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How DBT Can Help You Manage the Stress of Returning to College

Returning to college after a summer break always carries with it some built-in triggers. This year, however, your stress may be off the charts. The vast majority of young adults have spent at least a year DBT Can Help You Manage Stresslearning at home. The switch was flipped overnight and everyone had to adjust to a “new normal.” But what happens when you’re suddenly asked to return to the old normal?

It makes a lot of sense to be prepared. We’re all very familiar with preventative tactics now. So, what can a returning college student do to reduce the inevitable stress? I have three words for you: Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Stress

DBT is a form of therapy with four primary elements:

  • Mindfulness
  • Distress tolerance
  • Emotion regulation
  • Interpersonal effectiveness

All of these factors are helpful to a college student. But, for the purposes of this post, distress tolerance will be our main focus. This skill enables an individual to endure an emotional crisis. DBT guides them through the crisis while:

  • Not making things worse
  • Accepting what is happening
  • Managing feelings provoked by the stress

As you might imagine, these skills will come in handy for any college student facing the reality of returning to campus in a (sort of) post-pandemic world.

How DBT Can Help You Manage the Stress of Returning to College

Let’s begin by breaking down the four elements:

1. Mindfulness

If you can stay in tune with the present moment, your stress will feel less overwhelming. More specifically, mindfulness switches your mind from dwelling on the past and/or dreading the future. In the here and now, we can each live a more clear and self-aware life.

2. Emotion Regulation

Emotions are a normal part of daily life — minute-by-minute life. The goal is not to shut emotions off. DBT teaches us how to deal with our feelings without resorting to counterproductive measures.

3. Interpersonal Effectiveness

You’re staying present. You’re regulating your emotions. These two skills directly lead to you being better situated to experience healthy relationships. You can set boundaries and communicate your needs — even in challenging scenarios.

4. Distress Tolerance

As you better manage life’s inevitable triggers, your tolerance increases. At first, this translates into situations being defused. Over time, you will find that your life includes fewer and fewer crises.

Some Valuable DBT Distress Tolerance Practices For the College Student

Pros and Cons

Quite simply, when faced with a crisis, this practice has you write out the pro and cons of:

  • Reacting impulsively
  • Utilizing your DBT skills


As the name implies, you find personal ways to ease your mind and soothe your spirits. Options might include breathing exercises, a relaxing bath, or listening to mellow music.

Radical Acceptance

No one’s life is all happy events. How unbearable would that be, anyway? Radically accept that reality requires you to endure a wide range of experiences. That can’t be changed. How you respond, however, is up to you.

Important Acronyms to Remember!


Stop, Take a Step Back, Observe and Proceed Mindfully.


Treat Physical Illness, Balanced Eating, Avoid Mood-Altering Drugs, Balanced Sleep, and Get Exercise.


Tip the Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing, and Paired Muscle Relaxation.

IMPROVE (the Moment)

IMPROVE = Imagery, Meaning, Prayer, Relaxing Actions, One Thing in the Moment, A Brief Vacation, with self-Encouragement and rethinking the situation.

A Different Kind of Lesson Plan

DBT can be just as valuable as anything subject your study in college. You will take away lessons that will remind useful and applicable for the rest of your life. To enroll in this kind of program, all it takes is a single phone call!

Click here for more information on Treatment for Young Adults and College Students.

Suffolk DBT proudly provides quality dialectical behavior therapy, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, at their offices in Manhattan and Long Island, New York and online. Their experienced NYC therapists specialize in serving teens, children, adults, and college students struggling with depression, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and self-harm. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills and treatment can help you or your kids to manage emotions and work through life’s challenges.

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