around you, you can change yourself.  With those changes, you can find calm in the midst of stress.

There are many techniques designed to help you calm the body, slow racing thoughts and quiet the mind.  The ability to use these strategies to change your stress levels often depends on trying a variety of strategies to find one that works for you and practicing on a regular basis.

3 Relaxation Strategies:

  1. If you’re an auditory person, music can be an effective tool in reducing muscle tension and calming your mind.  Nostalgic music, that is, music that calls to mind a sentimental experience or psychological comfort, can aid in creating a calm effect.  Choose a piece of music that has some nostalgic component to it.  Listen to the music with your full attention.  As you listen notice the different musical instruments, the lyrics (if there are any), and the tone and tempo of the music. Allow yourself to experience the warmth of the nostalgic feeling.  Let your body grow heavier and more relaxed as you listen.
  2. Those who experience physical tension when under stress might benefit from progressive relaxation or other physical techniques.  Progressive relaxation involves tensing and releasing the muscles of the body, until your muscles feel relaxed.  For shoulder tension, for example, you might raise your shoulders to your ears, straining the muscles of the neck and shoulders and holding that pose for about 30 seconds and then relax, allowing the shoulders to fall and the muscles to relax.  Repeat one or two times.  Examples of other physical techniques include yoga, stretching, or jogging.
  3. Mindfulness- creating a focus for your attention—is a technique that can induce calm and provide focus.  Breathing is central to the practice of mindfulness.  You might try sitting quietly for several minutes and while breathing slowly, pause at the top of an inhalation and at the bottom of an exhalation.  These brief pauses can help to keep you focused when your mind has a tendency to wander.

There is no one right way to relax.  Each person is different and different stressors might effect you differently.  But we all face times when events in life are out of our control.  When we can solve problems and reduce external strain and pressure, it is helpful to do so, but when you can’t change the world around you, it’s essential to have strategies to get you through.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and here for podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

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Christy Matta, MA <![CDATA[Bullying in the Workplace]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/?p=1485 2012-08-29T17:27:12Z 2012-08-28T17:57:42Z workplace bullyIn recent years, discussion of bullying in school and its devastating impact on those who are bullied has made its way into mainstream consciousness.  Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t stop at the school level.

In one study, nearly forty percent of respondents reported having experienced at least some form of bullying at work (International Journal of Stress Management, August, 2012).

Bullying in the workplace can take many forms, including: exclusion, verbal abuse, sexual intimidation, threats and ridicule. Common and somewhat insidious forms of workplace bullying include gossip, unnecessary criticism, wrongful judgment and unpleasant job assignment.

Like students, workers suffer from health problems when bullied.  Bullying can be considered an extreme form of social stress.  In the study mentioned above, those who experienced bullying most frequently also were most likely to become anxious, depressed, have poorer well-being and miss more work.  Bullying may also impact how you cope with problems, which can have further impact on your health, well-being and job performance.


How you cope with the stress of bullying can have a significant impact on your mental and physical health.  To understand possible coping strategies, it’s helpful to break them down into two categories, Active, problem solving coping – these strategies are aimed at solving the problem, and passive, emotion focused coping—strategies focused on avoidance, distancing oneself (as an extreme example, substance use would be distancing oneself from the problem), or putting a positive spin on the problem.

A third coping strategy involves seeking social support, which requires you to seek information and help from others to solve the problem.

Coping has an impact on your health.  Active coping typically has a positive impact on health, while passive coping can add to health problems.  The problem with active coping, when it comes to bullying, is that it is usually used when people believe they can have an impact on the situation.  Victims of bullying are so often in inferior work positions to the bullies and, as a result, view the situation as out of their control.

There are no easy answers when it comes to bullying at work.  However, beginning to investigate the impact of bullying and the environment that tends to lead to bullying can help employers, like schools, target bullying behavior and make changes.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response, and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips.

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Christy Matta, MA <![CDATA[Becoming Happier: 6 Everyday Activities]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/?p=1368 2012-08-29T17:28:57Z 2012-07-30T09:31:44Z becoming happierWhen we talk about mental health, we often talk about problems.  We focus on how to reduce anxiety and depression, lessen conflict in relationships or ease uncomfortable symptoms for good reason.  But we often overlook the importance of creating happiness.  We might even assume that happiness just comes if we decrease our problems.

We forget that happiness is something that we have control over.  It’s something we can make a conscious effort to increase.

Happiness, of course, is great.  And it goes hand in hand with decreasing problematic stress and other mental health problems.  If we’re happy, then we’re not stressed, anxious or depressed. If we’re happy we’re better able to cope with mental health problems.

Because of the tendency to focus on alleviating problems rather than improving well-being, we know less about what actually makes us happy than we otherwise might.  A study in the journal Emotion explored some of the factors that contribute to happiness and well-being (Lyubomirsky et.al).

This article mentions several happiness-increasing activities that have the potential to improve levels of happiness for significant periods of time.

  • Committing to important goals
  • Meditating
  • Acting kindly
  • Thinking optimistically
  • Visualizing one’s best possible future self
  • Expressing gratitude

TV, the internet and every advertisement around us would lead us to believe that if we only had one particular item, we’d be happy.  A specific perfume, a new purse, a car, watch or food are all sold by smiling models and actors.  But, if you’ve ever bought something new and been elated for a week or two, only to have your happiness quickly wear off, you know that happiness from getting new things can be short lived.  What was once shiny, new and exciting we soon adapt to as part of our life.  It no longer seems quite so special.

The items listed above, though, are free and improve our lives as they become habit.

In the study mentioned, making an effort—having a specific goal and will—to improve happiness is key to greater improvements in happiness.  People who engaged in happiness increasing activities, but were not explicitly trying to become happier, had a weaker boost in happiness than those who were focused on improving happiness.  Having the will to change, making an effort and being persistent are all conditions that lead to the greatest improvements in happiness.

To enhance happiness, it matters what you do and how you do it.  Having the motivation and will to become happier is critical to the ability of positive activities to actually improve well-being.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and here for podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

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Christy Matta, MA <![CDATA[The Happiest People Aren’t Perfect]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/?p=1364 2012-07-23T19:09:32Z 2012-07-23T09:25:30Z happy peopleEach person has a particular set of beliefs about the world.  Our beliefs come from our past experiences and natural tendencies of our character.  Believing that you and the world around you must be perfect in order for you to be happy is a common character trait.

Doing your best can make you feel competent, proud and in control of your life.  But when you believe that perfect is the only road to a happy life, you will find yourself dissatisfied.

The pursuit of perfection doesn’t make us happier or ease stress. In fact, seeking perfection does the opposite.  It is linked to increased stress and a number of other emotional, physical, and relationship problems, such as anxiety depression or eating disorders.

How do you know if you’re a perfectionist?

When you make a mistake, do you spend days, weeks or even months in self-recrimination?  Are you intensely competitive and highly self-critical if you don’t come in first?  If you can’t do something “the right way” would you rather not do it?  Do you often find yourself correcting other people when they are wrong?  Are you acutely aware of other people’s expectations and self-conscious about making mistakes in front of others?

If you answered “yes” to the questions above, you may be overly focused on being perfect, rather than good enough.

How Can You Become Happier: 

Perfectionism occurs in your thoughts.  It is the thoughts about yourself, your actions, the actions of those around you and the world around you that must change.

Try this:

  • When you make a mistake and become self-critical, soften the thought.  For example, instead of thinking “I’m an idiot,” or “I’m a failure,” think “I’m human,” or “mistakes are necessary to achieve anything new.”
  • Refocus your attention.  If you enter a room and typically notice all the imperfections, refocus on what is ‘right’ about the room. Or focus on what is beautiful, comfortable or interesting.
  • Start conversations with a positive.  Often when you’re a perfectionist, you hold others to your own perfect standards, which can create tension and damage relationships.  When you speak to someone or give feedback to someone, start the conversation with a genuine observation of a positive characteristic or action.

Internalize positive self-talk.  Try to turn that positive conversation into internal self-talk.  If you get focused on your own mistakes and failures or find yourself listing all the reasons you “can’t” try something new, switch your focus to your positive characteristics or the positive actions your taken.

When your mind wanders back to your failures or fears, refocus back on your strengths.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and here for podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

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Christy Matta, MA <![CDATA[A Classic Strategy for Stress Reduction]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/?p=1357 2012-07-16T22:11:08Z 2012-07-16T10:32:39Z stress reductionHow often do you have stress headaches or difficulty sleeping?  Does stress ever make you short of breathe, jittery or tense?  Most of us experience some of these and other physical symptoms of stress.  Clenched teeth, knots in your back, waking at night and queasiness are all common reactions to stress. In fact, many of us go through our days on automatic pilot, barely registering the affects stress has on our bodies.

Physical symptoms of stress are extremely uncomfortable and can interfere with our ability to function on a daily basis.  Over time, we can end up exhausted and feeling unable to calm down, relax tight muscles or lessen other aches, pains and physical signs of stress.

The Body Scan

The body scan is a classic strategy to restore your connection with your body.  At first it may seem counter-intuitive to enhance your connection to your body when you’re uncomfortable, in pain and hoping to escape physical symptoms of stress.

But the body scan, a timeless technique involving a thorough and minute focus on the body, allows you to feel relaxed and more at home in your body.  The central goal of the body scan is to become aware of your body, without trying to change how you’re feeling and without thinking about or judging yourself.  The intention is not to try to reduce tension, but just to be aware of you body.

Interestingly, when you are not trying to reduce tension and maybe because you are not trying to reduce tension, the result often is the reduction of tension and other uncomfortable stress symptoms.

The body scan begins by bringing attention to different regions of your body.  In The Stress Response, I suggest that you start at the top of your head, noticing sensations in your head, face and neck.  You then move your attention slowly down through different regions of your body, simply becoming aware of tension, discomfort or other sensations that you might have been overlooking.  The body scan can also begin at the toes, slowly working up through the body.

In either case, accepting what you find, as you move your attention through your  body allows you to tap into new ways of feeling and being in your body.

If you practice the body scan often, even daily, without the intention of changing symptoms of stress, you just might find that you’re symptoms do, in fact, change.

Click here for a podcast leading you through a body scan.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

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Christy Matta, MA <![CDATA[Can You Achieve Your Secret Dreams?]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/?p=1303 2012-07-11T23:14:34Z 2012-07-09T09:47:03Z achieve your dreamsMost of us harbor some sort of secret dream and summer is a great time for dreaming.  It is normal to yearn to achieve something that has always felt slightly out of reach.  We may wish to write a novel, play the piano, learn a second language, learn to figure skate or surf.

As we grow older, we often put our dreams on hold and assume that learning new skills is for the young.  Psychologist Gary Marcus, PhD. put that assumption to the test.  What he found was that learning is not necessarily the domain only of the young.

In an interview in April’s Monitor on Psychology Dr. Marcus describes how he, an admittedly unmusical adult, learned to play the guitar.  Not only did he discover that he had the ability to learn a new skill, in his research he also found that adults actually do better than children in learning new skills.  Adult control: control of attention, time and motivation, is helpful to new learning.

So what are your dreams?  And how can you achieve them?  You might want to think through the following questions to begin to make your aspirations a reality.

  • What energizes you?
  • What parts of your day do you look forward to?
  • Have you given up any passions?  What are they?
  • How is your dream different from your current reality?
  • What small changes could you make that would bring you closer to your dream?
  • What opportunities might be right in front of you?
  • What are you already doing that is part of your dream?
  • How might you structure your life to support pursuing your dream?

These are big questions.  Asking them may feel overwhelming.  Change is scary, but it can happen on a continuum.  You don’t necessarily have to overhaul your whole life to make room for something new, although you may have to shed a few time consuming habits.

You can find more strategies to help you reach your dreams and improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and and here for podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

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Christy Matta, MA <![CDATA[Mindfulness is Doing What You’re Doing]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/?p=1442 2012-07-06T11:40:10Z 2012-07-06T09:48:16Z Really.  It’s as simple as that.  And as complex.  Mindfulness is not necessarily setting aside time in your busy day to meditate.  It is about being present and aware during the moments in which you are living your life.

The challenge is to bring a sense of calm, centered awareness to everyday life.  This includes times when you are angry, in an argument, feeling pressure, stuck in traffic, mowing the lawn, watching TV, working, talking on the phone, emptying the dishwasher, thinking about times you’ve been hurt, avoiding problems or eating.

Some activities don’t require a lot of extra effort to bring a sense of calm and awareness.  But others, such as difficult interactions and painful thoughts are hard to be mindful of.  These are the times when mindfulness in daily life can feel complex.

Try this:

  • Choose a routine daily activity, say washing the dishes or making the bed.  As you do the activity, ask yourself what you are doing?  How many times have you done it?  What does it take, to do this activity?  What are your hands and body doing?  Where is your mind and thoughts?  Who is involved in this activity?  Why?
  • Notice if you slip into automatic pilot, completing the activity while lost in thoughts about something else entirely. Bring your mind back to the physical sensations of what you are doing.  Act with intention.  Wash the dishes to wash them.  Don’t rush to get the task done, focus on being fully present as you do it.
You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.