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Navigating Teenage Emotions: Unlocking the Power of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Adolescents

Do you ever find it hard to control your emotions? We know being a teenager is no cakewalk; one moment, you feel great; the next, you feel angry or sad for no reason. Being a teenager can be challenging, and with all the changes happening to your body and mind, it’s no surprise that you may be feeling all over the place. But what if we told you that you don’t always have to feel overwhelmed by your feelings? We know how it sounds, but it’s not too good to be true. There are techniques you can use to manage your intense feelings and take control of your emotions. 

One effective method that can help you manage your intense feelings and take control of your emotions is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT gives you practical solutions to face life’s challenges healthily and can be life-changing for teens. DBT can help you cope with stress, interact with others more healthily, and bring harmony to your life. 

In this blog, we will talk about one of the most essential DBT skills that can be life-changing for teens. Imagine leading an emotionally fulfilling life surrounded by supportive people who care about you. Sounds great, right? With DBT, you can make that vision a reality! So, let’s dive right in and discover how you can commit to learning skills that will benefit you for life. Trust us, it’s worth it!

Dialectical Behavior Therapy: An Effective Approach for Teenagers to Thrive

DBT is a valuable tool that empowers you to better understand and manage your feelings, especially during these emotionally heavy teenage years. By consistently practicing DBT coping skills, you can develop greater self-awareness and self-control over your emotions. Over time, these skills become ingrained habits that enable you to easily handle social and academic pressures while remaining calm and centered. 


DBT focuses on four critical skills that help you find a middle ground between emotional extremes and enhance emotional intelligence:

  • Mindfulness: Being aware of your thoughts and feelings in the present moment without judging them. Mindfulness exercises help you step back from overwhelming emotions and think more clearly.
  • Distress Tolerance: Doping strategies for managing negative emotions in the moment without worsening them. This includes techniques such as deep breathing, distraction, self-soothing, and accepting complex feelings.
  • Emotion Regulation: Skills to identify and change intense emotions over time. You learn to reduce vulnerability to extreme emotions, manage urges, and achieve emotional goals. Strategies may involve cognitive restructuring, problem-solving, and relaxation.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: Communication techniques to build and maintain healthy relationships that support your well-being. This skill area can help you communicate assertively and discuss challenging topics like mental health with your parents.


So, which of these DBT coping skills is the most valuable for teens? Mindfulness. 

Mastering Mindfulness: The Core DBT Skill That Teaches Teens to Pause and Observe Their Emotions

Life throws stressful situations at you daily, and knowing how to stay calm in the face of distressing emotions is necessary. Mindfulness will give you the pause you need to soothe yourself before acting impulsively, which can help you avoid worsening the situation by reacting in unhelpful ways. Daily mindful breathing exercises can change your default response to stress from reactivity to response flexibility. Even as little as five minutes of focused breathing while acknowledging and letting go of distracting thoughts can give you a calmer baseline to navigate life’s ups and downs. 

Try starting with this focused breathing exercise:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  2. Close your eyes if it feels right.
  3. Focus your attention on your breath as it flows in and out.
  4. Notice the physical sensations as your chest and abdomen rise and fall with each breath.
  5. Whenever distracting thoughts come up, acknowledge them without judgment and bring your attention back to breathing.

The teenage years are hard enough without feeling hijacked by your emotions. However, practicing mindfulness can help you gain better control over your emotions and improve your overall well-being. Whenever you start feeling overwhelmed by your feelings, try taking a few deep breaths and shift your focus toward the physical sensations in your body. For instance, acknowledge when your chest feels tight, or your heart is racing. The time you create between recognizing your feelings and your response time allows you to decide how to react. 

Simple Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness into Your Daily Routine at Home and School

It’s normal to find it hard to sit still for even two minutes when beginning a mindfulness practice. However, the key to success is consistency. Try to practice daily, even if only for a few minutes. With time, your mind will become more focused, and your sitting period will naturally lengthen.

Start by setting the timer for the shortest time you can reasonably manage. Then, slowly increase the time by one minute each week. Tracking your progress can be motivating. You’ll likely be surprised how quickly your mindfulness “muscles” strengthen with regular exercise.

Don’t get discouraged by times when you struggle to focus. Each practice session still trains your mind, even if you spend much chasing thoughts. Gently bring the focus back. That act of noticing and redirecting is the essence of mindfulness. 

Here are some of our favorite mindfulness exercises that you can do just about anywhere:

  • Expand your awareness to include sounds around you. Notice sounds without judging them as pleasant or unpleasant. Just listen.
  • Bring mindfulness into everyday activities like washing dishes, brushing your teeth, or walking. Focus on the sensations and sounds.
  • Practice mindfulness while eating by focusing on your food’s colors, textures, smells, and tastes. Eat slowly.
  • Challenge ruminating thoughts by returning your attention to your breath or the present moment. Gently let distracting thoughts go.

Track your progress and note any changes in your emotions, behaviors, or focus. Celebrate the small wins!

Finding the Best Teen DBT Therapist on Long Island

It can be challenging to find the right therapist, so it’s essential to remember that finding the perfect match may take some time. Keep going even if the first therapist you try seems to be the wrong fit. We suggest seeking a therapist who connects with you, understands your unique situation, and empowers you. The best teen therapists make DBT coping skills accessible and relevant to your life. For instance, they may teach mindfulness through short daily “check-ins” to help you build awareness of your thoughts and feelings. They will also validate your experiences while encouraging you to practice new responses.

A DBT-trained therapist will have experience assisting teens to build skills to:

  • Identify and cope with emotional triggers that lead to distress.
  • Improve relationships by respectfully communicating needs.
  • Find balance through mindfulness practices like deep breathing.

Navigating through the turbulent emotions of teenage years can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Mindfulness is a powerful skill that can help you cope with difficult emotions and improve your relationships. Take the time to practice these techniques and see how they can shift your mindset, allowing you to pause before reacting. 

If you continue to struggle and you’re located on Long Island or in NYC, don’t hesitate to contact a trusted counselor who can guide you to the resources and support you need. At Suffolk DBT, our expert therapists are here to provide tailored resources and guidance for teens through the DBT process. Always remember that you deserve to feel empowered and have control over your emotional well-being, and we’re here to help you achieve that, one mindful moment at a time.

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