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Medically Reviewed by
Cimone Safilian-Hanif, PhD in International Psychology, on March 5, 2024


Our physical and mental health are intricately connected. When we are emotional, there are centers in our brains getting activated and hormones being secreted. This is why it is very important to take care of our physical health and engage in self-care skills so that our bodies can optimally tolerate the stress of overwhelming emotions. In DBT, reducing the physical vulnerability to overwhelming emotions refers to looking at some of the main health-related aspects that influence how we feel and make sure we are taking care of our physical health the best we can.

For example, perhaps you've noticed that you are crankier or your energy crashes more often when you often solely eat fast food. These are some of the types of habits we are going to look at. We will help you make a plan to take care of your physical well-being that can result in better emotional regulation and overall mental health.

DBT Emotion Regulation: Emotions & Physical Vulnerability
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Review you current habits and how they are affecting you. Think about how changes in your habits would change the way you feel.

1. Food & Diet

The food we eat affects the way we feel. For example, when we eat food that contains a lot of sugar, we may feel satisfied immediately after, but then it decreases our energy. The same goes for food that is high in its fat content. These types of unbalanced diet regimes can create a decrease in our mood, and can make us feel not only tired but depressed and sluggish. It is best if you try to incorporate more vegetables, fruit, protein and grains. Eating regular meals can also help stabilize blood sugar levels and contribute to overall well-being.

Take some time and think about your day-to-day diet. What do you usually eat? Do you eat enough, too much, or too little? How do you think this affects your mood and emotions? Keep a diary and see how what you eat affects you. What can you do to improve your diet and therefore decrease your physical vulnerability to overwhelming emotions?

Use the worksheet to answer these questions.

2. Sleep Hygiene

Think about these aspects and record your answers in the worksheet provided in the next section: Do you get enough sleep at night? Do you wake up frequently? Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you wake up feeling tired or well-rested?

Getting seven or eight hours a sleep at night is very important for our overall health. When you are sleep-deprived or your sleep hygiene is suboptimal, this can affect your mental health and the way you experience emotions. Not getting enough sleep can make us more vulnerable to stress, more emotionally reactive, and can decrease our ability to concentrate. To improve your sleep hygiene you can try one of the following things: go to bed and wake up approximately at the same time, turn off all devices an hour before you go to bed, make your bedroom dark and cool before you go to sleep.

3. Working Out

It is scientifically proven that regular cardio work-out sessions (20-30 minutes five times a week) can have the same effects as using antidepressants for milder forms of depression (without the side-effects)(Dr. Ben Sibgh, et al, 2023). Although at first it is difficult to commit to a regular work-out plan, there are many long-term benefits that can make our bodies stronger and more resilient to emotional stress. Working out releases feel-good hormones that immediately elevate our mood. You can try walking, jogging, dancing, swimming, or doing a sport you enjoy.

Think about your current physical exercise habits. Do you work out? How often do you do it? If you don't regularly work out, try to be open to experiencing the positive and immediate mood effects next time you try it.

4. Physical Illness & Stress

There are many stress factors that can influence your emotional state and the way you experience intense emotions. Chronic high stress, chronic illness, or chronic physical pain can make a person more vulnerable to overwhelming emotional experiences. This is why it's important to identify the stress factors that are present in your life. Is your job too stressful? Perhaps you have a demanding relationship, too many responsibilities, or you have too much on your plate. If you have a chronic illness or are experiencing chronic pain and you think that you haven't done everything you can to improve your condition, then you should take care of your body so that it won't be burdened by additional trouble that is preventable.

5. Addictions

The use of food, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, illegal drugs and overusing prescription drugs to alleviate stressors are all types of maladaptive coping habits that can lead to addictive behaviors. These addictive behaviors deteriorate the physical balance we need to function optimally. They can lead to different type of problems, financially, interpersonally, physically, and romantically. Developing an addiction is usually a sign of avoiding dealing with an eminent problem. Additionally, the abuse of addictive substances alters the way we experience our emotions.

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Take stock of your habits and how they are affecting you. How would changes in your habits change the way you feel.

DBT Emotional Regulation: Emotions & Physical Vulnerability

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Q: I know that working out will help me, but I feel like I can't even start. What should I do?

A: If you are feeling sad or down, it is difficult to motivate yourself to get on your feet and move. Practice radical acceptance of your lack of motivation and self-validate your feelings (article 5 from this module). The thing that can be really helpful in this situation is to set small goals at first (and as long as you need). Don't put unreachable expectations on yourself, instead walk outside for 5 or 10 minutes for starters, and set the goal to do this every day. You can also dance, or do whatever you feel like is most suitable and realistic for you. Don't worry about whether you are doing a lot or not, it is a success to get yourself to do any physical exercise at the beginning. Then start setting higher goals.

Q: What are some more tips on improving my sleeping hygiene?

A: Besides the tips provided above, here are some other things you can do:

  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine, such as using calming activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or listening to calming music.
  • Create a sleep-friendly environment. Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet. Use a noise machine or fan to mask disruptive noises.
  • Limit your napping during the day.
  • Only use your bed for sleeping. Try to avoid working from bed or eating in bed, so your bed will only be associated with sleeping.
  • Limit your intake of caffeine in the afternoon and avoid heavy and spicy meals too late in the evening. Caffeine can delay your ability to fall asleep and heavy or spicy meals close to bedtime can cause discomfort and interfere with your sleep.
  • Engaging in regular exercise can promote better sleep quality and help regulate sleep patterns.

Do something that you find relaxing before you go to bed (take a shower or a bath, do some of the breathing exercises from the mindfulness module, write an entry in your diary).

Q: My everyday life is very stressful, but I don't know exactly which aspects are the ones making me the most stressed.

A: It sounds like you can benefit from going over the mindfulness module and systematically doing the exercises presented there. If you are having trouble observing and describing the biggest stress factors in your life, then the different mindfulness skills we were working on in the first module are good for you to practice first.

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If you have any behavioral health questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare or mental health care provider. This article is supported by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from behavioral health societies and governmental agencies. However, it is not a substitute for professional behavioral health advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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Comments About Emotions & Physical Vulnerability

  1. In the emotion regulation section the worksheet is not about emotional regularity it just says E2 be effective which doesn’t even help.

    ADMIN – Hi Jas,

    Thanks for pointing this out. We have it fixed.

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