Coping Skills for Borderline Personality Disorder

Mother and daughter on nature walk
Cultura RM Exclusive/JAG IMAGES/Cultura Exclusive/Getty Images

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 to cope with emotional pain, such as violence, self-harm, or substance abuse.

This article discusses coping skills that 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 this personality disorder 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

Music can be a helpful way to explore emotions. This can be particularly helpful when people are not really quite sure to describe what they are feeling.

Research has also supported the idea that music can make a difference in mood. For example, when people are experiencing feelings of sadness, they tend to prefer somber music.

One study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that listening to upbeat songs can help improve people's moods and increase happiness.

Play Music Incongruent With Your Mood

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


Exercise can have a positive impact on mood and emotion. One 2022 study in pre-print found that physical activity could effectively improve emotional regulation ability. However, the researchers noted that the duration of exercise sessions might impact the effects.

However, another study looking specifically at BPD found that a single 20-minute exercise session did not significantly impact negative affect in BPD.

More research is needed to understand how exercise affects emotional regulation in people with borderline personality disorder. Regular exercise can be a useful coping skill when struggling with difficult emotions.

It may also be helpful to combine mindfulness practices with aerobic activity. One study found that an eight-week intervention utilizing mindfulness-based yoga and aerobic jogging improved implicit emotional regulation.

Engage in an Activity

Behavioral activiation is a strategy that involves changing the behaviors that play a role in feeding emotional responses. It is often used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people with depression, but it can also help people with borderline personality disorder.

Researchers suggest that people with BPD engage in maladaptive behaviors in response to life's challenges. Utilizing behavioral activation may help people with the condition develop more effective coping strategies that aid in emotional regulation.

To utilize behavioral activation, engage in a highly engaging activity when you are having trouble managing your emotions. Television or computer activities do not count here—these are too passive.

Behavioral activation might involve taking a walk, dancing, cleaning your house, or doing some other activity that gets you engaged and distracts you from your current emotions.

Find Support

One study found that social support could be essential in mediating symptoms of perceived stress and depression in people with BPD. 

Unfortunately, people with borderline personality disorder often experience a range of social disadvantages and relationship problems.

People with BPD have poorer social support, more frequent negative interactions with others, and worse integration within their social network. Poor relationships and early trauma are also believed to contribute to the condition's development. 

If you have BPD, take steps such as:

  • Spending time with others
  • Working on your relationship skills
  • Seek professional treatment to improve your relationship skills

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

Press Play for Advice On Dealing With Crisis Fatigue

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares strategies for dealing with crisis fatigue. Click below to listen now.

Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts

Ride It Out

The ability to control impulsive behaviors is an essential part of emotional regulation. People with BPD, however, often struggle to do this effectively. Building your ability to tolerate distress and ride out an emotion until it passes can help prevent emotional outbursts from happening.

With practice, you can build your distress tolerance skills:

  • Be aware of the emotion and try to identify what you are feeling
  • Remind yourself that what you are feeling won't last forever
  • Accept what you are feeling
  • Remember that your thoughts don't dictate your actions

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 10 minutes and practice riding out the emotion.

Be Mindful

Mindfulness involves focusing fully on the present moment while calmly accepting your own thoughts and feelings. This practice is a core component of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), a type of therapy that was specifically developed to treat borderline personality disorder.

You can become more aware of your internal states by learning to be more mindful. By better understanding your feelings, you can also become more aware of automatic negative thoughts that often contribute to emotional problems and impulsive behavior. 

How to Practice Mindfulness

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

Grounding is a strategy that can help you cope with feelings of distress and anxiety. If you feel overwhelmed by emotions, grounding techniques can help put your mind back in the here and now.

When emotions seem to be taking you out of the current moment, such as when you start feeling “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 negative thoughts.

Other sensory-based grounding techniques can include holding an object, listening to noises in your environment, smelling flowers or food, or taking a warm bath.

Try to lose yourself in the sensations. Allow the sensations to distract you from the situation you are upset about. Instead, focus on relaxing your mind and body.

Breathe Deeply

Deep breathing can significantly impact emotions, mood, and anxiety levels. Research suggests that utilizing deep breathing strategies can help decrease acute distress and promote long-term well-being. This technique is often utilized as part of distress tolerance skills practiced in DBT.

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.


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.

Research has found that spirituality may positively impact coping, emotions, and well-being. In one study, people who had regular spiritual experiences had fewer negative emotions and more positive feelings.

Help Someone Else

Helping others can not only help you feel good; it can also distract you from feelings of stress. One study found that people who engaged in regular acts of kindness experienced less stress and negativity.

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, smile at the cashier, and say, "Have a great day."

Even small gestures of kindness can reduce emotional pain and connect you to the outside world.

How to Learn BPD 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.

A Word From Verywell

Borderline personality disorder is characterized by problems with emotional regulation. Fortunately, there are ways that you can better manage your emotional responses. Strategies that help you become more mindful of your emotions, build your tolerance to distress, and provide distraction until the emotion passes can be highly effective.

While you can practice many of these coping strategies on your own, working with a therapist can also be very effective. By learning how to take greater control over your emotional experiences, you can lessen the potential adverse effects your condition might have on your life and relationships.

16 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. Lee CJ, Andrade EB, Palmer SE. Interpersonal relationships and preferences for mood-congruency in aesthetic experiences. J Consum Res. 2013;40(2):382-391. doi:10.1086/670609

  3. Ferguson YL, Sheldon KM. Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 2013;8(1):23-33. doi:10.1080/17439760.2012.747000

  4. Liu J, Gao S, Zhang L. Effects of physical exercises on emotion regulation: a meta-analysis. Sports Medicine; 2022. doi:10.1101/2022.07.04.22277120

  5. St-Amour S, Cailhol L, Ruocco AC, Bernard P. Acute Effect of physical exercise on negative affect in borderline personality disorder: a pilot studyClin Psychol Eur. 2022;4(2):e7495. doi:10.32872/cpe.7495

  6. Zhang Y, Fu R, Sun L, Gong Y, Tang D. How does exercise improve implicit emotion regulation ability: preliminary evidence of mind-body exercise intervention combined with aerobic jogging and mindfulness-based yogaFront Psychol. 2019;10:1888. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01888

  7. Dimaggio G, Salvatore G, Lysaker PH, Ottavi P, Popolo R. Behavioral activation revisited as a key principle of change in personality disorders psychotherapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration. 2015;25(1):30-38. doi:10.1037/a0038769

  8. Ingkachotivanich N, Wongpakaran T, Wongpakaran N, et al. Different effects of perceived social support on the relationship between perceived stress and depression among university students with borderline personality disorder symptoms: a multigroup mediation analysisHealthcare (Basel). 2022;10(11):2212. doi:10.3390/healthcare10112212

  9. Beeney JE, Hallquist MN, Clifton AD, Lazarus SA, Pilkonis PA. Social disadvantage and borderline personality disorder: A study of social networksPersonal Disord. 2018;9(1):62-72. doi:10.1037/per0000234

  10. Schaich A, Braakmann D, Rogg M, et al. How do patients with borderline personality disorder experience Distress Tolerance Skills in the context of dialectical behavioral therapy?-A qualitative studyPLoS One. 2021;16(6):e0252403.

  11. Feliu-Soler A, Pascual JC, Borràs X, Portella MJ, Martín-Blanco A, Armario A, Alvarez E, Pérez V, Soler J. Effects of dialectical behaviour therapy-mindfulness training on emotional reactivity in borderline personality disorder: Preliminary resultsClin Psychol Psychother. 2014;21(4):363-70. doi:10.1002/cpp.1837

  12. Kaur M, Murphy D, Smith KV. An adapted imaginal exposure approach to traditional methods used within trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy, trialled with a veteran populationCogn Behav Therap. 2016;9:e10. doi:10.1017/S1754470X16000052

  13. Zaccaro A, Piarulli A, Laurino M, et al. How breath-control can change your life: a systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathingFront Hum Neurosci. 2018;12:353. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353

  14. Whitehead BR, Bergeman CS. Coping with daily stress: Differential role of spiritual experience on daily positive and negative affectJ Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2012;67(4):456-459. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbr136

  15. Raposa EB, Laws HB, Ansell EB. Prosocial behavior mitigates the negative effects of stress in everyday life. Clinical Psychological Science. 2016;4(4):691-698. doi:10.1177/2167702615611073

  16. National Alliance on Mental Health. Borderline personality disorder.

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