Is DBT Good for Anxiety?
By Jeanette Lorandini
Everyone feels negative emotional states now and then. Anxiety. Anger. Jealousy. Sadness. Weariness. Embarrassment. Resentment. Guilt. Distrust. Fear. These feelings can be expected after unpleasant occurrences like break-ups, being passed up for a promotion at work, or having a heavy school or professional workload to balance with personal responsibilities. Or they may arise after traumatic experiences like natural disasters, physical or sexual abuse, or loss and grief. Emotions are normal and expected reactions to life’s occurrences. But emotions become problematic when they persist, worsen, and make it hard for you to function daily.
Anxiety symptoms in particular are closely linked with stress, overwhelm, burnout, and patterns of avoidance. Long term, anxiety disorder symptoms can be so crippling they can cause people to feel like their minds and bodies are uncontrollable and out of sync. However, you can learn helpful ways to face and overcome life challenges, distress, and anxiety symptoms through professionally led DBT therapy.
The Cycle of Anxiety
Feelings of anxiety always begin with a triggering event. This could be something as simple as talking on the phone, or be as distressing as the fear of having a panic attack in public. When these and other events bring on distressing feelings, it’s a common response to try to avoid them to circumvent having to feel these uncomfortable emotions (i.e. always text instead of call or avoid leaving the house). These “coping skills” may be helpful at avoiding uncomfortable feelings of anxiety in the moment, however, such avoidance can make things worse over time. The cycle of anxiety, or truly, the “cycle of avoidance” only serves to give these triggers more power over us, and reinforces our desire to avoid what makes us uncomfortable.
DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) is an anxiety treatment that empowers you to become more aware of your feelings and learn to tolerate feelings of anxiety, rather than give in to the impulse to avoid.
DBT treatment for Anxiety in New York
In the search for an anxiety treatment that works, many people ask, “ Is DBT good for anxiety?” It is, and in many cases, it can succeed where other therapeutic solutions don’t. If you need anxiety therapy in New York, licensed clinicians at Suffolk DBT can teach you the skills of DBT that will help overcome the cycle of anxiety.
What is DBT?
DBT is a specialized cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) form developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan in New York after she observed that traditional CBT wasn’t effective in treating her patients with borderline personality disorder and chronic suicidal ideation. DBT is specifically adapted to help individuals who experience emotions intensely and help those who struggle with managing and regulating their emotions and turn to harmful behaviors in efforts to cope (which is another form of avoidance—numbing).
Since Dr. Linehan’s initial randomized control trial, DBT has been investigated through many efficacy trials in academic research, quasi-experimental studies, and effectiveness trials in community practice settings. When our licensed clinicians use DBT in anxiety therapy in New York, they confidently implement a well-supported, evidence-based treatment method that produces effects that compare favorably with those of other psychological treatments. Research demonstrates that DBT is good for anxiety and mental and behavioral health conditions such as
- Borderline personality disorder
- Substance use disorder and addiction
- Self-harm and suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Eating disorders
Why is DBT Good for Anxiety?
Anxiety isn’t inherently bad. It’s a natural reaction from our brains and bodies to many different life situations and events. Normal anxiety alerts us to danger or unknown threats. It triggers our instinctual stress response (the fight-or-flight response) and drives us to face perceived threats (fight) or get out of dangerous situations (flight). More recently identified stress responses include being unable to act against a threat (freeze) and avoiding conflict by trying to please someone else (fawn). These responses may indicate an anxiety disorder when they persist, occur at the wrong time, or cause unwanted consequences and behaviors.
Emotions that are difficult to manage and cope with can be brought on by and cyclically lead to distress and anxiety. DBT is good for anxiety because it emphasizes distress tolerance and emotional regulation—the ability to tolerate uncomfortable emotions, and practice your experience and expression of them. Considering the vital role emotions serve in our lives, these are skills that can enhance the well-being of individuals with and without an anxiety disorder.
The Effectiveness of Dialectical Thinking
Another reason DBT is good for anxiety treatment for adults, teens, and children because it also relies on the concept of dialectical thinking to cultivate acceptance and change simultaneously. Dialectics refers to the stance that two seemingly opposing ideas—like acceptance and change—can exist and be true at once. When implemented in anxiety therapy in New York, our professionals at Suffolk DBT teach clients to accept their present and embrace the fact that their futures must require change. We guide them through the process of making that positive change.
DBT can fill in gaps left by traditional CBT and other psychotherapy methods by giving as much attention to acceptance as to change. Most therapy modalities emphasize changing thoughts and behaviors, which could be invalidating to some clients and make them feel unsupported where they are right now. Not only is DBT good for anxiety because it emphasizes accepting clients’ experiences as they are in the current moment, but it also treats symptoms as more than just problems to be solved.
DBT Skills That Are Good for Anxiety Alleviation
Employing the following DBT skills can help individuals enhance their well-being, even when living with an anxiety disorder.
Disordered anxiety can make it feel like the mind never turns off. Like it’s constantly running, powered by excessive worry, restlessness, and fear. Such constant worry can damage the psyche. It can lead to rumination about the past and obsession with the future.
In anxiety therapy in New York at Suffolk DBT, compassionate clinicians help clients practice mindfulness and focus on the present. We help clients become fully engaged in the here and now. Mindfulness is about noticing what is, not what was or what will be. This requires noticing pleasant and unpleasant thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and distractions.
DBT is good for anxiety because when clinicians help clients focus on their present, they’re helping them understand that their anxiety-induced thoughts may be involuntary. They’re helping clients identify negative thoughts and see that they’re allowed to think things they disagree with or know are untrue.
At Suffolk DBT, we help clients navigate the complexity of their thoughts and feelings while releasing blame and shame. Accepting what you experience and learning to observe the present will take some time and practice. Be graceful, gentle, and forgiving of yourself. Then, you’ll be able to get unstuck, get out of your mind, and take more effective action to move forward and overcome any harmful thoughts and feelings. Remember, while the impact of anxiety-induced negativity is real, the untruths anxiety and pain cause you to repeat to yourself are not your reality.
Engaging in Self-Soothing
Anxiety disorders and the panic attacks that characterize them are often head-to-toe affairs that can make a person feel like their body isn’t theirs. Individuals may experience:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest pains
- Sweating and shaking
- Disturbed sleep
Self-soothing techniques taught in treatment make DBT good for anxiety. In anxiety therapy in New York at Suffolk DBT, we guide clients through these techniques as a part of distress tolerance. Knowing how to self-soothe allows you to reduce your stress levels to a calm mental and physical state. Examples of self-soothing techniques include cuddling with a pet or pillow, lighting scented candles, listening to your favorite music, eating food that makes you feel good, or surrounding yourself with images and colors that comfort you. Self-soothing techniques incorporate your five senses.
With effective management of your touch, smell, hearing, taste, and sight in the now, you can gain healthy control over your mind and body. You’ll be able to reduce stress without relying on harmful behaviors like drug and alcohol use, stress eating, or cutting and self-injuring.
Begin Anxiety Therapy in New York at Suffolk DBT
DBT is good for anxiety because it encourages you to make positive changes while validating your current feelings without judging yourself. Getting comfortable implementing the skills you learn in DBT can take some time. But it’s time well spent to enhance your well-being. Learning and using DBT skills daily is something to celebrate, as it takes dedication, patience, and effort. It can be empowering and give you renewed hope to know you have the strength to leverage your natural resilience and healthily go through life challenges.
When you’re ready, reach out to us at Suffolk DBT to reduce the hold anxiety has over you and take back healthy control of your mind, body, and life. DBT skills like mindfulness, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance enable you to be kind and compassionate and manage yourself effectively even when you face painful thoughts, emotions, and urges.
Begin therapy with a mental health professional who can encourage healthy change. The compassionate clinicians at Suffolk DBT can offer you DBT in anxiety therapy in New York City, Long Island, or online. In DBT sessions, you’ll receive gentle, non-judgmental guidance on becoming more mindful of yourself and the present and healthily identifying and regulating your emotions, which can empower you to thrive and enhance your well-being in the present and future.