Distress Tolerance Techniques from DBT

Sometimes we find ourselves with a problem or situation we can’t immediately solve. Perhaps our emotions are running high and we need some space to compose ourselves or perhaps it is an issue that just can’t be solved in the immediate future but still gives us an element of worry or distress. In either case, we can begin to feel consumed by our feelings. Distress tolerance techniques are a part of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) and can be quite helpful when feeling upset about something. Today’s post will focus on immediate, or short term distress.

Someone upsets you at work with an insensitive comment, you get wind that a friend has gossiped about you to someone else, the school calls and your teenager has skipped class – these are all examples of situations that can create an immediate reaction in us; of anger, hurt, frustration, disappointment. Perhaps dealing with it immediately might not work – time does not allow for it or we fear that we may say or do something that isn’t measured.

One way to deal with short term or immediate distress is to use our senses to self-soothe; it can be helpful in grounding yourself. After taking a couple of deep breaths, try and use your senses to center yourself:

  • Stand by a window or go outside. Focus on the trees, water, people walking by.
  • Scroll through pictures on your phone that bring you good feelings.
  • Put on some music that is soothing or uplifting.
  • Listen to a guided meditation or podcast that you enjoy.
  • Light a candle; cook something flavourful, buy yourself a Pumpkin Spice Latte at lunch.
  • Put on a cozy sweater or wrap. Cozy up to your pet, take a shower or a bath.

These types of distraction techniques are meant not to help us avoid dealing with the situation, but rather give us the time to focus on how we want to handle the issue that has brought us emotional upset. As they are also self-soothing activities, they help to feed our comfort system, which allows our rational brain to inform us as to how we want to move forward in finding a solution.

Tomorrow we will look at the types of distraction techniques needed for long term emotional upset.

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash


Too Many Choices…Is More Really Better?

In a new podcast I’ve been listening to called “The Happiness Lab” by Dr. Laurie Santos, she recently explored the issue of having too many choices. In the episode, entitled “Choice Overload,” Dr. Santos examines the effects of our society’s belief that choices bring us greater freedom and the message of “more is better.” Some interesting facts from the episode include:

  • Walking down a supermarket aisle can give you up to 275 choices in cookies brands; 150 types of salad dressings – just as two examples.
  • Starbucks has over 80,000 drink options- and that doesn’t include seasonal drinks!

Although we may think that being given so many choices is in our favour, this is what Dr. Santos remarked about how too many choices can lead to decision fatigue:

“Our minds might tell us that finding the best out of all of the options will feel like an achievement, but that is simply not the case. When lots of options are present, even if we do well, we feel worse. Our poor minds just can’t handle all those choices all at once. The human brain doesn’t have the capacity to accurately decide whether a Venti Soy Latte with Caramel is tastier than 79, 999 other choices – so we just filter out the other choices. But all that filtering out still comes at a serious cost to our well being – just seeing all of those choices above the counter are cognitively draining which can lead to worse decisions later on; a phenomenon that Behavioural Scientists call decision fatigue.”

This gives us food for thought about all of the choices that we may face in a day and how perhaps we can begin to reduce our choice overload on a daily basis.

Less choosing, less doing; sticking to simple routines. I guess “less really is more.”

To listen to the full episode: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/pushkin-industries/the-happiness-lab-with-dr-laurie-santos/e/65058310

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

Words of Wisdom by Gary Zukav

I love this passage by Gary Zukav. It is a lovely reminder that our lives serve a divine purpose; one that may not always be clear to us but is present nonetheless:


“Eventually, you will come to understand
that love heals everything,
and love is all there is.

The journey may take many lifetimes,
but you will complete it.
It is impossible not to complete it.
It is not a question of if but of when.

Every situation you create
serves this purpose.

Every experience you encounter
serves this purpose.”
― Gary Zukav

Every smile you give to another person, every act of kindness, your thoughtful intentions towards others – they matter.

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Photo credit: Me! This is my oldest daughter on our trip to San Antonio, Texas.

A Year of Firsts; the gifts my mom gave me

Today marks the anniversary of my mom’s passing. One year. Sometimes it is hard to believe that I have lived a whole year without seeing her, laughing with her, being with her. Other times, it feels like a lifetime. The amount of times that I wished I could have called her, been comforted by her, sat beside her in church, hugged her, laughed in unison with her are too many too count. People tell you that the grief of losing your mom is profound, and they are right.

My year of firsts had its typical markings…there were times that I was caught totally off guard; everything from a moment of thinking “Oh I have to call Mom about that,” to walking into the Ottawa General Hospital (where I was joyfully going to meet my new step-granddaughter) and I was unexpectantly hit by a wave of emotion for all of the times I had been there with my mom. The important days of the year such as birthdays and holidays had their typical build up with anxious moments and tears that sit close to the surface – and many times spilt over. There were times that helped with closure and acceptance, and times when all you can think about is the unfairness of losing her.

This year of firsts has also deepened my belief in a soulful life; in the importance of connection and how we can feel and be strengthened by the gifts of love. And I have realized that I have seen my mom – I see her in my sister and in my girls. I see her in my friend Lisa who started coming to church with me, I see her in my friend Kim who has helped me through her own experience with profound grief, I see her in everyone who has continued to acknowledge Mom to me.

I have also felt my mom. I feel her when I look at my partner Kurt as it was so important to my mom to feel peace that I was in a happy and settled relationship. I feel her every time “Dancing Queen” by ABBA comes on the radio – a song that has a wonderful association and memory to my mom; I have heard it so many times, it is not a coincidence. I feel her in the stillness of the church and when the river is calm. My mom gave me her strength, her faith, and her belief that love will heal; I feel her when I smile, when I laugh, when I hug my loved ones.

It is this that brings me the most comfort. I know that she is still with me; not only in the energy that surrounds me, but also the energy that is within me. Thank you, Mom – I love you.

Photo: This is my mom, pictured with her great-granddaughter. Special times 🙂



A Poem to Keep the Faith

I came across this lovely poem reminding us to keep the faith when things feel heavy:

Don’t Quit – John Greenleaf Whittier

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns
And many a failure comes about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell just how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash


Things to Remember About Anger

Anger can be an intense emotion. It can sometimes get the better of us and we may say or do something we later regret. Here are a few things about anger that can help us to understand this complex emotion:

  • Anger tends to isolate us. No one pokes an angry bear, right?
  • Anger is an emotion that serves a function. It is often our frustrated or angry feelings that prompt movement. Working towards righting a wrong can help us not only in processing the anger, but in affirming that we can exercise choice.
  • Hitting something actually increases hostility. You are much better served to focus on deep breathing and talking yourself down.
  • Know your triggers. We all have instances or situations that can make us feel angry fast. When we know our triggers, we have greater understanding of why the anger is so intense.
  • Walk away. Leaving the situation can help diffuse it – making sure that you communicate that you are doing so. When calmness returns, it can be revisited.

It is okay to feel frustrated and angry; those feelings are simply informing us of something. It is acting on the anger that can get us into trouble. We are much better served to slow it down, figure it out and move towards the effectiveness of doing so.

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Auréanne Mailhiot on Unsplash


“I” Statements; How They Work to Improve Communication

There are times when we need to tell someone how we feel. It may not always be the most comfortable conversation, but it is one of the ways that we can honour our own needs in relationship. The “I” statement is a way that we can deliver a message more effectively; it shifts the direction away from blame and instead focuses on how the behaviour or choice of another has made you feel.


“When you consistently show up late for our plans, it makes me feel disrespected.”

“When you call me names when we’re arguing, it feels demeaning.”

“I feel frustrated when I have to ask you to do the dishes.”

Although “I” statements work to improve communication, there are a few tips we can keep in mind:

  • We need to reward the effort and not the outcome. Sometimes we deliver the “I” statement, fully expecting that the person receiving it will respond accordingly. This does not always happen as we can’t control another’s person’s response. If they choose to react defensively, that is on them. By rewarding the effort, we reinforce the position of “I am important and so are you.”
  • Short and sweet tends to work better than a long explanation of how we feel. The more said, the greater the increase for emotion to take over.
  • ‘I’ statements are best said calmly. As soon as we move to an angry tone, we lose the weight of our statement.

We can begin to practice ‘I’ statements with this simple formula: “When you _______________, I feel _______________.” This can help lead us to more effective communication and strengthened relationships.

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Know My Name by Chanel Miller; a worthy read

I recently wrote a blog about Chanel Miller and her appearance on Oprah’s podcast Supersoul Conversations. Now I am making mention of her book “Know My Name.” One of the best books I have read this year, Know My Name is a poignant and honest memoir of Chanel’s experience as the victim in the “Stanford Rape Case” of 2015.

Known to the world as Emily Doe, we become privy to her experience from the moment she woke up in a hospital room with pine needles in her hair, abrasions on her body and no recollection of what happened to her. We travel with her throughout the next year and a half of Brock Turner being charged, her finding out what happened to her in the news, having to tell her loved ones, and experiencing the damaging effects of victim blaming. We are with her through her harrowing court days, the relief she feels when Turner is found guilty of all three charges (unanimously by all 12 jury members), only to granted a ridiculous sentencing by the presiding judge.

During this time, we hear that one way that Chanel coped was to listen to her mother’s stories of growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution:

“When I listened to her, I understood: You have to hold out to see how your life unfolds, because it is most likely beyond what you can imagine. It is not a question of if you will survive this, but what beautiful things await you when you do. I had to believe her, because she was living proof. Then she said ‘Good and bad things come from the universe holding hands. Wait for the good to come.’ “

With Chanel’s permission, her victim impact statement as Emily Doe is released to the press and it goes viral. Emails are forwarded, bags of letters get delivered to Chanel and she begins to receive the unwavering and uplifting support that was due to her from the beginning. She notes:

“I began to see the world through a softer filter. If somebody honked at me in traffic, I thought, ‘Maybe you have cried for me’. In crowded lines at the grocery store, I wondered if the woman in front of me had written a letter, if she’d shared with me her hidden grief. When I left the courtroom that June day, after reading my statement, courage was the farthest thing from my mind. Now I understood that in this life I’ve been given, I had done something good, created power from pain, provided solace while remaining honest about the hardships victims face. In turn, they showed me who I was.”

Chanel’s faith in sharing her identity with us is further evidence that we can hold fear in one hand and courage in the other. If you only read one book this year, make it this one 🙂

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Photo credit: Me!


A Poem About Dementia

To lose our memory; our executive function and our ability to one day dress ourselves is a frightening prospect. It is a grief-filled process for both the person with dementia and their loved ones who experience loss in their journey of caregiving. This lovely poem came to my attention:

Maybe – Author Unknown

When I wander
don’t tell me to come and sit down.
Wander with me.
It may be because I am hungry, thirsty, need the toilet.
Or maybe I just need to stretch my legs.
When I call for my mother
(even though I’m ninety!)
don’t tell me she has died.
Reassure me, cuddle me, ask me about her.
It may be that I am looking for the security
that my mother once gave me.
When I shout out
please don’t ask me to be quiet…or walk by.
I am trying to tell you something,
but have difficulty in telling you what.
Be patient. Try to find out.
I may be in pain.
When I become agitated or appear angry,
please don’t reach for the drugs first.
I am trying to tell you something.
It may be too hot, too bright, too noisy.
Or maybe it’s because I miss my loved ones.
Try to find out first.
When I don’t eat my dinner or drink my tea
it may be because I’ve forgotten how to.
Show me what to do, remind me.
It may be that I just need to hold my knife and fork
I may know what to do then.
When I push you away
while you’re trying to help me wash or get dressed,
maybe it’s because I have forgotten what you have said.
Keep telling me what you are doing
over and over and over.
Maybe others will think
you’re the one that needs the help!
With all my thoughts and maybes,
perhaps it will be you
who reaches my thoughts,
understands my fears,
and will make me feel safe.
Maybe it will be you
who I need to thank.
If only I knew how.
-Author unknown

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Bruno Martins on Unsplash

The Right and Left Brain; Post 3

In our last on a series about the right and left hemispheres of our brain, we look at how to keep our minds sharp. As we discovered in the last two posts, the two sides work together to help us process information. Here are some ways to keep the right and left sides working at their best:

  • Crossword puzzles and word or number games, writing out lists. Reading daily is a good way to keep your mind sharp; writing (even on a small scale such as in a journal or writing a letter to someone) co-ordinates the two sides of your brain.
  • Try doing something creative. The logical side of your brain will appreciate the mapping out of the steps, and sequences to the craft or art project, and the imaginative side will enjoy the use of colour and freedom to express creativity.
  • Playing card games or board games will also engage both your right and left hemispheres. One side will enjoy the rules of the game, the other will work at helping you edge out your competition by picking up on subtle non-verbal clues in your opponents. 🙂
  • Change things up – order something out of the ordinary at a restaurant, watch something that you normally wouldn’t be drawn to on TV,  experiment with new music genres – the right brain will appreciate the spontaneity, while the left brain will be looking to sort out where to fit this into your already formed habits.
  • Alternate left and right brain activities as a way to strengthen the skills of both. Even something as simple as creating a grocery list one week (left brain), followed by a spontaneous trip to the market the next to see what might entice you (right brain). Planning a trip (left brain), while keeping one or two days open for a “let’s see where the day brings us” opportunities (right brain).

When we know and appreciate the ways that our brain works, we can actively promote the formation of new brain cells and pathways that keep our minds in good shape.

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Morgan v on Unsplash