Did you know it is possible to manage frustrations with confidence? When there is no immediate solution to a problem, say you can’t find your car keys, or you have to do something you’ve been dreading, there is a skill that helps you manage frustrations confidently. The IMPROVE Skill is a dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) tool that I’ve found to be helpful for reducing daily stressors and drama that finds its way into frustrating my life.
I find that just the word “improve” implies that I have an opportunity to be in control rather than my feelings or my environment ruling my life. This tool leads to feeling more skillful in situations that could interfere with my mood. It can work for you too by replacing negative events, thoughts, responses with more positive ones.
I Recently Managed My Own Frustrations
Recently I used this skill to deal with some stressful events. I was late for an appointment, stuck in traffic, got an email that evoked a slew of negative energy and felt pretty crappy. I thought about places that I liked in the neighborhood, places where I remembered feeling calm. The coffee shop with the good music and delicious lattes came to mind. I imagined getting a coffee on my way to the appointment, enjoying the music and taking that first sip. I immediately felt a little less frazzled. I decided to get that coffee and hear some good jams before going into the office. While I was only a few minutes late, I was less irritated and in a better mood.
“Improve the Moment” is a skill to use when you have to tolerate distress or manage frustrations that come up in your life. It’s for those times when you can’t do anything about the stress or crisis at hand, or you can’t do anything right away to solve the problem. From getting stuck in traffic to trying to find something you misplaced, if you let your emotions take over, you’ll be a mess.
How to Manage Frustrations with the IMPROVE Skill
Like many skills in DBT, IMPROVE is an acronym. You don’t have to do all the tools at once, just try one or two and see what works for you. IMPROVE stands for:
Imagery — Take yourself to a calm or positive place in your mind or imagine the situation you’re stressing about turning out better than expected. Picture yourself managing frustration with ease, ask yourself “What if ____ (something good) happens? Could this work out better than I expected?”
Meaning — Create or find meaning from the current challenge. Ask yourself “How can I grow from this?” or “What can I learn about myself or this stressor that can help me in the future? ”
Prayer — Prayer can mean becoming aware of your connection to the universe. It doesn’t have to be talking to God, but if that vibes with you go for it. It can be asking for guidance from your Higher Power.
Relax — How can you relax when you’re frustrated or furious? Changing how your body feels can change your brain chemistry and your mood. Progressive relaxation, listening to a guided meditation, or engaging in abdominal breathing can soothe your nervous system so you can get through the frustrating experience.
One Thing in the Moment (not the crisis at hand) — Can you balance on one foot, wash the dishes, read one page of the paper? Doing one thing in the moment provides time for your brain to settle down. It helps you reduce the intensity of your feelings, stay focused on the present rather than the pain of the past or fear of the future. If you can be present with your emotion and accept the situation focus on just this moment and let the intensity pass; don’t make excuses or blame others, acceptance will allow for you to manage frustrations and release pain.
Vacation — Don’t hop on a plane just yet. This tool refers to taking a brief break from the difficult task at hand, but it shouldn’t be a complete avoidance. A walk around the block, a retreat into oneself for a brief time or look for places online that your future self would love go on vacation.
Encouragement — Activate your inner cheerleader, talk yourself through the crisis like you would if you were with a good friend. Some examples include:
- I’ve already been through many other painful experiences, and I’ve survived.
- This, too, shall pass.
- My feelings make me uncomfortable right now, but I can accept them.
- I can be anxious and still deal with the situation.
- I’m strong enough to handle what’s happening to me right now.
How can you incorporate some of these skills into your life today? We may not be able to solve all the problems that come into our lives, but with IMPROVE we can manage frustrations confidently.