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  • Writer's pictureKat Schultz

DBT Skills for Your Pandemic Holidays

Life is especially hard this year. Let's acknowledge that. Holidays are traditionally a difficult time for many people. This year proves to be no different. Perhaps even more stressful. Many of us are stuck miles from family and loved ones, facing the prospect of celebrating the holidays on our own. We can get through and make it special but we'll need some Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills to do so.

Wise Mind

Wise Mind is a key DBT Mindfulness skill. The idea behind it is that our brain is split (metaphorically) into two halves: Emotion Mind when we are guided by emotions and Reasonable Mind when logic guides us. It's okay to spend some of our time in each mind but problems occur when we start to spend all of our time there. Wise Mind is the synthesis of the two minds. It is where emotion meets logic. It's intuitive and often what we refer to as our "gut feeling." Wise Mind helps us be effective, an important term in DBT.

It's crucial to be in Wise Mind this holiday season. We may be upset about not being able to see family. Wise Mind allows us to acknowledge those emotions but not get lost in them. It lets us see the facts; that we need to stay safe and keep others safe. If we are in Wise Mind, we can go about our business without getting stuck in our upset.

Radical Acceptance

Once your Wise Mind tells you the truth, you have to accept that truth. That can be extremely difficult. Radical Acceptance is a skill that encourages you to accept what you cannot change. You have to keep your mind and heart open to that acceptance and to that reality and Turn Your Mind back towards the truth when you wander away.

If you can't spend time with your family this holiday season, you must Radically Accept that. If you must spend time with your family this holiday season and don't want to, you must Radically Accept that. Fighting reality only increases suffering. Once you accept what you cannot change, you can let go of those painful emotions. Letting go can be hard, too but the following skills can help.


Willingness is crucial to Radical Acceptance, as well as to life in general. Willingness is keeping your heart and mind open to change and to truth. It's being Willing to try or learn something new. The opposite of Willingness is Willfulness. Willfulness is being rigid and getting upset when faced with something we don't like. It's throwing a temper tantrum because you don't want to.

To cultivate Willingness, we need to stay open. You can use Willing Hands, a skill in which you place your hands on your lap palms up. What you do with your body can affect your mind. That's why Half-Smile works too. Turn up the corners of your mouth just a little and you'll find your mood changing. Half-Smile cultivates Willingness as well.

Build Positive Emotions

The stress and loneliness of the season mean you'll need extra joyful experiences to get you through. DBT actually has a skill for that. Build Positive Emotions or Experiences helps you build a bank of positives that can make you more resilient to the negatives in your life. There is joy to be found everywhere, if you know how to look.

It's best to accumulate positive experiences in the short term and long term. In the short term, try to do at least one pleasant thing a day even if it's tiny. Plan these positives in advance and avoid avoiding things that might bring you joy. Practice Mindfulness to help you experience these events fully. In the long term, live your life according to your values, set goals and work towards them and be patient. Joy cannot be made or found overnight.

Cope Ahead

Stressful situations are made easier when you plan skills to use in advance. Coping Ahead is just that. If you're home with family over the holidays, you can expect to need interpersonal skills to get you through. So practice them in advance. Anticipate your distress. Likewise if you're alone, you'll need skills that help you get through the emotional distress of loneliness. Imagine what that might feel like and take a look at your skill list (or the skills in this post) to see what you can use to help. Planning in advance will make skill use during the actual situation go more smoothly and you won't be taken by surprise.


Interacting with family can lead to disagreement. Whether you're at home or defending your decision not to gather during a pandemic, you'll need to stick to your values. That's what FAST is for. FAST is a classic DBT acronym that stands for be Fair, no Apologies, Stick to values, be Truthful. It's a skill that helps you stick up for yourself in interpersonal situations.

Use each part of the acronym when you are having a disagreement or conversation with someone. If you're telling them you're not coming home for the holidays this year, stick to your guns while also being fair to the other person. Don't let them sway you away from your values or talk you into apologizing for something you didn't do. Be truthful about your reasons for your decision. Using FAST will help you be proud of yourself for maintaining your self-respect.

IMPROVE the Moment

IMPROVE is a great Distress Tolerance skill to use this holiday season. It's another one of those meaty DBT acronyms. It stands for Imagery, Meaning, Prayer, Relaxation, One thing at a time, Vacation, and Encouragement. These 7 skills are meant to help you cope when you're upset. It's a lot like the distract skill ACCEPTS but a little more conceptual.

When you feel down during the holidays, pick a letter from IMPROVE to try. Imagine yourself getting through the season effectively with Imagery or remind yourself that you're away from family to keep them safe using Meaning. Pray for strength if you're spiritual or perform a Relaxation exercise like progressive muscle relaxation if you're feeling tense. Use One thing at a time to stay present, Vacation to take a little break from your situation, or Encouragement to hype yourself up. These skills can get you through a tough time.

No matter what you've decided to do this holiday season, you've got the skills to get through it. We at Online Coping Skills wish you an effective and skillful season. We'll see you in the new year!


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