Five steps to managing dis­tress

RTÉ Guide - - Interiors -

Step 1: Recog­nise your trig­gers

You need to first have some aware­ness of what trig­gers your dis­tress. These trig­gers could be ex­ter­nal, such as cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, events, peo­ple, cues in the en­vi­ron­ment, etc. or the trig­gers could be in­ter­nal, such as cer­tain thoughts, mem­o­ries, images or phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions. A good way to an­a­lyse your com­mon trig­gers is to think of past ex­am­ples of not be­ing able to deal with dis­tress. That is, times in the past when you used old es­cape meth­ods e.g. avoid­ing sit­u­a­tions, seek­ing re­as­sur­ance, dis­trac­tion and sup­pres­sion, al­co­hol or drugs, binge eat­ing or ex­ces­sive sleep.

Step 2: Know your warn­ing signs

In ad­di­tion to be­ing aware of the com­mon trig­gers of your dis­tress, it is use­ful to be aware of the warn­ing signs that tell you that you are hav­ing trou­ble deal­ing with your dis­tress. Warn­ing signs are the feel­ings, thoughts, phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions and be­havioural urges or ac­tions that sig­nal you are feel­ing over­whelm­ing dis­tress.

Step 3: Com­mit to not us­ing your es­cape meth­ods & do the op­po­site action

Once you ac­knowl­edge your dis­tress and are more aware of your trig­gers and warn­ing signs, you are then in a bet­ter po­si­tion to make a com­mit­ment to drop­ping your usual es­cape meth­ods. The com­mit­ment you make might sound some­thing like: “I will try to tol­er­ate this dis­tress, rather than us­ing my old habit of drink­ing to dull the pain” or “I will stay with this feel­ing, rather than avoid­ing sit­u­a­tions that make me feel this way.” The main thing is mak­ing your ac­tions a con­scious choice, rather than an au­to­matic habit.

Step 4: Ac­cept dis­tress

In essence, recog­nise and al­low the emo­tion; watch it op­er­ate in your­self by de­tach­ing from it, de­scrib­ing it and us­ing im­agery; be present by fo­cus­ing on a task or on your breath­ing; and fi­nally, deal with the in­evitable emo­tional come­backs.

Step 5: Im­prove dis­tress tol­er­ance

Use dis­tress im­prove­ment ac­tiv­i­ties. Some will be ac­tive such as walk­ing in na­ture, swim­ming or sport, while oth­ers will be calmer, such as talk­ing with friends, hav­ing a cup of tea or read­ing. Es­sen­tially, use ac­tiv­i­ties that work for you, re­peat to your­self words of en­cour­age­ment that can help you through the mo­ment of dis­tress and think about prob­lem solv­ing that may be rel­e­vant when you have some con­trol over the sit­u­a­tion dis­tress­ing you.

Dis­tress is in­evitable in life, but over time, you can work to be not over­whelmed by it.

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