Life can be unpredictable. Things may be going well, and then out of nowhere, life throws you a curve ball. Or a series of curve balls. How do you keep your cool during these surprises? Everyone tends to act more impulsively, putting our emotions before our logic, when we are met with overwhelming circumstances. A dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) strategy called IMPROVE the Moment can help you manage difficult emotions during stressful situations and regulate your emotions in the present moment.
Imagery: Transport yourself to a safe space in your mind. Think of an image that is meaningful and soothing to you and visualize it. Allow yourself to tap into the details of the image; imagine how you would feel different physically if you were present in the scene.
Meaning: Tap into what is most important to you in life. Consider what your values are, and shift your thoughts and actions so they are in line with those values. Finding meaning in a distressing situation can help you sit with the discomfort of the emotion and tolerate it.
Prayer: Prayer does not have to have a religious connotation. You can reap the benefits of prayer by using mindfulness to focus on your presence in the world. You can use a mantra, a quote or even a song lyric to ground you in the moment when you're feeling troubled.
Relaxation: Relaxation can reduce the bodily tension often associated with emotional distress. To shift out of the painful moment, you should try deep breathing, stretching or progressive muscle relaxation.
One Thing in the Moment: Using mindfulness to deliberately focus on just one thing at a time can be a powerful way to slow down your thoughts. Tune in to the present and focus on your breath in this moment, your sensations in this moment, your thoughts in this moment, etc. Letting go of the past and worries about the future can help you refocus your energy on the task at hand.
Vacation: A vacation does not need to be an actual trip. It can be a brief respite from your regular routine. Break out of your typical schedule for an afternoon to do something that you haven't done in a while. Whether it's meeting friends, walking outside, or taking a long, hot shower, this mini vacation allows you to escape your thoughts and enjoy.
Encouragement: Be honest with yourself and provide realistic, yet hopeful encouragement in order to get through a difficult time. For example, remind yourself that the emotions you are experiencing are temporary and that you have gotten through times like this in the past. Or, tell yourself, “This too shall pass.” Keep your focus on the positive consequences that lie ahead and direct your thoughts on a healthy track.
These IMPROVE the Moment skills can be incredibly useful in dealing with unpleasant emotions or unexpected situations. Take note of how you have generally dealt with difficult emotions in the past and examine how effective your strategies have been. If you notice that your strategies are not working for you, allow yourself to let go of that habit. Instead, establish a new coping strategy that is more likely to lead to a positive and healthy result.