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What Are You Doing Right Now to Manage Stress?

By Eric Dean JD MBA MA MA LPC CADC

Distress is inevitable, so we need to find ways to manage it. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) gives us the acronym ACCEPTS to manage stress in healthy ways and use it to our advantage:

Activities

Participating in hobbies that you enjoy can help combat distress. Oftentimes, when we are overwhelmed, we become uninterested in activities we typically enjoy. In these situations, it is key to not wait until you are interested in something to start doing it. Begin an activity that you typically enjoy, and the interest will follow, or like some people say, act yourself into right thinking. Most importantly, you are doing something to take your mind away from stressful thoughts. 

Contributing

Acts of service are good for all parties involved. A simple smile or complimenting someone can go a long way toward making their day better and taking your mind off what is bothering you. Acts of kindness are especially effective when they are unexpected. I am aware of someone who was struggling with stress and anxiety. They wrote appreciation letters to everyone in their support network and sent them via regular mail. They said that the act of doing this put them in a different mind state. They also received a lot of positive feedback from friends and family who were pleasantly surprised to receive a physical appreciation letter among the usual bills and marketing mail!

Comparisons

We may be stressed out because we are thinking about how our current situation is not what we want it to be. In this case, pondering our current situation in isolation neglects to consider the progress we have made from similar past experiences. You may not be happy about your current situation, but it could be an improvement from how you managed other challenging events. 

Emotions

We do not have to be controlled by our emotions. Feelings come and go, and do not necessarily represent the reality of what we are experiencing – feelings are not facts. During stressful times, you can create emotional experiences by listening to a certain type of music, working on a project, or recalling positive memories from the past. You have the power to change the way you feel.

Push Away

Processing issues and emotions during stressful times may be challenging and counterproductive, so do not feel obligated to. Temporarily pushing away thoughts and feelings is a viable strategy. This could include a visualization in which you place all your negative thoughts and emotions in a figurative box to be opened and sorted on a different day. It could also involve writing down your distressing experiences and placing them in a drawer to revisit when you are feeling better. 

Thoughts

Prolonged stress is driven by negative, possibly distorted, thought patterns. Finding sources of intellectual stimulation to take your mind away from destructive cognitions could include doing puzzles, sudoku, or board games. Reading is also a powerful way to stimulate the mind and spark creativity and imagination. 

Sensations

Engaging your 5 senses in what you are doing will provide stimulation that can relieve stress – the more senses that you can activate the better. Eating a satisfying meal can activate all 5 senses: Observing the food, listening to sound of chewing the food, smelling the food, feeling the texture of the food, and of course tasting it. Viewing a meal, not as a chore, but as an experience to be savored, can help create a positive energy around it. 

You may start out by focusing on one part of the acronym and building from there. While some of the above may seem like common sense, it is helpful to be reminded that we do have control over our emotions and there are ways to manage them effectively.

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