Emotional Overwhelm: How DBT’s Crisis Survival Skills Help

Have you ever felt like your emotions are so overwhelming they will never stabilize? Maybe you have an intense urge to return to unhealthy or risky behaviors to make yourself feel better. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has a whole module that focuses on crisis survival skills. These are skills that help you hang in there, or cope, when emotions are overwhelming. It doesn’t make the feeling go away, but these skills can help you get through the intensity of these emotions.

Here is a brief overview of DBT’s crisis survival skills.


These strategies are used to distract yourself from distressing thoughts, feelings, or situations that feel overwhelming. The acronym “ACCEPTS” can help with recall in the moment.

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Self-Soothe with Six Senses

These strategies can help you feel better and in control by using your five senses (and a sixth: movement) to ground you to this person, place, time, and situation.

IMPROVE the Moment

You can’t necessarily change the fact something is happening, but you can change the way you feel, think, or react using these skills.

Pros and Cons

Considering the short- and long-term pros and cons to a decision can be helpful in deciding how to react to a situation or feeling.

TIPP the Scale

This is a newer skill set introduced in the latest update to the DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents. These skills are used when managing extreme emotions or urges. Using these strategies may help adjust your body chemistry.

It is important to note that one skill might not be enough depending on how intense your emotion or urge is. You might need to try a few to find what works best for you. As with anything, it’s also possible that something might work in one moment and not in another. Have a willing attitude as you give these skills a try, and partner with a therapist trained in DBT if you want support.


Rathus, J. H., & Miller, A. L. (2015). DBT skills manual for adolescents. New York: The Guilford Press.

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