In this week’s blog post, we continue our spotlight on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills. Today, we’re going to talk about the ACCEPTS skill, which is part of DBT’s Distress Tolerance module. Similar to TIPS (previously discussed here), ACCEPTS allows us to calm our emotions during a crisis.

ACCEPTS gives us practical tools to use when our emotions run high.

ACCEPTS is a tool of distraction, which means it’s commonly used to redirect our attention when a situation is challenging us and requires us to re-group. In the face of escalating emotions, instead of doing something impulsive or reactive that we may regret later on, we can use ACCEPTS as a way to soothe ourselves and stay balanced. The idea is that we take a moment to settle and then return to the issue at hand once we’re in a less emotionally charged headspace.

ACCEPTS is an easy-to-remember acronym that stands for:

A – Activity

An activity temporarily distracts us as we engage in something new. It can be as simple as making your bed, organizing your kitchen, coloring, going on a walk, or writing in your journal. The idea is that the activity removes you from the charged situation, taking enough time and attention to allow you to cool off and get to a more stable place for problem solving.

C – Contributing

When we’re in an intense emotional state, it’s easy to feel like our problems and worries are all-consuming. Try to step outside of your own space and contribute to something else. You can text something encouraging to a friend, smile randomly at a stranger, donate to a worthy cause — whatever feels right to you.  

C – Comparisons

Much like contributing, when we’re caught up in our emotions, we often compare ourselves to others and focus on what we don’t have. Instead, it can be helpful to try to access gratitude for the good things in your life. You might want to work on a list of positive aspects of your life when you’re feeling good so you can access the list when you’re down. Also, sometimes it helps to identify other people who are struggling and notice that you are not alone…and that there are others who may be in an even tougher spot than you. This acknowledgment helps create some perspective.

E – Emotions

Now this may feel kind of strange, but there is some science to it… When you “act as if,” you can really change your state of mind.  So when you’re feeling especially down, you can try to “act as if” you’re happy and cheerful. You may notice that your mood shifts a little bit towards a more neutral place. If you feel angry, you can try watching a funny movie. If you feel sad, you can try to listen to upbeat music. You can also engage in an opposite activity. If you’re lying on the couch, see if you can get yourself up and take a walk around the block. 

P – Pushing Away

We often want to hold on to stressful or “loaded” thoughts. Instead, visualize your feelings drifting away or simply moving aside for later. You can even write your negative thoughts on a sheet of paper and then crumple it up and throw it away. This activity validates their existence but lets you take some distance from them to calm down.  

T – Thoughts

During emotional states, we’re usually in our Emotion Mind. As we move into our Wise Mind, we can rely on a mantra or breathing exercise, using our thoughts to calm our minds and bodies.  Try counting to ten or engaging in a tricky puzzle – anything that can absorb your thoughts for a little while as you get back to baseline.

S – Sensations

Physical sensations serve as an excellent distraction when we’re emotionally overwhelmed. Splash color water on your face; smell a calming scent like lavender; or apply lotion to your arms and legs. This tool engages all of our senses to bring us back into our bodies.

While no one strategy will work for everyone, it’s helpful that ACCEPTS gives us some options so at any given time, you have a few strategies to work through as you calm down and get into the headspace to face problems effectively.


Reach out to the team at Columbus Park to learn more about our highly effective evidence-based approach to treatment.