Coping Through the Stress

Let me first start off by saying writing this blog post is taking a loooooooot of opposite to emotion action. Vulnerability is tough for me.  My action urge tends to be to keep all the feels in. Present like everything is okay even if I feel otherwise.  Can anyone relate? If you can, you may also agree with me that it never quite works out the way I think it will.  I’ve made a commitment to work on my vulnerability and I’ve had a lot of help along the way. My supervisor once told me that vulnerability is what helps feel connected to one another.  I share that because I feel now more than ever, mental and emotional connection is so important, especially since we can not have the same physical connection (random site note: I am hugging everyone once this quarantine ends so be prepared!).  Like i said this post took a lot of opposite action, however that’s not the skill i want to talk about.

Quarantine has been a transition.  I will admit when the news about the coronavirus started to emerge I did not understand the magnitude of the virus.  It wasn’t until the transitions started happening (working from home, being quarantined at home, and waiting hours to make an online grocery order at that it really started to sink in.

I think the toughest part of this transition for me is feeling like I no longer have control. To all my problem solvers and change oriented individuals you know how distressing this feeling can be! I observed these feelings started to increase more and more after specific life events started happening.  My nephew was born and it was a struggle not to jump in the car, drive to North Carolina, and see him. I finally received my save the dates in the mail for my wedding. With everything going on I observed thoughts of “do i even send them out?”, “will i have enough time to plan a wedding?”, “do i need to reschedule it?”. I have a friend who is moving out of the state.  We had talked about all the ways to accumulate positives leading up to the move. Those plans had to change, and it’s hard to feel like I am missing out on time with her. And even outside my personal world, there has been fear for all the essential workers who are putting their health at risk to help others. Sadness for the students who are stressed and unsure if they will be able to walk across the stage to receive their diploma. And uncertainty of what is to come.  As you can imagine, my emotion mind has been extremely activated.

To manage the impact of these worry thoughts and intense emotions I have been utilizing distress tolerance. My go-to distress tolerance skills (you know we all have one) tend to be distract with Wise mind ACCEPTS or self-soothe with the five senses.  Yes I am utilizing them; and the one distress tolerance skill that I have found to be extremely effective for me during quarantine is the IMPROVE skill. IMPROVE is all about using Imagery, Meaning, Prayer, Relaxation, One thing in the moment, Vacation, and Encouragement.  The skill is useful when dealing with overwhelming emotions or unexpected situations.

Ways i have used IMPROVE:

  • I have been using imagery by going through all of my photos on my phone.  The pictures take me back to the exact day and it helps me feel the same way I felt when the photo was taken.  I especially love looking through the videos of my nieces and I with snapchat filters on. At times where I am stressed it is nice to have that image that reminds me of lightness and humor.
  • Relaxing actions: petting my cats, taking deep breaths, putting a face mask on, stretching.
  • My mini-brief vacation includes: putting on a pair of fuzzy socks, getting under a blanket, and getting lost in a book for an hour.
  • With always being home, we have accumulated a lot more dishes to wash.  I intentionally save the dishes to wash at a time when I need to focus on one-thing in the moment, in order to slow down my thoughts.  Who knew washing dishes could be so effective??
  • Encouragement: “It won’t last forever”

The part of IMPROVE that i really wanted to focus on in this blog post is meaning. DBT says that one way to use meaning is to “focus on whatever positive aspects of a painful situation that you can find”.  During this time, I have increased facetime calls with family and friends. I now have facetime lunch calls with a close friend I used to work with.  My entire family has zoom sessions. I talk to my mom more than I used to. Yes, i cannot be physically with the people i love and yet i feel more connected to them now more than ever.  I observe myself and the world have a whole new level of gratitude for the essential employees. We now refer to these people as “heroes”. Communities are coming together to problem solve ways to support local businesses.  Quarantine has been a transition for sure, and it is easy to get focused on the things that we can’t do. Turning my mind to meaning helps decrease this all or nothing thinking, and reduces emotion mind. The real meaning of everything we are doing is to keep the world safe and healthy. And that is what matters most.

I wanted to end this post with the final part of IMPROVE: prayer.

May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be well.

Written by : Michelle Dunn

DBT of South Jersey media

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