March DBT Challenge: The Art of Calming Down

By Ashley Strang, MA, LLP, CAADC

Imagine this. It’s the end of your work or school day and you find out that that report you thought was due next week is actually due tomorrow. If you don’t finish this report in time, there will be major consequences.

Your mind is spinning, heart racing. You don’t know where to start or how you’ll get it done.

TIPP is a DBT practice used to help reduce stress quickly when you are in emotional distress. Your body has reached the point of fight or flight when it’s hard to manage your feelings, so TIPP is a great toolset to decrease the intensity of your emotions in a short-term way that buys you enough time to use other skills, coping mechanisms, once you are calm enough to do so.

TIPP stands for Temperature, Intense Aerobic Exercise, Paced Breathing, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation. This toolset can be used individually or together.


Temperature: Bend over, hold your breath, and place your face up to your temples in a bowl of cold water for 10-20 seconds. Lift your face, breath, and repeat up to 3 times. (Please seek medical permissions before trying this due to potential concerns with heart problems or other medical conditions.) Now if this seems too extreme you can try sitting in a chair and holding an ice pack or Ziplock bag of ice water over they eyes and upper cheeks. Sometimes even splashing cold water over your eyes and cheeks may be sufficient. These skills help activate our parasympathetic system to increase emotion regulation which help the physical arousal to go down.

Intense Aerobic Exercise: Run, swim, jump rope, dance around the room to music. Do an exercise that you can do and do it intensely for 10-20 minutes. Emotions tends to get the body prepared for action. Intense exercise can re-regulate the body to a less emotional state.

Paced Breathing: Practice breathing in for less time than breathing out. For 4 minutes, breathe in 4 seconds and exhale about 6-8 seconds. Just like our temperature skill, paced breathing helps to activate our parasymptathetic system to regulate emotions. If you can regulate your body’s arousal, your mind will usually follow and become less dysregulated.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Relax the body by focusing on muscles from head to toe. Pick a muscle, make it tense, and then release. This is best done guided. Check out the Mindshift app and try Tense and Release under the relaxation exercises section in the app. The goal of this exercise is to increase awareness of tension and relaxation. You may not necessarily relax immediately, but the important part of this is to learn awareness of body tension.


Think of a stressful situation in your life that you could have handled better if you were able to calm down. Now think of a situation in the future and come up with an action plan. Pick the skill that seems the most appealing and start with that. If you find this doesn’t quite address how you’re feeling keeping working with the different skills until you find the one that works for you. Remember, you have the ability.


Ashley Strang's professional experience consists of working with adults and adolescents in various capacities. In the community mental health system she performed case management, intensive case management, clinical supervision, and individual/group therapy for individuals with severe and persistent mental illness and/or substance use issues. Her areas of specialty include working with adolescents and adults struggling with depression, anxiety, adjustment, substance use, schizophrenia, and behavioral issues. Learn more about Ashley here.

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