All of us struggle with moments of distress. Suffering is part of what makes us human. While our bodies and minds are amazingly equipped to help us cope, it can be difficult to remember these innate resources during a moment of suffering.

Luckily, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is here to lend a hand. Marsha Linehan, she of the dialectical wisdom and love of acronyms, developed many behavioral skills to help one assess their mental and emotional distress, and act in adaptive ways. One of the key DBT skills for distress tolerance is to IMPROVE (the moment).

Let’s use a common example to illustrate how to use IMPROVE: waiting for your turn at the DMV.


Use your imagination to create a nicer, more peaceful moment than the one you currently find yourself. Use all 5 of your senses to create an environment that, for you, means peace. (Use your imagination to take you away from the dull, institutionalized environment of the DMV and travel back to your grandma’s kitchen, cookies fresh out of the oven.)


Lean in to what is important to you, and what you might stand to learn from any given situation, especially if the situation means suffering. (“I wait in line as a way of strengthening my patience.”)


Invoke a power “greater” than you. Can you turn your unanswered questions over to something greater than yourself? This can be a way to find comfort when there doesn’t seem to be any nearby. (Why does it seem to take forever? Let your higher power take on the burden for a moment.)


It’s a cliche, sure, but notice your breath. Is it rapid and shallow? Does it match the chaotic pace of your thoughts? Slow it down, bring it back to baseline and invoke the “all good” signal to the brain. Breath work, stretching, and progressive muscle relaxation are all great ways to achieve this. (Box Breath x5…and they’ve just called my number)

One Thing

Can you choose to focus on just one thing? Even if you can tune into yourself and your experience (thoughts, feelings, sensations) for just one moment, you’d be amazed at the clarity that can emerge, allowing you the space to refocus on the problem in front of you. (I choose to focus on the delicious cup of tea I brought in with me.)


Take an hour for yourself. Better yet, take an afternoon. The problems aren’t going anywhere in your absence, and you may be better equipped to handle them upon your return. (Once I’m finished here, I will reward myself with a warm bath to ease the tension from this task.)


Be real with yourself; tough times have happened before, and they will happen again. You are stronger than you think you are. Give yourself some words of encouragement to keep you going. (“This too shall pass. I can do it!)

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