Improve the Moment (and Your Life) with DBT

Feeling Overwhelmed with Emotion & Don't Know Where to Start?

Are you feeling overwhelmed with intense emotions, and the situation you are in (your current external circumstances) is not likely to change? Do you want to feel better, even for a moment? This blog post is for you.

How do you Change Your Life?

When asked, "How do you change your life?" by a patient, Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), replied "one step at a time."

There's an old saying (and as a vegetarian, I am a bit averse to it, but) : "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." 

And then there is the old adage, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

Notice a theme? The only way we can change our lives is to do so moment by moment, breath by breath, and step by step. It took an awfully long time for us to end up in the circumstances we are in, and it isn't likely that things are going to change overnight. 

DBT Distress Tolerance Skill: Improve the Moment

In every moment along the way, we can practice the DBT skill called "Improve the Moment." Improve The Moment falls under the Distress Tolerance Skills module of DBT. Distress Tolerance skills are also considered "Crisis Survival Strategies" -- "[s]kills for tolerating painful events ad emotions when you cannot make things better right away" (Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Dr. Marsha Linehan, p.165)

Some of the ways we can Improve The Moment Are:
  • Imagery
  • Meaning
  • Prayer
  • Relaxation
  • One thing at a time
  • Vacation
  • Encouragement
When practicing this skill, we are not trying to CHANGE the external circumstance, but rather trying to improve the moment to make it more tolerable (or even more enjoyable) for just this moment.

Here are some examples of putting the skills into action:
  • "Imagery: Imagine very relaxing scenes...Imagine everything going well. Imagine coping well...
  • Meaning: Find or create some purpose, meaning, or value in the pain [that's what I do with this blog, by the way!]. Focus on whatever positive aspects of a painful situation you can find...
  • Prayer: Open your heart to a supreme being, greater wisdom, God, or your own wise mind. ASk for Strength to bear the pain in the moment...
  • Relaxation: Try muscle relaxing and tensing each large muscle group [I recommend this CD - it's my favorite!]...take a hot bath...breathe deeply; half smile; change facial expression...
  • One thing in the Moment: Focus your entire attention on what you are doing right now. Keep yourself in the very moment you are in; put your mind in the present
  • Take a Brief Vacation: Rent a motel room at the beach or in the woods for a day or two. Ask your roommate to bring you coffee in bed or make you dinner (offer to reciprocate)...Get a  magazine or newspaper at the grocery store, get in bed with chocolates, and read it...
  • Encouragement: Cheerlead yourself. Repeat over and over: 'I can stand it,' 'It won't last forever.' 'I will make it out of this,' 'I am doing the best I can do.'" ( Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Dr. Marsha Linehan, pp.168-169).

{Click image for more information on this
powerful book.}

Yesterday, I decided to pick up some fresh bread to improve the moment.  Each moment leading up to the bread was also enjoyable: getting out of the house, driving, feeling the sun on my skin, interacting with the counter clerk, purchasing my bread, smelling it, and finally eating it at home.

I also like to light this candle, which smells like a seaside beach resort...

or this one, which smells like a "Hawaiian Breeze." 

This is my version of using "imagery" and "vacation."  I image being in these peaceful places as I smell the aroma.

What are some ways that you can improve the moment right now? Remember that even though this moment is difficult, you CAN do something to improve it and feel a little bit better.

Thank you for reading.
More soon.


  1. Debbie, thank you for your time spent every time you write. I started reading your blog not too long ago and find it encouraging and motivating!

    It's nice to know that while I may suffer, I am not alone. The way you effectively use your skills is inspiring me to put forth the effort to get better. I look forward to each and every post.


    1. Melanie, thank you for your kind words. I am glad you found your way over to my blog and that it is helpful to you.

      You are definitely not alone, and I am excited for your continued healing! ♥

  2. it is so matter what, there is something that we can always do to make it less intolerable. today is one of those days, and I feel pretty crappy. I feel more emptiness/loneliness than intense emotions, and I just want to know the meaning of life. I think I should take a little walk during lunch break. :) thank you for writing another amazing article Debbie.. xoxo

    1. Hi Angel. I hope that by the time I am reading this you are feeling better. So glad you found this article at a time when it could really speak to you and your experience. Huge hugs! ♥



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