Tolerating Distress

A few days ago, it was bill sorting / paying day in my house. Of all the days of the week, month, whatever interval, this is my LEAST FAVORITE DAY.

Why? There is, of course, the money thing — stress: do I have enough? how am I going to pay this off? where did this one come from?

But more importantly are the panic attacks and sky-high anxiety that accompanies these questions. I don’t mean, I start to get sweaty palms. I mean I start shaking, all over, badly hyperventilating, and pacing back and forth, room to room. And that doesn’t touch what’s speeding around inside my head.

In dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), there are four modules. One is called ‘Distress Tolerance.’ It’s one with which I’ve had significant difficulty understanding and integrating into my thinking and behavior. I used to physically contract in on myself whenever the phrase ever even came up.

But on bill paying day, I managed to get through the complete freak out thanks to the distress tolerance skills I’ve learned over the years.

Distraction? Check. TV on to a repeat of a favorite show

Breathing? Check. Automatically started doing the recommended exercises.

Awareness? Check. I put down the letter opener and instead slid my finger up to open each envelope. (Tactile stimulation helps ground me.)

Forty-five minutes later, I had the post sorted, a list of action items / bills, and a massive pile of recycling.

I was still having anxiety — significant anxiety — but it was nothing compared to when I started this exercise. My breathing’s back to normal (almost), my heart is no longer racing, my thinking is lighter, and my mood is much more calm.

It’s nice to see some pay off for the decades I’ve invested in trying to become healthy.

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