In my previous post “For teens: how to survive a crisis without making things worse (Part 1)” I identified specific strategies you could use when dealing with a crisis. However, “what to do” and “how to do it” often go out the window during a crisis. This is because your emotion mind takes over and the emotions begin to control your thoughts and behaviors. Fortunately, Dr. Marsha Linehan, the creator of DBT, has spelled out how Mindfulness can be practically incorporated in our daily life by using the “What and How skills.” The “What and How skills” can be easily applied not only as a way of living mindfully but also as an approach to deal with crises situations.
Here is a specific crisis situation: Amy is a 16 year-old female that is becoming increasingly annoyed with her parents. Amy is stressed out with her schoolwork and her friends are not being as supportive as they used to. Amy arrives home from school to find out that she is grounded for getting a D in trigonometry. She reports to her parents that she is really trying to understand the material; then she goes on Facebook to write a post, “Seriously… life hates me.” Moments later, she gets a text message from her boyfriend stating he needs to find himself and wants to breakup.
Below you will find what we called a “Mindful response to a crisis” by explaining and applying directly the “what and how skills” to Amy’s current crisis.
The What Skills (Linehan, 1993) are skills on what you can do when experiencing intense emotions:
1) Observe: Notice the experience. Try not to get hooked on your thoughts and/or emotions. For example, Amy would notice that her hands are trembling and that she was experiencing frustrating thoughts.
2) Describe: Put words to your experience. Do not analyze or make interpretations. For example, Amy would say, “I am feeling overwhelmed by my class, parents, friends, and relationship.” This way of thinking is different then Amy stating, “Seriously…Life hates me.”
3) Participate: Get involved in the moment, not in the past or the future. For example, after Amy acknowledges her emotional state, she could do her best to focus on a particular task she’s completing at any given time. “I’m feeling frustrated and angry but will do my best to focus on completing my history homework for now.”
The How Skills (Linehan, 1993) are skills on how you can apply the skills effectively when a crisis is happening:
1) Non-judgmentally: This particular skill invites you not to evaluate or become judgmental of yourself, others, or a situation. Using this skill, Amy would tell herself, “I am grounded because of my bad grade” instead of thinking “I am not smart enough and will never pass this class.” Also, Amy would not judge herself as a bad girlfriend or that her partner is a jerk. Amy would remind herself that maybe her partner needs time to do some self-reflection. In these instances, Amy is not judging or magnifying the situation.
2) One-mindfully: Try doing just one thing at a time. Using this skill, Amy would turn her attention to trigonometry exercises. Whenever her thoughts about her parents, friends, or relationship would show up- she would direct her attention to her work at hand to the best she can. If Amy took a break after 1 hour of working- she could reward herself with a snack. While eating her snack—that would be her only focus—to do one thing at a time.
3) Effectively: Always think, “What is going to be best in this situation?” and “How can I still acknowledge my intense emotions in a way that is not destructive?” For Amy to be effective through her crisis, she will want to ask herself these questions.
Dealing with intense emotions can be exhausting. I strongly invite you to mindfully approach any future crises with the “what and how skills” in place.