Life can be a whirlwind of thoughts, emotions, and external stimuli. We rush from one task to the next, often feeling swept along by the current without a moment to pause and breathe. 

This constant busyness can take a toll on our mental well-being, leaving us feeling stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers a powerful set of tools to help us navigate life’s challenges with greater awareness and emotional regulation. A core component of DBT is mindfulness, the practice of focusing our attention on the present moment without judgment.  

DBT mindfulness exercises cultivate a sense of calm, allowing us to observe our thoughts and feelings without getting swept away by them.

How Do You Practice Mindfulness in DBT?

DBT mindfulness exercises differ from traditional meditation in their focus on everyday experiences. Rather than striving to achieve a state of perfect emptiness, DBT mindfulness encourages us to be present in the moment, noticing our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without judgment. 

This allows us to gain a clearer perspective on our internal world and respond to situations more skillfully.

Here are some key principles of DBT mindfulness:

  • Non-judgment: Observe your thoughts and feelings without labeling them as “good” or “bad.”
  • One-mindfulness: Focus your attention on the present moment, letting go of worries about the past or future.
  • Effectiveness: Apply mindfulness skills to improve your emotional regulation and well-being and make effective decisions
  • Willingness: Be open to experiencing the present moment, even if it’s uncomfortable.

What is Core Mindfulness in DBT?

DBT skills are divided into four modules: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotional Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness.  

Core mindfulness forms the foundation for all other DBT skills. By developing our ability to be present and aware, we can approach challenging situations with greater clarity and respond in a way that aligns with our values.

Here are some of the benefits of practicing DBT mindfulness exercises:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Improved emotional regulation
  • Enhanced focus and concentration
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Greater ability to manage difficult emotions
  • Improved communication skills

5 Ways to Practice DBT Mindfulness Exercises

DBT mindfulness exercises can be integrated seamlessly into your daily routine. Here are 5 ways to get started:

  1. Mindful Breathing: This is a foundational DBT mindfulness exercise. Find a quiet place, sit comfortably, and focus on your breath. Notice the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen with each inhalation and exhalation. If your mind wanders, gently guide your attention back to your breath without judgment. Start with a few minutes of mindful breathing and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable.
  2. Mindful Eating: We often eat on autopilot, distracted by screens or conversations. DBT mindfulness exercises encourage mindful eating, paying attention to the experience of food. Before you start eating, take a moment to appreciate the sight and smell of your food. Savor each bite, noticing the texture, taste, and how it feels in your mouth. Eat slowly and stop when you feel comfortably full.
  3. Mindful Walking: Transform your daily walks into a DBT mindfulness exercise. Notice the sensations in your body as you walk: the feeling of your feet against the ground, the movement of your limbs, the rhythm of your breath. Pay attention to the sights, sounds, and smells around you. If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the experience of walking.
  4. Mindful Observation: Choose an object in your environment and focus on it intently for a few minutes. Notice its color, shape, texture, and any details you might have missed before. DBT mindfulness exercises like this help train your mind to focus on the present moment and appreciate the small details of everyday life.
  5. Mindful Body Scan: Lie down comfortably or sit in a relaxed position. Close your eyes and focus your attention on different parts of your body, starting with your toes and gradually working your way up. Notice any physical sensations, such as tension, relaxation, warmth, or coolness. Don’t judge the sensations, simply observe them.

What is an Example of a Mindfulness Activity?

This simple DBT mindfulness exercise can help you ground yourself in the present moment when feeling overwhelmed.

  • What: Notice five things you can see around you. Describe them in detail.
  • When: Notice the time and date. What day of the week is it?
  • Where: Notice your physical location. Where are you right now?
  • Who: Notice the people around you, if any.
  • Why: (Optional) Consider reasons you might be feeling overwhelmed in this situation.  For example, are you avoiding something? Are  there actions you need to take? 

When feeling overwhelmed, our thoughts can become jumbled, and we might lose sight of the present moment. The “What, When, Where” exercise is a simple DBT mindfulness exercise that can help you ground yourself and regain a sense of calm. 

Here’s why it’s beneficial:

  • Anchors You in the Present: By focusing on the sights, sounds, and sensations around you, you shift your attention away from racing thoughts and worries. This grounding effect can bring a sense of immediate relief and help you feel more present.
  • Promotes Observation: The exercise encourages you to observe your surroundings with curiosity and detail. This simple act of noticing can take you out of autopilot mode and promote a more mindful state.
  • Increases Self-Awareness: Noticing your physical location, the time, and the people around you can provide a sense of context. This heightened awareness can help you identify potential triggers for your overwhelm and explore coping mechanisms.
  • Empowers Action: The optional “Why” element prompts you to consider the reasons behind your overwhelm. This self-reflection can empower you to take action, whether it’s removing yourself from the situation, seeking support, or simply acknowledging your emotional state.

The “What, When, Where” exercise is a powerful tool because it’s simple, quick, and can be done anywhere. When you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath and go through the steps.  

By focusing on the present moment and observing your surroundings, you can break free from the cycle of anxious thoughts and regain a sense of control.


DBT mindfulness exercises are a gift you can give yourself. By incorporating them into your daily routine, you can cultivate a sense of calm and awareness that spills over into all aspects of your life.  

These exercises are not about achieving some state of zen perfection; they’re about developing the ability to observe your thoughts and feelings with curiosity and detachment.  

With practice, you’ll find yourself better equipped to navigate life’s challenges, build healthier relationships, and experience greater emotional well-being.

Here are some additional tips to keep in mind:

  • Be Patient: Developing mindfulness takes time and consistent effort. Don’t get discouraged if your mind wanders during exercises. Simply acknowledge the distraction and gently bring your attention back to the present moment.
  • Find What Works for You: Experiment with different DBT mindfulness exercises to find what resonates most with you. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
  • Make it a Habit: Schedule regular mindfulness practice into your daily routine, even if it’s just for a few minutes. The more you practice, the more naturally mindfulness will become integrated into your life.

Remember, mindfulness is a journey, not a destination. Embrace the present moment with all its imperfections, and you’ll be well on your way to a calmer, more fulfilling life.  

With consistent practice, DBT mindfulness exercises can become powerful tools for navigating life’s challenges and cultivating inner peace.

Interested in learning more about DBT? LEARN MORE HERE.

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