Putting up with it…Frustration Tolerance

In January, we got out quite a bit for winter hikes and I found myself having a fairly congenial relationship with winter…(fist bump). Until one day…I took a tumble while walking on a icy trail.  Using my hand to break the fall, I broke my wrist.

My left hand.

My dominant hand. (#%&$!)

Two surgeries, three doctor appointments and four weeks later…I am finally on the mend with a few more weeks of physical therapy to go. To say I’ve been frustrated is an understatement. One of the worst things has been not being able to write. I didn’t realize how important it is for me to express myself through my morning pages. Typing or rather pecking at the keyboard with one hand is joyless. I spent much of February on the couch. To be completely honest, my ego was a tiny bit bruised too as I realized how effortlessly the world around me (duh!) continues to move while I was out of commission. I’ve missed out on stuff.  And it adds to the frustration.

On a positive note, I have been grateful to have a supportive partner who has been able to assist, pick up slack, and keep my spirits up with good humor and companionship.
Like all of us,  I’ve had ample practice coping with difficult situations when they arise and interfere with the rhythm of life I’m most comfortable with.  Although it can feel like we’ve been hit over the head with a brick, It’s up to us then as to how we choose to cope with unfortunate events.

When life throws a wrench in your plans…how do you cope?

Skills to Help you Tolerate Distress:

DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) offers several skills for distress tolerance.  Below are examples of the skills using the mnemonic device:  ACCEPTS. A.C.C.E.P.T.S makes the “distract” skills under the Distress Tolerance category..easier to remember.

These are:
A. Activities – distract with activities you enjoy. See if you can make a list of at least 20 things that you enjoy doing, or are interesting in learning more about. Too easy? Expand your list and have it at the ready for stressful times.

C. Contributing – Is there something you can do to help someone else? A random act of kindness, perhaps? I enjoy baking and most everyone I know likes being surprised with a plate of brownies or a pot of homemade chili.

C. Comparisons – This skill to distract sounds like it might not be effective when you first hear it, but it refers to comparing your situation..to others in order to see a bigger picture, which can decrease your own distress. While there is always someone in a relatively better situation, there is always someone struggling with a worse predicament as well. This “comparison” skill works best when using it to cultivate gratitude. Begin creating a gratitude list for yourself, starting small and make items specific, stating why you are grateful for this.

E. Opposite Emotion – Opposite emotion is exactly what it sounds like. First, though, you must be able to identify what it is you are feeling. What is the action or and event that correlates with the feeling. Then once identified…you do the opposite of this, to help decrease distress and create the opposite emotion. For example, feeling down? low energy? put on feel good music, moving to the beat can uplift your spirit. Suggestion: Make different playlists for different emotions on Spotify. These will be ready for you to use to generate “opposite emotions”.

P. Pushing Away- Think of yourself actually putting up an imaginary wall or putting the stress of the situation away in a box or drawer or just somewhere away from you for while. Or leave it where you are, and you go for a walk; move away from it for awhile. It will be there when you feel less anxious and perhaps better able to look at productive ways to deal with the situation.

*Important: All these “distract” skills aren’t meant for you to pretend the feelings, thoughts, events, and behaviors don’t exist..they are meant to help you to create time and space from the distress in order to gain perspective, decrease feelings of distress so you are better able to make good decisions as to how to handle the difficulty.

T. Thoughts- Distract with other Thoughts. Things like counting, squeezing a stress ball, looking around the room for all the things you see of a specific color, etc.. These ideas are good to remember in an emergency situation. EFT (emotional freedom technique) is also an effective way to decrease distress by substituting negative thoughts with positive ones.

S. Sensations: Distract with sensations (sensory experiences). You may want to create a list of several different sensations specific for you to use to distract yourself. A few favorites for many: go outside, use an aromatherapy diffuser, ask for a hug, play with your dog or cat, take a hot shower.

*Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a cognitive behavioral treatment approach developed by Marsha Linehan PhD, ADPP. It emphasizes individual psychotherapy and group skills training classes to help people learn and use new skills and strategies to develop a life that they experience as worth living. DBT skills include skills for mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.

While utilizing skills are indeed helpful and can facilitate change, they are not the same as psychotherapy and not a substitute.  Skill training can be and often is a useful part of therapy.  Skill sets are wonderful when one is aware of why, when, and how to use them; when one is motivated; and utilizes them consistently.     ~Chris