By its very nature, distress is “great pain, acute suffering and extreme misfortune.” It hijacks our ability to think straight and function adequately. This mainly happens because we shift to the “survival mode” where the basic aim of the body is to protect itself, and hence the problem-solving mechanisms of the brain become relatively slower.
“When we are in distress and lack feelings of safety, our thinking brain is hijacked by our emotional limbic system and we move into primitive drives to fight or flight. If we’re too scared, we freeze or get stuck as if we’re just trying to survive the ordeal. Because our thinking brain is offline, this can get very big and out of control.”
Some healthy strategies to de-stress yourself when everything seems to make you upset and you can’t pick one source of distress are given below:
1) IDENTIFICATION OF NEEDS
Usually people who are distressed need something. The first thing to do in such a situation is to try and identify what is it that you need, or what is it that can make you feel better. It can be something you want out of yourself, something you want from the situation, something from you want from people around you, so on and so forth. You may have an emoti0onal need to feel loved and accepted, you may have a psychological need to treat yourself with kindness, or you may have a tangible need for your work. when you’re feeling distressed, start by asking yourself: “What do I need right now?”
2) FOCUSSING ON NEEDS AND HONOURING THEM
Instead of focusing what you don’t need, a more helpful way to deal with distress is focusing on what you do. If you’re feeling lonely, and you ask yourself what is it that you need, a simple answer would be “to not feel lonely”. Instead, coming up with healthier ways in which you can stay connected to family and friends and people who provide you with emotional support will be more helpful, as it’ll lead to resolution of conflict and hence lessen distress. Once you’ve identified the needs, it is also wise to communicate them expecting others to guess and show up, is a little too much to ask for and is likely to leave you disappointed.
3) THE GOLDEN RULE
We’ve heard enough of “treat others the way you want to be treated”. In reality people are more kind and compassionate to others than to self, and making them more critical towards themselves. Therefore, reversing the golden rule makes more sense, i.e., treat yourself the way you will treat others. In this scenario, the likelihood of you being kind to yourself is more. Kindness can mean different things to different people and contexts. For someone, it may include forgiving yourself for making a mistake, or praising yourself after doing something difficult or challenging, or just asking yourself to take one day at a time and not rush through the process of growth. The love you keep trying to give everyone else should be given to you, and treating yourself with the same compassion also reduces distress.
4) GROUND YOURSELF
In an environment that distresses you, its important you find ways to keep yourself grounded. It can be simple as sticking to a comforting tv show or song, or it could include counting 5 things you can hear, see, and sense and can also include clenching and releasing your fists in an attempt to make yourself feel free, and better. Alternatively, you can also indulge in creative visualization wherein you visualize yourself physically walking away from all the sources of anxiety and stress in your life, to a real physical place that you think is happier, and hence safer in order to make yourself feel better about the situation.
5) RADICAL ACCEPTANCE
Finally, it is important to realize the situation you are in. Many a times we spend our time being angry because “it should not have happened to us”. Instead, we need to spend time acknowledging that it “already has happened” and therefore, need to find ways to cope with the situation. The first step is to get yourself to be calmer and relax, depending on what works for you. It could be something as simple as exercising or meditation, or getting a pep talk. Using self-affirming statements like “I can handle this” while acknowledging the problem at hand can also help you feel better.
Emotional pain and distress are an inevitable part of life. The inability to learn how to effectively cope with intense emotion and distress only leads to increased suffering. However, it isn’t impossible. Working out what best works for you in times of distress can help you maintain an optimistic outlook, while feeling positive, and help you handle your problems and stressful situations in a better, and healthier way.