Coping Skills for Borderline Personality Disorder

If you have borderline personality disorder (BPD), your emotions can be overwhelming. Symptoms of BPD, include erratic mood shifts, self-harming behaviors, suicidality, intense emotional experiences, sensitivity to problems in your relationships, and problems with impulsive behaviors. These symptoms may all be related to one core feature: emotion dysregulation.

Because of emotion dysregulation, you may have very strong emotional responses and difficulty managing those responses. Unfortunately, many people with BPD turn to unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to cope with emotional pain, such as violence, self-harm or substance abuse. Coping skills can help to reduce emotion dysregulation and other symptoms of BPD.

Benefits of Coping Skills

Since emotion dysregulation is such an important feature of BPD, many treatments for BPD emphasize the importance of building coping skills to better manage emotions when they arise. What exactly are coping skills? They are healthier ways of addressing situations and their resulting emotions.

Learning new ways to cope provides possible benefits. These techniques may:

  • Build confidence in your ability to handle difficult situations
  • Improve your ability to be able to continue to function well even when in stressful circumstances
  • Reduce the intensity of the emotional distress you feel
  • Reduce the likelihood that you will do something harmful (e.g., engage in self-harming behaviors) to attempt to escape from the emotional distress
  • Reduce the likelihood that you will engage in behaviors that destroy relationships (e.g., physical aggression) when you are upset
  • Ultimately reduce your overall experience of emotion dysregulation

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

There are literally thousands of different coping skills that people use to manage stressful situations and the emotions that result. Here are a few types of coping skills that work for many people.

Play Music

A woman dancing to her iPod.
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Play music that creates an emotion that is the opposite of the one you are struggling with. For example, if you are feeling very sad, play happy, upbeat music. If you are feeling anxious, play slow, relaxing music.

Engage in Activity

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This coping skill is sometimes referred to as "behavioral activation." Engage in a highly engaging activity. Television or computer activities do not count here—these are too passive. Instead, take a walk, dance, clean your house, or do some other activity that gets you engaged and distracts you from your current emotions.

Find Support

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Reaching out to others can really help when you are struggling with strong emotions. Call a supportive friend or family member. If you don’t have someone in mind that is supportive and you are in a crisis, call a helpline.

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Ride It Out

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The peak of most strong emotional reactions and the urges to engage in harmful activities last for a few minutes and then begin to subside. Grab an egg timer from the kitchen, and set it for 10 minutes. Wait for the 10 minutes and practice riding out the emotion.

Be Mindful

Japanese woman sitting in garden
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Practice mindfulness of your emotions. Notice the emotion you are having and let yourself experience it as a wave without trying to block it, suppress it, or hold onto it. Try to accept the emotion for what it is. Try to stay in the moment so you do not carry the past emotions along with it.

Ground Yourself

Cropped Hand Of Person Holding Ice
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When emotions seem to be taking you out of the current moment, such as you when you start to feel “zoned out,” do something to ground yourself. Grab an ice cube and hold it in your hand for a few moments or snap a rubber band against your wrist to bring yourself out of your negative thoughts.

Breathe Deeply

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Breathing deeply is one of the simplest relaxation methods. Sit or lie somewhere quiet and bring your attention to your breathing. Breathe evenly, slowly and deeply. Watch your stomach rise and fall with each breath. This can help you stay grounded in the present.

If breathing deeply isn't enough to relax you, try another relaxation exercise like progressive muscle relaxation.


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Are you a religious or spiritual person? If you are or have considered attending religious ceremonies, praying and attending weekly congregations can be tremendously helpful in times of extreme stress.

Take a Warm Bath or Shower

Stressed man tries to relax in the bath
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Try to lose yourself in the sensations of the warm water or the smell of the soap. Allow the sensations to distract you from the situation you are upset about and focus on relaxing your muscles.

Help Someone Else

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Do something nice for someone else. It doesn't have to be something big; you can walk to the nearest store, buy a pack of gum and give the cashier a smile and say "have a great day." It may sound silly, but small gestures like this can really reduce emotional pain and connect you to the outside world.

How to Learn Healthier Coping Skills

Ready to learn some new, healthier ways of coping? One way to do this is by seeking treatment. Many psychological treatments for BPD, including cognitive behavioral treatments such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), focus on teaching healthier coping skills to manage strong emotions. There are online resource pages that can help you find a cognitive behavioral therapist or a DBT provider.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dixon-Gordon KL, Peters JR, Fertuck EA, Yen S. Emotional Processes in Borderline Personality Disorder: An Update for Clinical Practice. J Psychother Integr. 2017;27(4):425-438. doi:10.1037/int0000044

  2. National Alliance on Mental Health. Borderline Personality Disorder. Updated December 2017.

Additional Reading
  • Chapman AL, Gratz KL. The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger; 2007.

  • Linehan MM. Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford; 1993.

By Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD
 Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University.