Do we need a behavior attached to all of our distressful feelings? Ask yourself, how do you behave when you are feeling anxious? Some people snack, or restrict food, or fidget, or pick, or pace. We are all different and we all have a different way of behaving in the face of anxiety. Some of those behavioral responses are healthier than others. Dialectical Behavior Therapy is an eating disorder treatment involving techniques that may help when you’re feeling anxious.
If you struggle with unhealthy behaviors, try a different technique. Imagine you have an itch. Feeling that itch now? Now, don’t scratch it! Instead, pause and think about it. Observe and describe the itch. You may describe it as sharp, prickly, hot, pulsing and red. Soon enough, that feeling will dull, expand, cool and become blue. Do you still feel like you need to scratch? Probably not.
“Don’t scratch the itch” is a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) exercise you can practice next time you are anxious. Pause and describe what you are feeling. Soon, you should feel more at ease.
For more information on DBT skills, please contact Healthy Futures (480) 451-8500.
Kim Lipsman (Kim DiRe’): Hi, my name is Kim Lipsman. I’m a mental health therapist that uses Dialectical Behavioral Therapy with my clients. DBT is what we call it.
One of the skills for emotion regulation that we use in DBT is to observe and describe. It’s one of the most helpful things for lowering your anxiety level or lowering any kind of feelings that you have that feel distressful.
It also creates a pause that shows that we don’t have to have a feeling, and then a behavior attached to it. I call this skill “Don’t Scratch the Itch.” Anyway, now that I’m talking about itching, do you notice anywhere in your body that you have an itch? Don’t scratch it!
I’m going to use it to help you. Now that I’m talking about it, I’ve got one. It’s on my lower leg. Yes, I can feel it, and so I’m going to describe it. If you can, with an itch that you have ‑‑ don’t scratch it! You’ll be tempted to ‑‑ is just describe it.
It feels like to me ‑‑ I’m going to describe mine ‑‑ as if it was the tip of a pencil right on my lower leg and it’s starting to tingle. If I could give it a color, I would call it reddish. If I could describe it, it has a prickly pulsing sensation. As I’m noticing that I’m talking about it, it’s expanding out. On the top layer of my skin, it doesn’t go very deep.
Now, I would describe the color as being blue and cool, if I could describe it in a temperature, where before, it felt hot and red. Now that I’m describing it more to you, it’s really disappeared and I really don’t have the itch anymore to scratch. That’s just an example of what happens when we don’t behave to a feeling.
A lot of times, we don’t wait that long because a feeling can go away if we don’t behave to it. What can decrease the intensity of the feeling is just observing it, describing in color, and in temperature, and in sensation.
Why don’t you practice not scratching the itch and see if you can eliminate some of the behaviors that are not going to be very helpful for you? Enjoy practicing that.