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10 Healthy Coping Skills for Borderline Personality Disorder

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Updated June 13, 2014

When you are having an intense emotion, it can be hard to know what to do. Unfortunately, many people with BPD turn to unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to cope with emotional pain (e.g., self-harm, substance use, or aggression). Want to replace unhealthy habits with new, healthier skills? Try some of the coping skills listed below.

1. Play Music

Play music that creates an emotion that is the opposite of the one you are struggling with. For example, if you are feeling very sad, play happy, upbeat music. If you are feeling anxious, play slow, relaxing music.

2. Do Something

Engage in a highly engaging activity. Television or computer activities do not count here -- these are too passive. Instead, take a walk, dance, clean your house, or do some other activity that gets you engaged and distracts you from your current emotions.

3. Call Someone

Reaching out to others can really help when you are struggling with strong emotions. Call a supportive friend or family member. If you don’t have someone in mind that is supportive, call a helpline (for example, in the U.S. you can call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK).

4. Pray

Are you a religious or spiritual person? If you are (or even if you’re not but have considered trying), praying can be tremendously helpful in times of extreme stress.

5. Ride It Out

The peak of most strong emotional reactions (and the urges to engage in harmful activities, like self-harming or drinking, that can go along with these reactions) last for a few minutes and then begin to subside. Grab an egg timer from the kitchen, and set it for 10 minutes. Wait the 10 minutes, and practice riding out the emotion.

6. Be Mindful

Practice mindfulness of your emotion. Notice the emotion you are having, and let yourself experience it as a wave, without trying to block it, suppress it, or hold on to it. Try to accept the emotion for what it is.

7. Breathe Deeply

Sit or lie somewhere quiet and bring your attention to your breathing. Breathe evenly, slowly, and deeply. Watch your stomach rise and fall with each breath.

8. Take a Warm Bath or Shower

Try to lose yourself in the sensations of the warm water, the smell of the soap, etc. Allow the sensations to distract you from the situation you are upset about.

9. Ground Yourself

When emotions seem to be taking you out of the current moment (e.g., you are starting to feel “zoned out” or can’t see anything else going on at the moment), do something to ground yourself. Grab an ice cube and hold it in your hand for a few moments, snap a rubber band against your wrist, “snap yourself back” into the moment.

10. Help Someone Else

Do something nice for someone else. It doesn't have to be something big; you can walk to the nearest store, buy a pack of gum, and give the cashier a smile and say "have a great day." It may sound silly, but small gestures like this can really reduce emotional pain.

Source:

Linehan, MM. Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford: 1993.

Chapman, AL, and Gratz, KL. "The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide." Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, November 2007.

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