This is going to be another shortie of a post, as my life has been a little crazy lately, and by a little crazy, I mean a lot crazy. But it's a good kind of crazy. At least I think it is. Spring seems to be the most hectic season for me - as this is when dance gets the most intense, the tides at work change, and the weather (usually) is starting to be nice and friends want to start doing things outside and my family wants to start going on trips. As I'm now adulating, spring also means friends are getting married and scheduling/financing for such grand events is now a thing. And I'm officially going to grad school, so the GRE is about to take over what's left of my spring and most of my summer. Oh and of course Greg is still around...in Toledo...so long distance and driving to each other is still a thing too. Trying to make sense of the work, social, love, and personal life balance is tricky and I know I do my fair share of neglecting certain aspects of my life.
As we all realize now, I'm my own biggest critic. And being such a perfectionist is where a lot of (if not all) of my anxiety comes from. I'm always on the run, my schedule is always full, and I'm constantly trying to do more than I'm actually able to handle because I don't want to let anyone down. This fear of disappointment often forces me to neglect the personal portion of life balancing. And when it comes down to it, a lot of it comes from exhaustion - whether that be mental, physical, emotional, or usually, all three combined. When this exhaustion begins to happen, I barely notice it and blame it from a lack of sleep and take a mental note to try to take a nap or go to bed early. But lets be real, most of the time that doesn't actually happen (and since night is my best brain time, hello GRE studying, goodbye sleep). When my sleep slips, then my mood starts to go. It's really hard to be happy and peppy and positive when your body is running on empty. And then when the moods start to go, my brain begins questioning what I'm even doing - leading to self-degrading thoughts and an overwhelming feeling of doubt, uncertainty, and worthlessness. It's another vicious cycle that affects everyone - with or without mental illness - whether they realize it or not in some capacity or another.
Good news is that there are a number of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills that help combat this stupid cycle we unintentionally get ourselves into. I've actually noticed myself using them more often than not this past month and want to share them as they honestly help so much. (Seriously, why aren't DBT skills taught in school?)
This group of skills is part of the Distress Tolerance portion of DBT therapy and are often called the TIPP skills, which stand for:
Progressive/ Paired Muscle Relaxation
These are the skills you use when you are officially in crisis mode, when your house is metaphorically burning around you and you can't use any logical, cognitive thinking skills to put out said fire. The TIPP skills are your method of just getting out of the house. Of keeping you safe. Of not making things worse. These skills actually act in re-regulating your body chemistry as you can get outside of the situation and come back to it with a more logical mind later.
T in TIPP, as you read, stands for temperature. This skill is the quickest working skill (in my opinion). It's been the most effective skill keeping me from self-harming since therapy and honestly helps me get through huge bursts of sudden, yet intense, emotions. As you can guess, the idea here is to change your body temperature as a "shock" to your system. The most effective use of temperature tipping is by Ice Diving. This involves filling up a large bowl with ice and water. You then submerge your face into it for roughly 30-60 seconds at a time. The goggle zone on your face (your eyes and the bridge of your nose) contain the vagus nerve. When it's exposed to freezing cold water, it activates the Dive Response (yay biology). Essentially, all this means is that after 15-30 seconds of the goggle zone freeze encounter, the body starts to go into a state of mild shock, letting your heat rate slow down and blood flow is restricted to your vital organs and helps you calm the f*** down. Obviously anxiety attacks, sudden urges, and emotions can hit us at a variety of times. We won't always have access to a basin of ice cubs and a gallon of water. However, cold showers, holding ice beneath your eyes or on the back of your neck helps too. In therapy they taught us to freeze limes and lemons and grab them in case of an emergency.
Intense Exercise is kind of self explanatory. The idea is to do a super quick burst of exercise that gets your whole body working - sprinting, high knees, burpees, tuck jumps, etc. The thought process behind this one is to trick your body into a flight response. Allowing your thoughts to narrow in on your rapidly increasing heart rate and keeping yourself alive. For as much as I love exercising, this skill isn't actually my favorite. I try and use exercise as an every day tool rather than an "in the moment crisis" tool. I have just found it's more effective for me to workout after a long day to help me unwind. I guess technically that's just a different execution and duration of this skill...
Paced Breathing. Again this is a skill I probably have the most difficult with because I am so antsy. It's extremely hard for me to sit still enough to count my breath. I tend to get bored with it, causing my anxious thoughts to go into hyperdrive. However, if you're like me, and find sitting and breathing on your own difficult, there is a breathing GIF out on the internet somewhere that I have found helpful when I need to calm down at work and can't go shove my face in the ice tray. It's the one that starts as a straight line then blooms like a geometric flower. You breathe out as it blooms and in as it retracts. It's out on tumblr somewhere, go find it, it's helpful.
Lastly, Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Back when I did some dancing with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, this is something we used to do all of the time in our modern warm ups (it's also used a lot in yoga). So I was kind of surprised to be learning about it in therapy. The idea behind this skill is to take a scan of your body and release any and all tension you can find. This skill seems really stupid if you don't actually understand what you are doing, but when the lightbulb clicks, it's such a helpful one. Personally I tend to pair it with whichever other TIPP skill I'm using as it's a weirdly nice way to come out of a panic attack. Also, when my panic attacks are really bad, I do a full body scan and tense up the muscle group and relax it to feel the release even more. I normally start with my toes and work up to the tension between my eyes. By no means is that the correct way to go about this, but it's just what I find the most helpful.
These are just one of the groups of DBT skills and I plan on sharing more of them as I continue on this blog journey. Next time you feel your chest tightening or the rush of emotions starting, try one of these skills and see if it works for you. Please note these are just physical temporary fixes to overwhelming feelings and urges and you need to deal with the source. These skills work for roughly 20 minutes after you employ them, so you may need a couple rounds of them before you can fully deal with your burning house.
All in all, please just keep remembering. You are worth it. You are loved. You make a difference in this world.