Much of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy’s effectiveness for impulse control and relapse prevention can be attributed to the mnemonic devices employed in its teachings. Some DBT concepts provide rich visual associations, such as Walking the Middle Path and Turning the Mind. Others, such as ACCEPTS, make use of acronyms that are easy to recall and help to group a set of tactics for accomplishing a common goal. In the case of ACCEPTS, a DBT distress tolerance skillset, the immediate goal is to distract the mind just long enough to intervene in an emotional response to a stressful situation. Like all skills, the more we practice, the more efficient we become with our ability to call upon it when needed. So, let’s do a little DBT decoding and explore how our Wise Mind ACCEPTS.
A – Activities. Sometimes the best way to give the mind a break from stress-inducing stimuli is to get physically busy. Here, we can call upon hobbies, chores, or other activities that serve to gain attention. Playing guitar, going for walk, organizing a closet, food shopping, or playing Frisbee are all good examples. If you choose to accomplish a chore, then you’re killing two birds with one stone – you’re effectively distracting yourself and completing a necessary task at the same time.
C – Contributing. Whether you choose to volunteer time for a community cause, help a friend who’s shorthanded at work, or babysit your nephew, you’re doing something productive that requires focus. Contributing to the needs of someone else can help us to feel good about ourselves too, and building self-esteem is always a good thing. Meanwhile, we’re accomplishing the goal of distraction, allowing us to calm down and make a higher quality decision.
C – Comparisons. As human beings, we can’t help but compare ourselves to others. The point of this distraction technique is to gain perspective by making such comparisons. Sometimes all we need to do is compare our own situation now versus a previous time when we were considerably worse off in order to regain a healthy sense of gratitude. It may be enlightening to consider people who live in impoverished circumstances, or those who have limited access to friends and loved ones, to remember just how fortunate we are compared to those who have less.
E – Opposite Emotions. Such is the nature of DBT that we frequently use opposites to help us get back to, or maintain, middle ground. For example, we can listen to music that makes us happy to counterbalance feelings of sadness. Anger may be alleviated by watching a comedy routine that never fails to produce giddiness. Anxiousness may be relieved by finding calm in the practice of meditation or simply reading a spiritual book.
P – Pushing Away. While the aforementioned techniques give us a visualization of heading toward something, pushing away is about maintaining our ground and sending stressful thoughts away. Because our mind may want to hold on to stress, believing that we need it, we may employ tactics that help us to compartmentalize our thoughts, even if we place them aside to be addressed later. We also may take total control of these thoughts; write them down on a piece of paper and burn it. In doing so, we demonstrate our power to push away what doesn’t serve us, perhaps banishing such thoughts permanently (if not, there’s always more paper and matches!).
T – Thoughts. Distracting with thoughts is a bag of tricks that we keep nearby for emergency use. These are our “go to” thoughts that simply and quickly distract our mind – providing valuable time to process whatever is causing newfound stress. This may include counting to ten or reciting the Serenity Prayer.
S – Sensations. Sometimes stress overcomes us so quickly that we need to call on a tried and true physical sensation to snap us out of it and provide momentary distraction. Cold water splashed on the face may do it. For some, it’s the calming sound of a bell, or a hard rock song that gets the heart racing. It’s worth experimenting with a physical sensation that’s easy to call upon and acts as a trigger to bring you back to your senses – and remind you not to sweat the small stuff (and that it’s all small stuff).
As you can see, this DBT acronym is effective for helping us remember this important set of distraction techniques. The DBT skills we practice enable us to better tolerate stress, act mindfully, and regulate our emotions. In doing so, we remain in control, make good decisions and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. How fortunate we are to possess a Wise Mind!
The compassionate and highly trained, Futures Recovery Healthcare team strives to provide education, support, and behavioral therapies in conjunction with medications at the proper times in order to promote a successful recovery from a substance abuse disorder. Call today to learn about our specialized and effective treatment programs.