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By Marcia Murphy, MA

Have you ever felt as if things were so out of control that you did not seem to be able to cope anymore? Have you ever felt out of control even of your own emotions? Have you thought that things were going so wrong that you couldn’t think straight? 

When we are in a highly stressful or upsetting time in life, our emotions can careen into an unhealthy state, which then makes our situation even more distressing and unbearable. During these times, it is very difficult to think about the problem in a rational way as our anxiety has completely taken over, and this can cause us to behave in very unhealthy ways. There are ways to bring yourself back into a tolerable state of mind and stabilize your emotions so that you can approach problems with a clearer focus. 

Taking from the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), here are some skills that you can use to challenge your tendency to dwell on distressing situations to bring your emotions into check. Through practice, you can develop what we call a “Wise Mind” (a healthy balance between the rational mind and the emotional mind). You can remember these by using the acronym ACCEPTS.

A – Activities

The use of enjoyable activities can help distract us from our problems if we engage in them regularly. Think about what activities you enjoy and make a point to do them often; even daily if that is possible. If you cannot think of something, look online or talk with friends about fun things to take part in. Through engaging in healthy activities, we give our brains a break from the problem and allow us to feel pleasure even in the midst of the distress.

C – Contributing

One of the best ways to take our focus off ourselves and our issues is to help others. Contributing to a notable cause or taking time to help others increases our sense of well-being and our connection to a greater purpose. There are many ways to contribute, whether it is volunteering at a charity, giving a gift to a friend, writing a note to someone who needs encouragement or just doing a good deed. When we have made another’s day better, our own outlook improves. 

C – Comparisons

Sometimes we can use healthy comparisons to help us gain a new perspective on our own situation. Looking at the situations that other people have endured, and seeing how they have overcome them, can give us hope that our own situations will also work out and make us stronger. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, sharing in the suffering of others can be a way to give us the emotional strength to face our problems. On the flip side, we need to avoid comparing the negative in our lives to how we perceive the positive in the lives of others, as this can only add to our distress.

E – Emotions

Our emotions are connected strongly to our behaviors. If you are experiencing a distressing emotion, engaging in an alternate behavior may help lessen that emotion. If you are feeling angry at someone, treat them with compassion instead of contempt. If you are feeling depressed, get involved in one of your enjoyable activities or get together with an upbeat friend. This shift in behavior challenges the negative emotion and builds up the more pleasant feelings connected to that behavior.

P – Pushing Away

Sometimes we just need a break; to get away from the problem for a little while. With pushing away, you can put the problem “on hold” to focus on more pleasant areas of your life. If possible, tell yourself that you will address the issue at a later date, and then go on with your day without it hanging over your head. You can even imagine putting the situation in a box and placing it on a top shelf until you are better able to focus on it. Giving our brains a break from the distress helps re-balance ourselves.

T – Thoughts 

Just as behaviors are connected to emotions, so are thoughts. In fact, all three are bound together. You can distract your thoughts when they are ruminating over and over on your problem with no movement toward a solution. You can do this by doing an activity that takes concentration, talking about something unrelated, taking a walk, or even binging a TV show. When you return to thinking about the problem, you will then be in a more rational state to be able to find solutions.

S – Sensations

One of the best ways to manage our distress and anxiety is through mindfulness skills. This is done through the use of your senses. By focusing on the sensations coming in, you can ground yourself and pay attention to what is going on in the present moment. Take a walk and notice the sights, sounds and smells around you. Listen (and dance!) to invigorating and upbeat music. Eat something tasty and satisfying. Get a massage. There are many ways to use the senses in any given moment to bring your body into a more calm and collected state. 

There’s hope even when we feel anxious and distressed. We can start to change unhealthy ways of coping with problems, distract our thoughts from racing out of control, and bring our minds and emotions back into balance. Even though our problems do not disappear, we are now in a better state of mind to deal with them and find a solution. And when we are in balance, we reduce our own internal emotional suffering and prevent making things worse for ourselves. 

Looking for more help?

Lime Tree Counseling is here to provide the services you need to be the best version of yourself. We offer trauma counseling, anxiety therapy, addiction counseling and marriage counseling. Getting set up with one of our therapists is easy and you can start today. Reach out and get scheduled.