A note from Shawna Moss, LCSW, Clinical Director
Every person is going to have their own unique experiences with how the pandemic is affecting their life and emotional state, and many are having some level of difficulty. Here is a nugget of information that, when you embrace it, can be life changing: There are things you can do to make yourself feel better when you feel distressed. How empowering is that?
COVID-19 has us indoors more, having fewer interactions with our loved ones. Our normal outlets are not possible, and we are forced to isolate. In addition, there are many uncertainties with finances and health, all of which increase the risk of feeling depressed and anxious. When we feel anxious or depressed, we are less likely to do things that are enjoyable or avoid potentially pleasurable activities. Our moods worsen, one feels isolated and detached from others, and a downwards spiral can begin, putting one further at risk for depression.
Distress Tolerance Techniques and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
There are skills you can use to manage your own emotional state in response to stress. They are called Distress Tolerance Techniques, which are from a modality called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). They are used to cope with situations we cannot change, and living through a pandemic sure falls in this category. Distress Tolerance is very intentional; when you feel distressed, you act on a planned behavior or activity to decrease the intensity of one’s feelings and help tolerate the feeling.
It is worth noting, these skills do not “make it all go away and everything is fine.” Part of the human experience is to feel all emotions, which include anxiety, depression, heartache, and grief. These skills help you realize that you will get through it.
The idea is that when you feel distressed, you can ride the emotional wave by distracting yourself with actions, reminding yourself that emotions come and go, and you will not feel like this forever. When you feel calmer and more grounded, you feel more peaceful.
Below is a list of suggestions to get you started on what could be on your Distress Tolerance list. Chances are you have a number of skills already and you don’t realize it.
Relaxing – Picnic-in the sun or under a tree. Alone or with someone (while following social distancing guidelines). Read a book, or maybe listen to uplifting music. Treat yourself to healthy food. Look at the clouds and just breathe. Take your socks off and put your feet in the grass. Presence yourself by noticing what you see, smell, touch, hear, taste.
More active – Going for a hike, laying in the sun, playing with your pet, skipping, drawing, painting or coloring a picture, flying a kite, or riding your bicycle.
Plant flowers – Have your hands in the ground. This, in itself, is a grounding and calming exercise, and you get the added benefit of lovely colors and smells. Again, notice what you see, hear, smell, and feel. If you are going for a walk, collect wildflowers (picking wildflowers, like the Bluebonnet, is legal in Texas. Trespassing on other’s property, however, is not legal) and put them in a jar when you get home.
Doing an intentional act for another – Paint a rock and deliver it to someone’s front porch as a gift. Think of a wish for that person. You can know them, or not. Use color, words, there is no right or wrong. Another example is to hand write a note and put on a person’s car – imagine walking out from the grocery store and finding a nice handwritten note of kind, positive, and uplifting words. This can have a butterfly effect as well where the positivity spreads in your community.
Comedy – Whatever style you choose, one suggestion is Jerry Seinfeld, who is liked by many, and if I may say so, seems on top of his game these days in his new Netflix special! Find someone or something that makes you laugh. Get that dopamine and serotonin flowing!
Music – We can change our mood based on music. Make different playlists for when you want to feel calm, uplifted, or energetic.
Paint nails – Do something kind for yourself. Pick a new nail color, do a facemask, take a long luxurious bath with a bath bomb. This is a deposit in your “self” bank. The more deposits, the more it takes to deplete your account to the red.
More Meditative Activities
Stretch – connect to your body. Do slow stretching movements and don’t bounce. Breathe slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Have your tongue on the roof of your mouth as you breathe. Notice the feeling in your muscles and how the air entering your nose is cooler, while it is warmer on the exhale.
Breathe – I recommend square breathing: breathe in four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out for four counts, hold for four counts. This activates your parasympathetic nervous system to calm you down. Use the instruction video made by our therapist, Jack S. Swope.
Make A List
Each of these activities you can do solo or with someone in your household (while maintaining social distancing guidelines). We are experiencing a hard time in our society, nation, and world, so give yourself grace. If/when you feel anxious or depressed, have a list of activities to pick from instead of trying to think of something in the moment. Have the list in a visible area. You cannot change the fact that we are in a pandemic, but you can change how you feel during the pandemic.
This is not forever! Stay well my friends.