On other posts, I’ve talked about how the DBT approach to getting through a crisis and creating the ability to tolerate distress involves several different approaches: distracting yourself, soothing yourself, improving the moment, and analyzing pros and cons. You have a few choices when you’re experiencing a crisis or when you feel unsafe. You can work on problem solving or mindfulness, but sometimes you need to go back to basics and work on distress tolerance.
When you’re in a dark moment or you’re having a really rough time, always ask yourself these questions:
- Am I able to solve the problem? Yes or No. If your answer is No, use your Distress Tolerance tools. If just thinking about the problem is causing total emotional disfunction, causes you to totally apart, then you need to ask someone for help. It’s time to be using your Distress Tolerance skills if you’re in fight or flight mode, if your limbic is totally activated. See also my posts on emotion regulation skills opposite to emotion action as well as four options to solving problems.
- Is it okay time to solve the problem? Yes or No. Always answer No if it’s the middle of the night. Always answer No if your body’s resources are low. If your answer is No, use your Distress Tolerance skills.
- Am I in Wise Mind enough to solve the problem? Yes or No. Chances are that if you’re having a really rough time, you’re going to need to use distress tolerance before you can get to Wise Mind.
Self-soothing may be a brand new concept to you. Soothe yourself? You might be asking “What on Earth?”
There are some deep skills here. Self-soothing is something that you’ll need to practice at, especially if you’re experiencing a deep disconnect between your body and your mind. You might have long created a disconnect between your body and your mind in order to protect yourself. It’s time to bring yourself back together again and one of the ways you can do that is learning how to soothe yourself.
The goal with Self-Soothing is relaxation. The idea is to connect to your senses through your mind. Your mind and body are one and the same: to achieve relaxation in your body is to achieve relaxation in your mind and vice versa.
It’s okay if this sounds like something you think only other people can do. It’s okay if you’ve never relaxed a day in your life. You can do this.
Start with Your Senses
Chances are, you’ve got five senses. Or, maybe you’ve lost one or two. You can start to soothe yourself, part of your distress tolerance skills, by using your senses. I’ll bet you’ve used some or all of your senses at some point on some day of your life before you came to this post.
Look – Sight
What feast of the visual can you point your eyeballs at?
Listen – Hearing
Is there something you can listen to that makes you feel good? How about music? Listen to some comedians. Listen to your children laughing and making joyful noise. Listen to something that helps you feel calmer. Listen to the rhythmic noise of the cars on the street or the crickets in your yard. Listen to the rain on your roof.
Smell something you love. Keep a small bottle of it in your Distress Box. What smell brings you memories of the happiest times in your life? Is there an essential oil that you particularly love? Go to the grocery store and bury your nose in the oranges.
Eat something you love. Eat something you can’t stand. Do you love pickles? Keep a jar in the fridge to eat one every time you need to soothe yourself. This doesn’t mean that you should gulp down six bags of potato chips in order to numb yourself. The idea is to soothe yourself: savor every bite, let your body enjoy the taste of what you’re eating.
Touch something that makes you feel good – perhaps a soft pillowcase or a blanket. Pet your cat or your dog or your ferret. Put on some really comfortable clothing.
Combine your Senses
Are there activities you can do, or events you can go to, that would combine all of your senses? Maybe you can go out to a movie: eat some popcorn and recline in some stadium seating while you absorb yourself into the story on the big screen. Perhaps you can make yourself a very special dinner with a few of your favorite foods, background music, a calming and relaxing place setting.
Based on the work of Dr. Marsha Linehan: Dialectical Behavior Therapy.