Mastering DBT Crisis Survival Skills: Essential Guide for Preppers and Survivalists

By MakeSurvival - February 21, 2024
Mastering DBT Crisis Survival Skills: Essential Guide for Preppers and Survivalists

In the wilderness of our emotions, navigating through storms of distress requires more than just a compass; it demands robust crisis survival skills. Drawing from my years of experience in survival training, I've found that Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers a map and toolkit for mastering emotional resilience and distress tolerance. These DBT skills are akin to learning how to build a shelter or find food in the wild—they're essential for survival.

DBT teaches us how to regulate our emotions and cope with experiencing intense feelings without resorting to unhealthy behaviors. It's about turning a crisis into a manageable situation, using crisis survival skills for everyday problems. Think of it as preparing for the emotional equivalent of extreme weather conditions, ensuring you can weather any storm that comes your way.

Understanding the Core of DBT Crisis Survival Skills

At the heart of DBT skills lies the ability to navigate through emotional regulation and manage experiencing intense situations effectively. These skills are the foundation for constructing a resilient mindset capable of facing any crisis survival skills for everyday problems head-on.

Overview of Distress Tolerance and Emotional Resilience

Distress tolerance and emotional resilience are vital components of mental health, akin to the necessary skills for enduring the harsh conditions of the wilderness. Like treating borderline personality disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, DBT distress tolerance skills provide techniques such as paced breathing, intense exercise, and engaging in activities like washing the dishes to manage emotional pain. These methods help change your body's response to stress, slowing down the heart rate and promoting relaxation. Embracing these practices is like setting up a camp in the midst of a storm, providing shelter and safety from the emotional turmoil outside.

The Role of Radical Acceptance in Crisis Management

In managing mental health crises, radical acceptance acts as a powerful coping skill. It involves fully accepting reality in moments of distress, without trying to change it. Engaging in activities that ground you in the present can facilitate this acceptance, providing a pathway out of emotional turmoil.


Employing DBT crisis survival skills offers significant advantages. They enhance one's ability to handle emotional distress with greater ease and prevent the escalation of crises. These skills also promote a deeper understanding of oneself and foster emotional growth, akin to developing the keen awareness needed to survive in the wild.


However, mastering DBT skills requires time and practice, which can be challenging during intense emotional crises. Some individuals may find certain techniques less effective than others, necessitating a process of trial and error to discover what works best for them.

Key DBT Techniques for Navigating Emotional Crises

DBT provides a suite of techniques specifically designed for navigating emotional crises. These include paced breathing and intense exercise, among others, to manage intense emotions and alleviate emotional pain. These methods aim to prevent negative outcomes by promoting healthy coping mechanisms, much like following a survival guide in treacherous terrain.

The STOP Skill - A First Response to Emotional Distress

The STOP skill stands as a first line of defense against emotional distress. It instructs individuals to Stop, Take a step back, Observe, and Proceed effectively, offering a moment of pause to assess the situation calmly, akin to evaluating a dangerous animal encounter in the wild.

Wise Mind ACCEPTS - Distracting from Emotional Pain


Activities serve as a distraction technique to manage emotional pain, encouraging individuals to engage in any action that diverts attention from distress, similar to focusing on building a fire to keep warm and safe in a survival scenario.


Contributing focuses on altruistic behavior, suggesting that helping others can provide a sense of purpose and relief from personal suffering, much like sharing resources in a survival group can enhance the chances of collective survival.


Comparisons involve reflecting on times when you were in a worse state or considering the difficulties of others. This perspective can diminish the intensity of current emotional pain, akin to recognizing that surviving a storm gives strength for future challenges.

Push Away

Pushing away means temporarily distancing oneself from distressing emotions or situations, providing a mental break similar to taking shelter to escape adverse weather conditions temporarily.


Altering one’s thoughts to focus on more neutral or positive aspects can help manage emotional pain, akin to maintaining a positive mindset to stay motivated in challenging survival situations.


Changing physical sensations through techniques like holding ice or taking a warm bath can help counteract emotional distress, much like altering one’s physical state to adapt to changing environmental conditions for survival.

TIPP - Managing Extreme Emotional Surges


Changing your body's temperature can have a calming effect on your mind, much like immersing in cold water during survival training to shock your system into focus. A simple way to utilize this technique is by holding a cold pack to your face or splashing cold water on your face. This abrupt change in temperature activates the dive reflex, slowing down your heart rate and allowing you to regain control over your emotional state. It's a swift and effective method to combat overwhelming feelings, drawing parallels to the immediate adaptation required in survival scenarios.

Intense Exercise

Engaging in intense physical activity can be likened to the physical exertions needed in survival situations, where quick, decisive actions can be life-saving. By channeling your emotional energy into physical form, such as sprinting or doing jumping jacks, you can help reduce the intensity of your emotional distress. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters, and helps to dissipate the energy buildup that accompanies intense emotions. This method not only aids in managing emotional surges but also strengthens your physical resilience.

Paced Breathing

Paced breathing involves deliberately slowing down your breath, which can help stabilize your emotions during a crisis, akin to maintaining composure in survival situations to make clear-headed decisions. By inhaling deeply for a count of four, holding for a count of four, and exhaling for a count of four, you engage in a rhythm that can soothe your nervous system. This technique is effective in reducing anxiety and regaining a sense of control, similar to how controlled breathing is essential in high-stress survival scenarios to maintain calmness and focus.

Paired Muscle Relaxation

Paired muscle relaxation, where you tense and then relax different muscle groups, mirrors the physical relaxation needed after a day of strenuous survival activities. This technique helps in releasing the physical tension that accompanies emotional stress, promoting a state of calm. By focusing on the sensation of releasing tension in your muscles, you can divert your attention away from distressing thoughts and emotions. It's a method that not only aids in managing emotional crises but also in recovering from physical exertion, paralleling the recuperation needed in survival training.

Enhancing Crisis Survival with DBT

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) enhances crisis survival by equipping individuals with practical skills to manage emotional distress effectively. Drawing on my experience as a survival expert, I see clear parallels between DBT techniques and survival strategies in the wilderness. Both require quick adaptation, innovative thinking, and the use of available tools to navigate challenging situations. By mastering DBT skills, individuals can build emotional resilience, akin to the physical and mental resilience developed through survival training.

IMPROVE the Moment - Finding Comfort in Crisis


Using imagery involves visualizing a peaceful scene or a place where you feel safe and calm. This technique is akin to envisioning a successful outcome in a survival situation, which can provide hope and motivation. By mentally transporting yourself to a serene environment, you can distract your mind from current distress, reducing feelings of panic and fear. Imagery serves as an effective escape mechanism, offering temporary relief and perspective, similar to strategic planning in survival to ensure safety.


Finding meaning in the midst of a crisis can transform a challenging situation into an opportunity for growth, much like how overcoming obstacles in survival situations builds character and resilience. By reinterpreting your emotional pain through a lens of personal development, you can foster a sense of purpose and direction. This approach encourages a positive outlook, helping to mitigate the impact of distress and empowering you to navigate through adversity, paralleling the mental fortitude developed in survival training.


Prayer, or connecting with a higher power, can be a source of comfort and strength during difficult times, similar to drawing on internal beliefs and values for motivation in survival scenarios. Whether it's a formal prayer or a personal appeal for guidance and support, this practice can provide a sense of solidarity and hope. It offers a moment of reflection and connection, aiding in emotional regulation and fostering a sense of community and support, akin to the camaraderie and reliance on shared values in survival groups.


Taking a mental vacation means giving yourself permission to take a break from your current stressors, akin to the necessary rest periods in survival training to preserve energy and maintain focus. By allowing your mind to wander to a happy memory or fantasizing about a future trip, you can momentarily disengage from distressing emotions. This technique provides a brief respite, reducing the intensity of emotional surges and recharging your mental state, similar to strategic breaks in survival situations to ensure long-term endurance and success.


Self-encouragement involves using positive affirmations to boost your confidence and morale, much like the motivational self-talk used in survival situations to overcome challenges. By reminding yourself of your strengths and past successes, you can counter negative thoughts and feelings of hopelessness. This internal pep talk serves as a powerful tool in regaining control over your emotional state, fostering resilience and determination to face the crisis at hand, mirroring the mental resilience cultivated in the wilderness.

Self-Soothing with Your Five Senses - A Path to Inner Peace


Focusing on pleasant sights can significantly enhance your mood, similar to appreciating the beauty of nature during survival expeditions to boost spirits. By surrounding yourself with visually appealing objects or images, such as flowers or art, you can create a calming environment that distracts from distress. This technique leverages the power of visual stimuli to soothe emotions, offering a peaceful escape that can help manage stress levels, akin to the serene moments cherished in the wilderness.


Listening to calming sounds or music can have a profound effect on emotional well-being, paralleling the tranquility found in listening to nature's symphony in survival settings. Whether it's the gentle sound of rain, the melody of a favorite song, or the soothing tone of a loved one's voice, auditory stimuli can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. This practice facilitates a sense of calm and relaxation, helping to navigate through emotional turmoil, much like the comforting silence or natural sounds that provide solace in the wild.


Engaging the sense of taste is a powerful method for calming the mind during stressful moments. Just as a survivalist finds sustenance in the wilderness, tasting something enjoyable can provide immediate emotional relief. It could be as simple as savoring a piece of chocolate or drinking a soothing tea. The act of focusing on the flavors redirects attention from distressing thoughts to the present sensory experience, aiding in emotion regulation.


The tactile sense can be incredibly grounding. Touch, similar to securing a shelter in adverse conditions, offers a sense of safety and comfort. Holding a smooth stone, feeling the texture of fabric, or even taking a warm bath can serve as a tactile anchor, helping individuals to stay connected to the present moment. This method is akin to building a physical foundation that supports emotional resilience in challenging times.


The sense of smell has a direct pathway to the brain's emotional center. Utilizing pleasant and familiar scents can be as revitalizing as finding water in a survival scenario. Whether it's the smell of fresh rain, lavender, or coffee, introducing comforting scents into one's environment can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, facilitating a quicker return to emotional balance.

Advanced DBT Strategies for Long-Term Coping

In the wilderness of life's challenges, advanced Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) strategies serve as the compass and map for navigating emotional turmoil. These techniques, including the development of emotion regulation, foster an enduring resilience. By mastering these strategies, individuals equip themselves with the skills needed to face distress with confidence, much like a seasoned survivalist prepares for any contingency in the wild.

Pros and Cons List - Weighing Your Options in Times of Crisis

Creating a pros and cons list during a crisis mirrors the decision-making process in survival situations. This strategy involves weighing the potential consequences of actions against the urge to engage in harmful behaviors. By methodically evaluating options, individuals can make informed decisions that align with their long-term well-being, steering clear of impulsive choices that may exacerbate the situation.

Embracing Radical Acceptance to Overcome Emotional Turmoil

Embracing radical acceptance in the face of emotional turmoil is akin to accepting the unchangeable elements of the wilderness. It involves acknowledging reality as it is, without attempting to fight or change it. This acceptance does not mean approval but rather an understanding that some aspects of our situation are beyond our control. Such acceptance is crucial for moving forward and finding peace amidst chaos.

Implementing DBT Skills in Everyday Life

Integrating DBT skills into daily life ensures preparedness for emotional crises, much like a survivalist's routine maintenance of gear. Regular practice of these skills, from mindfulness to distress tolerance, builds a robust mental toolkit. This daily integration fosters a resilient mindset, enabling individuals to navigate life's challenges with greater ease and confidence.

When to Use DBT Distress Tolerance Skills for Effective Crisis Survival

DBT distress tolerance skills are most effective when confronting emotional crises that cannot be solved immediately. They are the emotional equivalent of survival techniques used to endure harsh conditions until rescue. Recognizing the signs of overwhelming emotions signals the time to employ these skills, providing a lifeline through the turbulence of distress until a solution becomes apparent.

Integrating DBT Skills into Your Daily Routine for Improved Mental Health

Just as regular practice of survival skills sharpens proficiency, incorporating DBT skills into daily routines enhances mental health resilience. Simple practices, such as mindfulness during routine activities or applying distress tolerance techniques during minor upsets, strengthen these skills. Over time, this integration transforms DBT practices into instinctual responses to stress, promoting enduring emotional well-being.

The Path Forward: Building a Resilient Mindset with DBT

The journey with DBT is a continuous path toward building a resilient mindset, much like the ongoing process of refining survival skills. Commitment to practicing and applying DBT techniques in various life situations fosters a deepened resilience. This process prepares individuals to confidently face life's challenges, equipped with a comprehensive set of skills for emotional survival and well-being.

Continuous Learning and Practice of DBT Skills for Life-Long Emotional Resilience

Continuous learning and practice of DBT skills are vital for developing life-long emotional resilience, akin to a survivalist's never-ending quest to master the wilderness. Regularly engaging in skills training and applying DBT techniques to everyday challenges reinforces these practices. This dedication to growth ensures that individuals are always prepared to navigate the emotional crises that life presents.

Seeking Professional Guidance for Deepening Your DBT Practice

Seeking professional guidance for deepening one's DBT practice is comparable to consulting with a survival expert to enhance wilderness skills. A therapist can tailor a treatment plan to an individual's unique needs, providing specialized skills training. This professional support not only accelerates learning but also ensures that the application of DBT strategies is both effective and sustainable.

Navigating Life's Challenges with DBT Crisis Survival Skills

Just as a seasoned survivalist navigates the unpredictable wilderness, individuals can employ DBT crisis survival skills to traverse life's challenges. These skills, rooted in the principles of reality acceptance and making the present moment more tolerable, are essential tools for managing distressing emotions. They guide individuals towards a life worth living, by teaching them how to confront and accept their realities, no matter how difficult they may seem.

Embracing reality acceptance does not mean giving up or admitting defeat. Instead, it's about acknowledging the situation as it is, which is a powerful first step in dealing with distressing emotions. By focusing on making the present moment more tolerable, individuals learn to reduce their suffering and navigate through life's challenges with grace and resilience. These DBT skills are not just about surviving; they're about thriving in the face of adversity.

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