Anxious, worried and racing thoughts.

Boredom.

Depression.

Self-Harm.

Rinse, Repeat.

It is difficult to survive depression and mental illness.  DBT is a treatment devised by a therapist with Borderline Personality that incorporated Eastern Religion into Western Fix-It.  It worked so well it is now widely popular in all types of therapy. It involves mindfulness, breathing and relaxation, learning to regulate the above mood situations.  Yet kids still complain it doesn’t last long enough to get by.

Dialectical behavior therapy skills for emotion regulation include:
  1. Identify and label emotions.
  2. Identify obstacles to changing emotions.
  3. Reduce vulnerability to emotion mind.
  4. Increase positive emotional events.
  5. Increase mindfulness to current emotions.
  6. Take opposite action.
  7. Apply distress tolerance techniques.

Here’s what to do.

  1. Boredom – there is so much to do.  Instead of saying “I’m bored.” Say, what new thing can I figure out? Feeling empty cannot be fulfilled from the outside; it comes from within. Give yourself what you need by wondering what the emptiness is about.  Is it really so bad? Does it last a long time?  Can you get through it?  Is it really sad and lonely?  Take the time to write about it and find out more.  You can then attempt to be more active so you can feel sensation without pain.
  2. Expectations – It’s part of being alive to experience, fail, fall down, pick yourself up again.  If you don’t try and fail you don’t learn anything new. Learning what you don’t like is a good start.  You are not perfect and achievement requires work and effort. Maybe your parents did helicopter too much or not enough.  But now you have the power to search for something with meaning and pursue it. Not as “race to nowhere” but as a baby step toward fulfillment.
  3. Redirecting – being able to be by yourself, tolerate down time and sit with a feeling is part of being an adult. You can grow to even like it.  Learn to read, meditate and relax without substances or phones or anything at all. Just be.  After a time you may come to a more peaceful feeling.  Moving your body generally helps to ward off that paranoid or numb or crazy feeling of “I’m not myself.”  You can do a walking meditation just one step at a time.  When you can slow things down your regulatory systems can rest.  That sensation is not numbness it’s contentment.

When I fell off my bicycle in 2013, I decided to try this type of thinking.  Instead of sitting around saying, “You are a dunce for not paying attention,” I tried saying, “You are strong, you will get better in time.”  It worked.  Some people get down on themselves for every little failing, react, then enter self-doubt.  You can get so overwhelmed that you think your emotions are taking over your body.  This overload is the “teen brain” or worse, mental illness at work. Drinking, cutting or sexting does not cure feeling empty though it does provide temporary relief.  Settling your nervous system might provide a better alternative.

The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise

The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Note that with this breathing technique, you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.

This breathing exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it, but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.

Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension or stress. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.