Have you ever found yourself experiencing intense emotions where you feel overwhelmed and out of control? These are the times when it feels like you just can’t think straight and often do things that just makes the situation worse. In these situations what is happening is your sympathetic nervous system is being activated, triggering a “fight or flight” response. Trying to talk yourself out of this state is difficult if not impossible, because the executive functioning part of your brain is offline. It has been hijacked by the primal brain and has activated a threat response.

When faced with intense emotions, it’s crucial to have tools at your disposal to help you regain control and find emotional balance. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers a set of effective skills known as TIPP, which stands for Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing, and Paired Muscle Relaxation. These skills can help you regulate your emotions quickly by altering your body chemistry. They are designed to target your parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for calming, soothing and relaxing. In this article, we will explore each of these skills and explain why they work.

  • Temperature (T)

The Temperature skill in DBT TIPP involves changing your body’s temperature to help regulate your emotions. The idea behind this skill is that our bodies and minds are deeply interconnected. By manipulating your body temperature, you can create a shift in your emotional state.

Why it works:

  • Cold water or ice can activate the body’s “diving reflex,” which slows down your heart rate and lowers stress levels. This can help reduce feelings of anxiety, anger, or agitation.
  • Plunging your face into a bowl of cold water or holding ice cubes can serve as a distraction, redirecting your focus away from intense emotions.
  • The shock of cold temperature can jolt your system out of emotional distress and help you return to a calmer state.
  • Activating the “mammalian reflex” has been shown to slow down your heart rate, increase the flow of blood to your brain and significantly reduce anger and other overwhelming emotions.

Intense Exercise (I)

Engaging in intense physical exercise is another powerful way to quickly regulate your emotions. Exercise releases endorphins and other neurotransmitters that can significantly improve your mood. The intense exercise first stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, then activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming and soothing. Make sure that the exercise is intense for you. It can include running, skipping, biking or anything that gets your heart rate up.

Why it works:

  • Exercise helps your body release endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. These chemicals can counteract feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety.
  • Physical activity redirects your attention from emotional distress to the demands of your body, providing a mental break.
  • Exercise can promote a sense of accomplishment and control, which can be especially helpful when emotions feel overwhelming.
  • Paced Breathing (P)

Paced breathing is a mindfulness technique that involves regulating your breath to calm your nervous system and reduce emotional distress. Controlled breathing can shift your body from a fight-or-flight response to a rest-and-digest state.

Why it works:

  • Slow, deliberate breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for relaxation and calmness.
  • Paced breathing can interrupt the cycle of rumination and worry, allowing you to focus on the present moment.
  • It provides a quick way to lower your heart rate and reduce feelings of tension, fear, or anger.
  • Paired Muscle Relaxation (P)

Muscle tension often accompanies intense emotions, leading to physical discomfort and exacerbating emotional distress. The Paired Muscle Relaxation skill helps release muscle tension, promoting relaxation and emotional regulation.

Why it works:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and then releasing different muscle groups, promoting physical relaxation and reducing tension.
  • When your body is relaxed, it sends signals to your brain that it’s safe, which can lead to a corresponding decrease in emotional distress.
  • Relaxation techniques can be used alongside breathing exercises to create a synergistic effect, calming both your body and mind.

DBT TIPP skills provide a quick and effective way to regulate your emotions by changing your body chemistry. Whether you’re struggling with anger, anxiety, or sadness, these skills can help you regain control and find emotional balance. By altering your body’s temperature, engaging in intense exercise, practicing paced breathing, and utilizing paired muscle relaxation, you can effectively manage intense emotions and improve your overall well-being. You can also incorporate these skills on a regular basis to stay grounded and emotionally balanced.