Emotion Regulation

By Nicolas Gurley

The ability to accept and tolerate emotional distress is an important aspect of maintaining good mental health. Pain and distress are unavoidable parts of life that we all have to face however there are strategies we can incorporate into our lives to help us learn to accept our emotions while also assisting us in shifting our perspective to see things in a new way. Negative emotions, while not always pleasant to experience, are a normal part of the human experience. If we can learn to tolerate these emotions, rather than denying they are there or allowing them to make all decisions for us, we may find our entire outlook in life shifts a little.

One particular type of behavior therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) provides some helpful ideas we can learn to better tolerate distressing feelings in the moment when they are occurring. At first, these activities may feel awkward as you struggle to convince yourself that they may actually work. As you acquire and apply a new skill, it is important you congratulate yourself as you are doing what probably will be the most difficult work you will ever do, but it will be worth the end result. Once you have survived the negative emotion, you will be in a better position to take account of the negative thoughts that probably led to the negative emotion to begin with and be more likely to shift some of your irrational thoughts.

DBT recommends four specific set of skills for tolerating the distressing experiences in our lives. Check out this website to see a comprehensive list of each skill: http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/. For now, here are a few ideas of things to try when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, panicked, stressed, and in general distress:

1. Distract yourself with an activity – take a walk, exercise, cook something, watch a video, write, work a crossword puzzle

2. Contribute to the world – volunteer, offer to do something nice for someone

3. Play the comparison game — yes, I’m giving you permission to play this game, BUT you have to acknowledge those who are worse off than you are and not just compare yourself to those you believe are better off than you.

4. Distract yourself with opposite emotions – If you are sad, watch a comedy or listen to silly music. This may help you to feel less stuck in the feeling.

5. Consider other sensations that may distract you. You could apply a cold compress or take a hot shower. This may help you loose your connection to your pain and be able to tolerate the moment a little easier.

6. Congratulate yourself on surviving and tolerating the distress and see if you can identify the thoughts that originally created the distress.

If you are interested in working on developing your own emotion regulation and tolerance skills feel free to contact me by phone at 917-525-2205 x9 or by email at nicolas@mytherapist.info

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