9 Tips to Reduce Emotional Instability in BPD

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Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is often associated with emotional highs and lows, impulsive behavior, and sensitivity. Many people with BPD experience intense emotional instability, or extreme fluctuations between feeling great and feeling depressed or sad. You may notice that your emotions can change quickly in reaction to some events, such as a disagreement with a friend.

Often, your emotional reactions may be disproportionate to the incident that triggers the emotion, such as feeling so sad you begin to cry over a very small inconvenience.

People with BPD often feel emotions much more intensely than others, and it may take longer for those feelings to pass. This means that situations or events that may not faze another person can be highly disruptive and upsetting for someone with BPD. This underlying instability may also be the driving force behind other symptoms of this condition, including impulsivity. All of this can be very disruptive to your daily life, impacting your relationships, career, mood, and overall functioning.

While some medications can help reduce your emotional instability, you can make changes to your lifestyle to help dramatically impact this symptom. That could include avoiding some unhelpful coping mechanisms you've used in the past and instead adopting techniques designed to help you self-regulate. Making these changes can reduce the frequency and intensity of your feelings and can improve your overall ability to regulate your emotional responses.

Before undergoing any sort of treatment plan to address emotional instability, be sure to talk to your therapist about what's going on to make sure you don't interfere with your therapy. They can even help you with these changes to help manage your emotions.

Get Quality Sleep

Have you ever noticed that when you feel tired, you are more likely to be bothered by smaller things? Sleep deprivation can impact the way you perceive and respond to your surroundings. In fact, a lack of sleep can cause people to react more negatively to things they would otherwise perceive as neutral.

A good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your emotional instability and reduce irritability.

What constitutes a "good night's sleep"? While the answer varies depending on each individual, most adults should aim for somewhere between seven and nine hours each night.

If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, you can do some things to improve your sleep overall and help you get through your days with less emotional turmoil, such as:

  • Staying on a regular routine
  • Avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bed
  • Making sure your room temperature is comfortable (and cool)
  • Shutting off lights and electronics at least an hour before bedtime

Exercise

It’s no secret that you will feel better physically and mentally when your body is active. Exercise doesn’t just fight a host of physical health problems that are associated with BPD, it is also a great way to maintain a more stable emotional system. If you don’t have an exercise program, consider consulting with your doctor first to determine which forms of exercise would be best suited for you. Then you can take some steps to begin your own exercise routine:

  • Start small, and don't overdo it. If you're highly motivated to start, you may push yourself too hard and risk injury. Instead, try gradually increasing the duration and/or difficulty of your workouts slowly over time.
  • Experiment with different types of exercise. Trying out a variety of exercises can help you determine which form you like the most—which will make you more likely to stick with it. You may find that you prefer solo workouts, or perhaps something team-oriented keeps you more entertained.
  • Include stress-reducing workouts in your routine. In addition to strength training and cardio, consider taking up calming forms of exercise, like yoga or tai chi. These forms of exercise combine movement with controlled breathing, and they may help you combat stress.

Eat Healthy

When you feel bad, you may be more likely to let your diet slip. Negative emotions can lead to urges to eat unhealthy foods, binge eat, or skip meals altogether. You may find yourself turning to comfort foods to help you handle stress or depression. Unfortunately, this can turn into a vicious cycle, because poor eating also impacts mood, leaving you feeling even worse.

Maintaining a healthy diet, however, may actually improve your mood by ensuring you get the nutrients needed for good mental health (though your results may vary depending on the diet). If you're not sure where to begin, consider working with your doctor to determine a plan that will work for you.

Practice Self-Care

The best way to reduce emotional ups and downs is to make a commitment to take good care of yourself. With all the demands that you are facing, this can be easier said than done, but it's well worth the effort to add self-care to your regular routine.

This can include any activities that help you feel fulfilled and cared for, like:

  • Spending time with friends and loved ones
  • Engaging in hobbies you find mentally stimulating or fun
  • Taking part in religious or spiritual activities, if those suit your lifestyle
  • Managing your stress through relaxation or meditation
  • Ensuring your overall health is cared for by eating well, getting adequate sleep, and exercising

The time you spend on a self-care program will pay off if you can improve your emotional well-being. From taking time for yourself to relaxing, meditating, or even pampering yourself, self-care can help you manage your symptoms.

Create Structure

When do you find yourself experiencing periods of emotional instability? If you're more likely to feel them during your downtime, when you have no other activities planned, creating a structured routine could help you stay occupied and more emotionally stable.

Creating a consistent daily schedule lets you know what to expect, which may help you feel better prepared to meet each day and more secure overall. Following a routine can also ensure you set aside time to spend on other healthy activities, such as exercising, practicing self-care, and preparing healthy meals.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness can help you refocus your attention during moments of emotional instability. Mindfulness involves learning to become more aware and observant of yourself and your surroundings and encourages you to live in the present, without judgment.

Living mindfully means paying attention to the sights, sounds, and smells around you, as well as the sensations within you. You can practice mindfulness at any time during your day by purposefully tuning in to those details. You can try this by:

  • Noticing the tastes and textures of your food while you eat a meal
  • Paying attention to the feeling of the warm water on your body during a shower
  • Noting the temperature and sensation of drinking a hot cup of coffee
  • Focusing on the way your body feels during a yoga session

Mindfulness is helpful for reducing anxiety and managing stress. If you find yourself reacting emotionally to something that happened in the past or something that may occur in the future, consider taking a mindfulness break. This practice can help pull you back into the present.

Meditate

While mindfulness is something that you can engage in at any time, meditation is a more structured practice. It's often done in a quiet place that's free from distractions, which allows you to focus on something specific, like your breath, a specific object, or a mantra. Scheduling regular meditation sessions for set time periods may help you manage your overall stress.

Research on meditation suggests that the practice may carry a number of benefits, like:

  • Less anxiety and depression
  • Reduced insomnia
  • Better overall mood

Within the context of BPD, loving-kindness meditation may increase feelings of self-acceptance and self-kindness while reducing self-criticism.

Mindfulness meditation is a combination of both of these techniques—and research suggests it may help improve mood and reduce impulsivity for people with BPD. Mindfulness meditation is structured, meaning it involves setting aside a certain amount of time to allow yourself to get comfortable and focus. Generally, mindfulness meditation encourages you to pay attention to your body and breath, while noticing thoughts as they occur.

Ground Yourself

Grounding techniques are intended to help you focus your attention during those moments when you're feeling overwhelmed with emotion. They work by pulling your thoughts away from the intense emotion you're experiencing, directing your attention instead toward something more neutral, like a sight, smell, sound, or tactile sensation. Mindfulness is a key component of grounding.

One grounding technique, called the 5-4-3-2-1 method, relies on your senses to focus your attention on your surroundings. To try the 5-4-3-2-1 method, focus on:

  • Five things you see
  • Four things you can touch
  • Three things you hear
  • Two things you smell
  • One thing you taste

Some other grounding techniques include:

  • Engaging in a breathing exercise
  • Snapping a rubber band gently on your wrist
  • Holding an ice cube or running your hands under cold water
  • Smelling something fragrant, like a candle, essential oil, or spice
  • Touching something soft, like a rug or blanket, and noting the texture
  • Observing your surroundings and noting objects based on specific criteria (e.g., finding all of the red items in the room or locating objects that begin with the letter "A")

Seek Treatment

Dealing with the emotional instability that often accompanies BPD can be a challenge for anyone, but you don't have to go through it alone. BPD is a treatable condition with a good prognosis possible. Seeking treatment from a qualified healthcare provider can ensure you have access to more information about BPD, therapy, and potentially medication—all things that may help reduce instances of emotional turmoil.

Professional help can also ensure that you receive treatment for any other conditions you're currently experiencing. People with BPD often have a co-occurring condition, which will impact their treatment options. These conditions can include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Substance use disorders

The treatment options available for BPD are varied. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is one treatment technique that has been shown to be very effective at managing the symptoms of this condition. DBT encourages you to learn skills that will help you self-regulate and manage symptoms. This form of therapy may help you develop healthy coping mechanisms—and that's particularly useful if you typically turn to things that can exacerbate emotional instability, like substance use or disordered eating.

DBT is not the only option available for people with BPD, and you may find that you thrive with another form of therapy. The important thing is to find a healthcare provider you feel comfortable with and determine what works best for you.

A Word From Verywell

Emotional instability is difficult to deal with, but it is something that you can learn to overcome. With practice, these tips and techniques can help you deal with emotional dysregulation so you can feel more secure and grounded. If you need additional help, reach out to your healthcare provider for treatment options.

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