How to Use DBT to Combat Work Stress

a candle sits on a ceramic stand

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a form of psychotherapy designed to help you better manage your emotions and thoughts so you can lead a healthier, happier life. By blending modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with Zen Buddhism, DBT practitioners can help you understand the source of your stress and empower you to make productive changes.

This can be particularly helpful if you need to combat work stress and regulate your emotions. DBT can’t necessarily prevent you from feeling stress and frustration, but it can help you compose yourself and find a better way to respond when under pressure.

This can be transformative if you’re used to work-stress undermining other areas of your life. By learning how to respond to stressors, you can build resilience, combat burnout, and become more productive.

Seeking Diagnosis

Work-related stress has been on the rise in recent years. According to the World Economic Forum, worker wellbeing is stagnating and more folks feel stressed and worried due to work today. This is partially due to the pandemic fallout, but can also be attributed to poor stress management and overworking.

Seeking a burnout diagnosis can be a step in the right direction. A burnout diagnosis can help you by legitimizing the challenges you face and showing decision-makers that their systemic policies are not working. This is crucial, as you can’t expect therapy to work if you’re still returning to a toxic workplace where you are expected to work overtime every year.

This sentiment is echoed by Lily Brown, assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, who explains that many patients who are diagnosed with burnout “only [have] so many degrees of freedom in terms of what’s in their control.” This re-emphasizes the importance of techniques like DBT, which can give you the confidence boost you need to seek employment elsewhere in a more supportive environment.

Additionally, a diagnosis can help you gain access to support services like those offered by DBT professionals. This can help you make immediate changes to your lifestyle, like setting boundaries and becoming more assertive. Over time, this will increase your resilience and help you self-advocate while at work.

DBT and Resilience

DBT isn’t designed to help you rationalize overworking or overcome toxic work cultures. However, it can help you improve your response to stress by changing the way you think about the world. Rather than seeing acute stress as a bad thing, techniques like DBT help you use stress to enhance your productivity.

If you’re interested in overcoming stress and boosting your resilience, consider using DBT techniques to create a better inner monologue. For example, if you usually respond to stress with thoughts like “I cannot handle this,” DBT may teach you to respond with thoughts like “This isn’t ideal, but I have the skills and experience to overcome it.” These kinds of positive affirmations can be empowering and help you see the silver linings associated with stress.

Intervention Strategies

DBT can help you make long-term changes that benefit your mental health and help you lead a productive, low-stress lifestyle. However, sometimes life throws you curveballs and can cause a sudden spike in your stress. Using DBT intervention at this time is crucial, as a quick intervention can help you overcome anxiety and get back on track. Easy DBT-inspired interventions include:

  • Belly Breathing: While sitting or lying down, place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Inhale slowly through your nose and exhale gently through your mouth. Focus on the rise and fall of your abdomen, continuing for several minutes.
  • Mindfulness: Bring focus to your breath and notice the sensation of air coming into and out of your body. Acknowledge your thoughts but try not to linger on them; instead, bring your mind back to your breath to ground yourself in the present moment.
  • Imagery: Imagining open fields and calm seas is a great way to calm a busy mind and refocus on the present moment. Find guided meditations that suit you and stick with them for anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes. This will give you a welcome mental break and help you feel refreshed when you re-enter the workspace.

You can work on a one-to-one basis with a DBT specialist to discover interventions that work for you, too. For example, if you find clarity through writing, your DBT therapist may be able to suggest journaling techniques that will resonate with you. This can help you reduce work stress with DBT and give you the tools you need to build better interpersonal relations.


DBT can be a great way to combat work stress and improve your resilience. Even simple steps, like belly breathing and affirmations, can have a tremendous impact on your outlook in life. DBT can help you make tough decisions and give you the confidence you need to move on from a toxic work environment. This is crucial, as a poor work environment will damage your long-term mental health and may increase your chances of developing burnout.


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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