Dealing With Stress and Borderline Personality Disorder

Woman writing to-do list

If you have borderline personality disorder (BPD), you can have trouble regulating your emotions and handling stressful situations. Disruptions to your routine can completely derail your sense of calm, so it's important to come up with strategies to help you handle these regular stressors effectively. By having a plan for situations you have control over, you can be better equipped to manage situations as they come up. Here are some tips for reducing controllable stressors in your life.

Make a Schedule

One major way to reduce stress is to organize your schedule. Many of us live from day-to-day, constantly trying to stay on top of our obligations. If you rely on your own memory when it comes to scheduling, this quickly becomes very chaotic and things will fall through the cracks.

You don’t need fancy technology or an expensive planner to get organized; just a simple daily calendar or a paper to-do list is all you need.

At least once a week, write down all of the appointments you have scheduled or deadlines you face. Then, jot down tasks you’d like to complete for each day. Carry the calendar with you, so you can write down new tasks or obligations as they come up. Each morning, review the day and make sure you know what to expect. This will help minimize surprises and unnecessary stress.

Get Organized

When coping with BPD, even small hassles at home can make you feel worse.

One step you can take is to clean and organize your living space. Depending on the current state of your space, this can be a small or very big task. Don't try to tackle it all at once; that will only exacerbate your illness and add to your stress level. Instead, set a timer for fifteen minutes and focus on one small area at a time. You'll make a surprising amount of progress in little time and help create a sense of order.

Learn to Say "No"

A final way to reduce your stress is by practicing your assertiveness skills and saying “no” more often. If you have borderline personality disorder, you may notice that you go through periods of struggling to say “no” to people. After a while with so many demands on your time, you may find yourself overreacting when asked to take on something else. You're not alone in this issue. People with BPD are prone to get stuck in non-assertive communication traps that promote this back-and-forth cycle.

When you are saying “yes” to every request, you are setting yourself up for resentment, frustration, and more stress. Practice saying “no” to small requests. For example, if someone asks you to run an errand for them, try saying, “I’m so sorry; I am just swamped right now. I’ll have to pass this time.” This goes for social obligations that you’d rather not fulfill, meetings, etc.

Don’t say “no” to everything but practice cutting out a few unnecessary hassles from your life.

The practice of saying "no" will come in handy when bigger stressors come up.

Remember Not All Stress Is Bad

A final and important point is that not all stress is bad. In fact, we need some stress in our lives to keep us happy and engaged. So don’t let this advice push you too far to the opposite extreme — don’t attempt to reduce stress to the point of isolation and boredom. Just practice reducing daily hassles and finding more balance in order to manage BPD.

2 Sources
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  1. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Borderline Personality Disorder.

  2. Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston T, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057-1072. doi:10.17179%2Fexcli2017-480

Additional Reading
  • Elliott CH, Smith LL, Borderline Personality Disorder for Dummies, Hoboken, NJ, Wiley, 2009.
  • 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.