Empowered Aging with DBT: Strategies for Enhancing Resilience in Older Adults

an elderly couple on the beach. the man is kissing the woman on the cheek

Aging can be difficult on the mind as well as the body. Sometimes, as we settle into our golden years, we can experience severe depression or anxiety, a cloud that won’t go away and hangs over our day-to-day activities. Whatever the specific reasoning for this feeling, or even if the reasons change day by day, that cloud is still up there – and you probably feel like you’re going to struggle to get out from under it.

The first thing we want to tell you is that you aren’t alone, and that such clouds aren’t a byproduct of aging. Depression and anxiety are very real, very treatable mental conditions, and older adults are statistically more likely to develop them as they age. What this means for you is that while that cloud might feel like something you can’t dismiss on your own, it’s very much something you can work to get rid of.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (or DBT) is a form of talk therapy that encourages acceptance of your situation, and then empowers you to drive change. It’s a real lifesaver for people of all ages,helping people with depression and anxiety shape their best lives.

Today, we’re going to break down some DBT techniques you can practice, and show you how to integrate DBT principles into your life in real, practical ways.

DBT Techniques

Most forms of dialectical behavioral therapy involve keeping a journal of your thoughts, ideas, and emotions. You then bring this journal to weekly sessions with your talk therapist, using it as a jumping-off point to identify what’s troubling you and what you’ll work on week-to-week.

For our purposes, the goals of DBT therapy are usually:

  • To help you process and accept your emotions
  • To limit or redirect behaviors that aren’t serving a positive purpose
  • To help you learn positive coping skills that will replace negative behaviors

It’s important to do this work with a qualified professional, as they can provide you with support as you work through your emotions. However, for individual practice, your therapist will usually have you work on these four skills:

  • Mindfulness: Focusing fully on the present, letting past concerns and future worries take a backburner. Usually involves focusing on sensations, or a form of meditation.
  • Distress tolerance: Practicing coping with uncomfortable or distressing situations without responding in a negative manner.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: Communicating what you need and what your boundaries are in a calm, kind, effective manner.
  • Emotion regulation: Being able to control and redirect negative emotions, like anxiety and panic attacks.

For older adults, DBT therapy can empower them to gain a little bit of control in the midst of aging, enhancing their resilience, centering them on driving their personal goals, and teaching them to seize happiness in whatever form it comes. While DBT therapy is used for a variety of reasons, older adults will find that it delivers a great deal of autonomy, self-love, and productive decision-making.

Setting Wellness Routines

One such positive coping skill that DBT teaches is exercise and wellness routines. For people with depression and anxiety, the DBT approach to routine is typically an opposite action response – if you’re feeling drained or depressed, instead of remaining inactive, you choose to do something positive instead. Setting and sticking to routines can be a positive coping skill, helping build a sense of structure and having a positive impact on both physical and mental health.

A good place to start might be instituting a regular exercise routine. Research shows that frequent exercise reduces brain fog, limits the likelihood of certain medical conditions popping up, and has a positive impact on mental health and self-image. Whether your routine involves frequent walks around the park, box squats in the garage, or access to a full gym, choosing the exercises that are right for you can have a positive impact.

Your eating and sleeping habits also fit into your overall wellness. If you’ve had difficulty getting the required amount of sleep, DBT techniques like the DBT nightmare protocol or pre-sleep stress relief exercises can help. Eating habits like drinking too much coffee or having too much junk food can also negatively impact your wellness; in most cases, the DBT protocol of opposite action applies here as well, choosing healthier options and a set schedule for meals.


If you’re in a situation you aren’t happy with, why not work to change it? DBT therapy makes change possible for people in every demographic, equipping older adults with the tools they need to seize control of their lives and live each day to the fullest.

We hope this guide was helpful, and wish you nothing but the best in achieving happiness.


About the Author

Miles Oliver is an independent writer with a background in business and a passion for tech, psychology, news, and simply helping people live happy and fulfilled lives. He has lived and traveled all over the United States and continues to expand his awareness and experiences. When he is not writing, he is most likely mountain biking or kicking back with a cup of tea.

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