Have you ever felt an emotion so intensely that you thought you would never feel better, and that you were almost “out of control”? Everyone experiences extreme emotions from time to time, and it can be even more distressing when attempts to calm and sooth ourselves don’t work.
It can be helpful to use TIPP, a DBT skill, when we are so emotionally dysregulated that we cannot think clearly and physically cannot access any other skills in that moment. TIPP alters our body chemistry to quickly reduce emotional suffering—from a 10 out of 10 to a 7 or 8. Then we are able to think more clearly and rationally; we can apply other skills to reduce our emotions even further.
T: Temperature - All mammals possess something called a “dive reflex”, which is activated when we put cold water on our faces or submerge ourselves in cold water. The reflex tells our body to slow our heart to below its resting heart rate. It does so by activating our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our “rest and digest” functions. This can be done in a variety of ways. You could dip your face in a bowl of cold water for 5 seconds, splash cold water on your face, sit in a comfortable spot and place cold ice or gel packs on your face, or cover your face with a cold washcloth. However, the effects of this skill are short-lived. Be sure to use another skill to help calm yourself down further, once you are able to!
I: Intense Exercise - Often when we feel intense emotions, we also feel an intense urge to act. Sometimes our urges tell us to “do” something negative. Intense exercise helps soothe the body’s urge to “Do something now!”. It also has mood-boosting benefits, both during and after the physical activity. After exercise, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated again, naturally bringing our heart rate and respirations to a more manageable level.
P: Paced Breathing - This skill can be done almost anywhere! All you need to do is slow your breaths, making your exhale longer than your inhale. Choose a time to breathe in and out—such as 4 seconds in, hold for 4 seconds, and 8 seconds out. Practice by placing a hand on your stomach or chest to make sure that you are breathing in as fully and as deeply as you possibly can. This skill needs to be done for several minutes in order to be completely effective.
P: Progressive Muscle Relaxation - Refocusing your mind on tensing and releasing various muscle groups throughout the body provides an excellent distraction from your racing thoughts. The goal here is awareness of body tension. Allow yourself fifteen minutes for this exercise. Begin with your forehead and cheek muscle–practice tensing these, holding that tension, and then releasing them. Notice how your body feels before, during, and after this practice. Continue this with various other muscle groups throughout the body—neck, shoulders, chest, arms, hands, abdomen, legs, etc.
Intense emotions can make us feel distressed and worried in the moment that they occur. TIPP is a great DBT skill to utilize when you’re suddenly dealing with intense emotions. TIPP can help you calm down during a troubling crisis situation.